Friday, January 11, 2008

Who is in charge here?

Who’s the boss? That’s the question in the Yankees front office right now, and despite the power seized by Brian Cashman after 2005, right now, it doesn’t look as though he still has his power.
First of all, we have to look at what Cashman has done since being given full control. In the 2005-06 off season, Cashman gave Johnny Damon a four year deal to fix centerfield, and that has been with mixed results as of now. His 2006 was very good and he filled a major need, but his 2007 proved injury prone, but he did play significantly better after he did recover late in the year, and proved he can still be a fine defensive outfielder, in spite of his arm. Kyle Farnsworth was signed to a three-year deal that has been a disappointment. Farnsworth is dominant at times, but is far too inconsistent to be effective in the bullpen. Cashman signed Octavio Dotel, who proved to not be able to pitch until August, and would have proven a much better signing if the Yankees had an option year on him for 2007, where we could have gotten a better idea of how healthy he was. Dotel appeared effective, if wild, in his brief Yankees stint.

Flash forward to the 2006 trade deadline, when he made the deal in which we gave up nothing particularly useful (save for a sufficient young middle reliever) for a top 5 offensive right fielder in Bobby Abreu. Abreu went on a tear with the Yankees and after a slow start to 2007 continued on the tear and has been an excellent acquisition. The trade of Shawn Chacon for Craig Wilson was a good one, that will never be recognized because Wilson struggled under his limited and wildly inconsistent playing time, but has a career OPS+ of 113 and has hit .290/.389/.527 against left-handers. When it is considered that we obtained him for a meddling starting pitcher with tremendous control problems currently fighting for a starting spot with the Pittsburgh Pirates, this was a trade that was good, but didn’t quite pan out.

The 2006 off-season was where Cashman really got creative, as he swung deals exchanging Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson for Luis Vizcaino, Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, Anthony Claggett, Steven Jackson, Ross Ohlendorf and Alberto Gonzalez, while signing Andy Pettitte to fill Johnson’s void in the rotation. Those deals did little to contribute in 2007, as Vizcaino was the only one to see significant time with the major league club, but it did help to restock the farm system with young arms, many of which are projected to see Major League time in 2008 with a degree of success expected. Andy Pettitte was an excellent addition as he provided some stability to an otherwise injury prone rotation and looks to help ease a very young rotation into success in 2008. The letting-go of Bernie Williams was critical, as it became more and more apparent he was a designated hitter who struggled against right-handers and was on a team full of them. Re-signing Mike Mussina was a mistake that I did not advocate, and after one year, it appears as though Mussina’s starting spot may be in serious jeopardy for 2008. The acquisition of Japanese postee Kei Igawa looks like a mistake after just one season, but it is important to remember that he did have brief stretches of success in 2007, and he was signed to a very cheap 5-year contract, making judgement of the acquisition difficult at this time, although it certainly cannot count as a point in Cashman’s favor.

There was just one significant midseason trade in 2007, and that was of Scott Proctor for Wilson Betemit, an excellent deal. Proctor was rapidly on the decline, with significant increases in ERA, walks, WHiP and a decline in K/9 and K/BB. Betemit was a 25-year old switch hitter with tons of power potential and considerable enough plate discipline to make a difference. While he can’t hit lefties, a platoon with Shelley Duncan should help solve that problem at first base and his versatility off the bench is of great importance, as the Yankees can rest Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano or Alex Rodriguez without too great a loss, and his defense is more than sufficient across the infield. Additionally, despite the off-season controversy, the signing of Roger Clemens has to be commended because ultimately, it was either Clemens getting those starts or another Cashman signing in Kei Igawa, and obviously anyone would prefer Clemens, who did do a very solid job down the stretch for the team.

Thus far this offseason, he hasn’t added much other than LaTroy Hawkins and retained Rodriguez, Pettitte and Posada, but he did secure Joe Girardi, which was a major point in our favor as his bullpen management and in-game strategy should be a significant boost to the Yankees on the whole. Over the past two seasons of full Cashman control, the Yankees have drafted the highly talented Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Mark Melancon, Andrew Brackman, Brad Suttle and Carmen Angelini, while standing firm in his position to not trade them or the very highly regarded Phil Hughes, Jose Tabata and Alan Horne. The Yankees farm system has gone from one of the worst to one of the best in a short time, and while this is partially the work of Damon Oppenheimer, Cashman does play a role in the players drafted, particularly those in the later rounds, where Cashman has taken advantage of the Yankees’ financial strength and taken players who fell because of injury concerns or signability issues late in the draft, and enticed them to sign by doling out first round contracts.

The information above makes it clear that Cashman’s clear talent is for drafting and developing. While his trades have all been strong, his free agent signings have proven to be a mixed bag, with some great, some terrible. Recent reports suggest that Hank Steinbrenner has assumed much of the control, and Brian Cashman no longer has it. I think it is clear that Cashman is an excellent General Manager who has turned us into a very well run organization in a very short time and deserves the power he had and should maintain it. This is no knock on Hank, but Brian has been far above average and should continue to help us. It would be a massive disaster if the team pushed him out of the picture and allowed him to leave as a free agent after this year.

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