April 18, 2009


Brian Cashman: The Bad Lieutenant: The GM of the New York Yankees may be the worst ever at the best job in the world. Which is why he’ll inevitably fail this year in his shameless attempt to buy a World Series. (Matt Taibbi, 4/16/09, Men's Journal)

Cashman managed to discover the one avenue through which limitless money and power under the current Major League Baseball rules can be a competitive disadvantage. He found that if you pack your roster from top to bottom with pathologically needy, egomaniacal, paranoid megamillionaires aged 30 and up, you can more or less permanently block the development of the choice, hungry, 25- to 30-year-old talent group that serves as the core of virtually all winning baseball teams.

What’s even more interesting is that after implementing this formula so successfully that the Yankees fell behind a Cape Cod League team called the Tampa Bay Rays last year, Cashman decided to double down on his strategy — opting to plug his team’s now-gaping holes by signing another $441 million in new megamillionaire free agents, with the bulk of that money going to the superstar trio of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. With his shameless, blatant attempt to buy a World Series with a half-billion-dollar shopping spree at a time when the rest of the country is scrounging under the couch cushions for ramen money, Cashman has laid the foundation for 2009 to be maybe the most entertaining year for non–Yankees fans in the history of baseball. We are all trailing six car lengths behind, waiting for the pinstriped truck to jackknife and explode in a giant conflagration of scandals and finger-pointing. In an age when huge, irresponsible financial bets have brought Western civilization to the edge of collapse, Cashman’s Yankees are perfectly positioned to become an object lesson in everything that has gone wrong with American society in the past eight years or so.

Brian Cashman has kept his job in baseball over the years because he is masterfully good at just one particular thing: choosing sides in exploding Yankee scandals. Back in 1998, when he was elevated to general manager at age 30 (he joined the organization as an intern at 19), the assumption was that he would be there in title and that George Steinbrenner would be the guy making all the major decisions. Which sounds like a shitty deal for Cashman, except that, for the next 10 years or so, he could safely whisper to his buddies in the media that all the Yankees’ bad decisions were really made by the loony man above him. (Cashman has probably shoplifted a good two or three years of extra job security just by being one of the few people in the Insane Yankee Clown Posse to always feed the ravenous New York sports press.) He’s sort of like the Democratic Party in that he has managed to convince his fans that he was actually against deals he voted for/was in on from the beginning, and vice versa. Most Yankee fans believe Cashman didn’t really want to fire the revered Joe Torre and didn’t really want to sign Japanese special-needs student Kei Igawa and didn’t really want to acquire wall-puncher Kevin Brown or anger addict Randy Johnson or Jaret Wright or José Contreras or Jason Giambi or any of the other overpriced, underperforming free agents who soiled the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium over Cashman’s tenure.

The story we’re supposed to buy is that Cashman deep down inside is really a Theo Epstein–style GM who values internal player development and homegrown pitching (just like the Democrats deep down inside were against the war in Iraq) but just hasn’t been allowed to do his thing because Steinbrenner or his equally loony sons are always overreacting to losing spring training games and forcing Cash’s otherwise steady hand.

Cashman apologists would have the world believe that every time Yankee ownership sees David Ortiz hit a home run or James Shields pitch a complete game, this poor, unassuming, numbers-crunching GM gets an angry phone call from Steinbrenner’s Florida palace (in the public imagination, a massive palm-lined subtropical resort not unlike Pablo Escobar’s lavish Medellín spread) and is ordered to immediately go forth and buy a 10-figure free agent from Scott Boras to quiet the doddering Boss’s temporary attack of Player Envy. And right then and there Cashman’s sound, fiscally conservative 10-year plan to build around Austin Jackson, Phil Hughes, and Andrew Brackman (it was Ben Ford, Ryan Bradley, and Craig Dingman once upon a time) goes up in smoke.

His greater crime is revealed by the non-entity status of the once upon a timers. In the surprisingly fine Joe Torre book--actually a Tom Verducci book which is why it's so good--it is mentioned that the Yankees haven't developed a pitcher who contributed meaningful innings to the big league club for more than a stretch or two since Pettite and Rivera. And there are some staggering numbers on the total of pitchers they've drafted over that time and how few ever even made it to the majors. Cashman the money man can almost be forgiven his free-spending because he's trying to cover for the serial blunders of Cashman the talent evaluator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2009 8:02 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus