Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has the most unique job in professional sports. He possesses the ability to spend as much money as he wants without consequence.
The Yankees continue to trot out the most expensive team in baseball. Last year, their payroll was nearly $60 million more than its nearest competitor. Oakland, San Diego, Florida and Pittsburgh started the year with sub $60 million teams.
Cashman has very few hairs on the top of his head, though. The Yankees are expected to win the World Series every season. There’s no such thing as a rebuilding year in New York.
I can only imagine the pressure he’s dealt with the past handful of years. Cashman was in a tough position after Luis Gonzalez destroyed the 2001 season with his World Series winning single off legendary closer Mariano Rivera.
Since then, division rival Boston has garnered two World Series wins. We all remember 2004 when the Yankees, up by 3 games, completely collapsed and Boston won it all. A lot of the blame went to Cashman each time they ended the year empty handed. He kept his job and continued to spend away.
2009 was a different story.
They signed CC. Sabathia to be their ace and Mark Teixeira to solidify their lineup. The new Yankee Stadium, with all its glory, suddenly became a home-run haven. Alex Rodriguez hit rock bottom after an offseason in which it was revealed he tested positive for performance enhancers and had to get surgery on his hip.
It ended with Rodriguez becoming transcendent in the playoffs and the Yankees holding a World Series trophy in their hands. All of Cashman’s work had paid off, even though it took the Yankees nine seasons to put together a championship team.
Once the season ended, people started wondering what the Yankees would do next to ensure a repeat performance. Would they sign Matt Holliday? How about John Lackey or a trade for Roy Halladay?
Cashman hasn’t opted to pull the trigger on a big signing…at least not yet.
Instead, he’s opted to trade for Curtis Granderson and sign Nick Johnson. World Series MVP Hideki Matsui has signed with the Angels and the Yankees seem unwilling to pay Johnny Damon the $13 million per season his agent has been asking for.
I know, it’s weird for the Yankees to be lying low.
The general perception was that Granderson was being paid big money, but he’s making less than $4 million a year. He’s a bargain, considering he hit 30 homers last year playing for Detroit. With the short porch in right field, Yankee Stadium may allow Granderson to hit for more power.
What the Yankees gave up, highly touted prospect Austin Jackson and lefty reliever Phil Coke were necessary losses if the Yankees were to receive its center fielder of the future.
Jackson, in 500 at bats in AAA, struck out 121 times and only hit four home-runs. Top tier prospects are supposed to tear the cover off the ball and Jackson wasn’t doing that. Coke was the commodity the Yankees didn’t want to give up, but the Yankees still have the most prolific closer in the game. There’s still a bevy of relievers on the market for the Yankees to sign.
Nick Johnson, on the other hand, was a more questionable signing. The Yankees were clearly trying to make up for the loss of Matsui, but Johnson can only play two positions (first base and DH), while Matsui could play four (all OF positions and DH). Johnson has been injury prone the last few years as well. For $5.5 million, Johnson is another relative bargain, especially if he hits close to .300 with 20-25 homers.
All of this leads me to ask this question: Are the Yankees getting smarter?
Maybe they’re happy with their World Series title and are just being a little frugal this offseason. Make no mistake about it though, this is the offseason where Brian Cashman will earn his next job. If the Yankees win another title without the help of another $100 million dollar player, then Cashman will be considered for another GM job when the Yankees fire him down the line.
I’m not saying that Cashman will be fired if the Yankees don’t win in 2010, but he will be fired at some point in the next decade. And when he does get fired, will he be equipped to handle the salary restrictions of every other team in baseball? Cashman is no Billy Beane. He’s never had to play money ball.
Teams are going to look at the moves Cashman has made and assess his value as a baseball mind. Maybe other teams just see him as a businessman.
One thing is clear, though, Brian Cashman will never have to worry about money again. I’m just wondering who is going to sign his paycheck after the Steinbrenner’s stop doing it.
The Yankees are the clear favorites going into 2010. They have all the momentum in their favor and their fans are happy.
Brian Cashman, on the other hand, has a lot of work to do. This is the offseason where Cashman has to prove to his peers that he belongs, which means the Yankees have to operate with a little more subtlety.