Because objectively speaking, the job of New York Yankees general manager should be the single most failure-proof position not only in sports but in all of human society. Giving a normal, red-blooded, pattern-baldness-suffering American male access to the Steinbrenner fortune and asking him to buy 25 baseball players a year in an unregulated market is no different, in any meaningful way, from handing Sarah Jessica Parker a blank check and asking her to fill a three-bedroom apartment with shoes and dresses. And we’re not even asking her to get good deals. All we ask is that the outfits match.
[Current Yankees G.M. Brian] 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.
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 [bleep] 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.
We seem to hear constantly from plugged-in baseball types like Fox’s Ken Rosenthal and SI’s Jon Heyman that Cash is in consideration for a GM job in a place like Washington, DC (the rumored destination in 2005) or Seattle (the rumored destination last fall), where he presumably wouldn’t be bogged down in organizational disputes and would be able to have real freedom in personnel decisions. And each time we are reminded just how much of a genius Cashman is, his wunderkind reputation still riding off the fumes of those world championships his first three seasons — championships that, in reality, were seeded years earlier by former Yankee personnel legend Gene (Stick) Michael, a man who actually considered chemistry when building teams. Interestingly, these whispers always seem to be floated just prior to Cashman signing a rich new long-term deal with the team that does bog him down in organizational disputes and doesn’t give him total personnel freedom, the Yankees.
The net effect of all of this has been to inoculate Cashman from responsibility for any and all Yankee misfortunes. It’s not unlike an athlete who lets you know before the game that his arm hurts; if he gets lit up for seven runs in three innings, you know why. If he throws a shutout, he’s a hero.
Since most know how I feel about Brian Cashman, I’ll let my past comments on him stand for the record. And, obviously, I think that Tiabbi has raised some interesting points here. How about you? What do you think about what Tiabbi has written and/or what’s your opinion of Cashman’s body of work as Yankees G.M.?