Yankees And Cashman: Why Do Sports Teams Strain To Keep Mediocre Leaders?

Mordecai BrownerAnalyst ISeptember 30, 2008

Six days ago, the Lions finally relieved Matt Millen of his duties as General Manager and Team President after seven very long and anguishing years for the Detroit faithful.

Most in sports—myself included—started laughing at the joke years ago, the punchline lying somewhere between Charles Rogers and the 31-84 cumulative record.  Yet in 2005 he received a five-year contract extension and in 2006 received a guarantee he'd be back another year after a hilariously foul 3-13 performance.

While fans in Chicago, Green Bay, and Minneapolis rejoiced in the Ford family follies—much the way the Japanese do when they see Ford's non-truck offerings each year—Lions fans were left to wonder: why is the 0.1 percent of the sports world who thinks Matt Millen is worth a damn RUNNING MY FAVORITE SPORTS TEAM?

It's not just poor business on William Clay Ford's part, nor is it relegated to the Detroit Lions, a hapless football franchise living on eternal hope that someday someone who actually understands the game will arrive in Motown.

Look at Syracuse University.  The Orange have an outstanding athletic program across the board and have a solid football tradition, yet currently they serve as a doormat in the poorest excuse of a BCS conference.  While Philip Fulmer and Tommy Bowden have drawn deserved ire at a major football schools, no one in Division I is more anemic than Syracuse Head Coach Greg Robinson.

Since arriving at Syracuse in 2004, Robinson has led his squad to an 8-32 record.  That's sub-Willingham.  And it isn't like the previous regime left the cupboard entirely bare, either; Syracuse had actually gone to a bowl game the year prior.

Robinson has been an unmitigated disaster, and his recruiting for 2009?  Nonexistent.  Why does he still have a job?  Why is Syracuse making their legions of followers sit in agony and wait until the inevitable postseason chopping block?  What does this accomplish?  A false impression of loyalty?  The chance to let him coach his own players?

Frankly, most players would rather be associated with the ground floor of a winning program than the remains of a lost one.

In such a tense sports environment, it boggles the mind that administrators and owners allow obviously losing coaches continued, hopeless opportunity while resisting the urge to pull the trigger and install new blood, often even offering below-average figures ridiculous and unwarranted extensions (college football fans see Ferentz, Kirk).

Executives really should look at national opinion before offering a contract extension.  Often the outside provides a perspective the biases of the insiders drive from sight.  Currently we're facing an economic meltdown where seven major banks have crashed due to bad contracts and it appears the world of sports is no different in its short-sightedness.

And that brings me to today's news that the Yankees have resigned Brian Cashman as their General Manager until 2011.  As a person who can't stand the Yankees, I couldn't be happier.

Brian Cashman sucks as a GM.  There, I said it.

Despite having the highest payroll in baseball by a ridiculous margin, the Yankees have not won the World Series in eight seasons.  They have not won the pennant since 2003.  Their prime competitors have overtaken their position as the best team in the American League.

If the Yankees' stock were publicly traded, it would have taken a drastic nosedive since 2000's ho-hum World Series win over the New York Mets.  On Wall Street, that's what continued underperformance wins.  In baseball, apparently, it secures a three-year contract extension.

The New York Yankees payroll this year is 209 million.  The combined sum of the Brewers and Angels payrolls?  A little over 200 million.  For a little over 150 million, one could pay the rosters of the Phillies, Rays, and Twins—three teams who decisively did better than the Yankees this year.

Blame it all you want on Joe Girardi or whatever other reasons you wish, in the end the Yankees slow decline into third place comes down to a fundamental fault in Cashman's managerial philosophy.

Instead of looking long-term and developing a core roster of players in their relative primes—like the way the 1996-2000 Yankees were built around Jeter, Williams, Posada, Pettite, Rivera, Nelson, etc., along with Roger Clemens and Paul O'Neil, who seemed to have never-ending primes—Cashman has opted for the cheapest thing a general manager can do: signing players on the downturn of their careers for over market value.

Seven of the eight everday players on the '00 Yankees were between 26 and 33.  In 2008, only three regulars were under 32 (Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Xavier Nady). 

Instead, the Yankees have seen a nice cavalcade of fading talent: Jason Giambi is somehow still kicking it at 37; Johnny Damon was signed at 32 and though he had a strong '08 season is ripe to go the way of Jim Edmonds; Bobby Abreu has seen a 12 percent drop in his on-base percentage in the last two seasons; and let's not forget this season's praised deal for Ivan Rodriguez, who hit .219.

Signing twilight guys like Wade Boggs works when Pettite and Clemens anchor the rotation.  It doesn't when the top starter is 39 and Sidney Ponson and Carl Pavano both wind up taking the hill.

What are Cashman's highlights as GM?  Trading for the twenty million dollar MVP?  Continually signing an endless stream of overrated players to hefty, ten-million-a-year contracts?  Where is the skill in this?  Where is the business sense?

With the resources at his disposal, Cashman's performance is inadequate.  If I lost to four competitors who had half the resources in the real world, I would be fired.  It's that simple. Cashman, miraculously, gets an extension.

The truth is that almost any idiot with any baseball acumen could take 210 Million dollars and coast into third in the AL East.  With twice the budget of any other team, a truly respectable goal is 110 wins and the pennant, year in and year out.  With baseball's strong correlation between money and success, fiscal dominance should lead to either on-the-field dominance or a canning.

Unfortunately, Cashman and the current Yankees brass seemingly fail to realize that their World Series wins have always been won by stable, devoted Yankees in their primes far more than by imported 35-year old free agents. Garbage in, garbage out.

And Cashman's amateur drafts have been mostly garbage in terms of actual results.

His 2002 amateur draft of 48 players had produced one major league ball player, pitcher Brad Halsey.  Their 2003 draft?  Twenty-three at-bats total, no innings pitched.  In contrast, most other teams have produced two-three stable big league players from those years. 

While the Yankees' records kept them out of the stakes for BJ Upton or Prince Fielder, those are absolutely pathetic draft results for the wealthiest franchise in baseball, and the Yankees farm system—and their future—suffers as a result. 

There are signs things might be getting better.  Recently the Yankees' retooled farm system has ranked as high as fifth in Baseball America's rankings, and their June draft in 2008 received favorable reviews.  However, until they somehow produce a stable of big league talent analogous to the golden years of 1996-2000, they will continue to under-perform with their bloated budgets and declining big names.

But don't worry Yankee fans, instead of asking why you couldn't have a GM who understands relative value (like Kenny Williams, Dave Dombrwoski, or Theo Epstein) and why your team pays double for another disappointing season, celebrate Cashman's likely targets in the offseason.

According to ESPN, Cashman plans to use the cash freed up by expired contracts to go after guys like Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets.  I can hear the celebrations in the Bronx from here.

Unless the Yankees can reel in actual in-their-prime players like C.C Sabathia or Mark Teixeira while plugging holes with solid under-33 Major League players, expect more of the same under-performance for the foreseeable future.

It's too bad the in-house loyalty will blind the Yankees from their completely unspectacular management.

So it goes in sports, complacency over potentially finding the next great GM, even with so much at stake.  Instead, fans are forced to see where their ceiling is, knowing they won't exceed that until a management shift takes place.

Hope you like staring at the Red Sox from behind, Yankees' fans, because that's mostly what you're going to see with Brian Cashman at the helm without some fundamental shifts in how he approaches player acquisitions and relative value.

At least Yankee crappiness, unlike that of Syracuse or the Lions, still finishes with a chance at the playoffs.


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