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Mark Feinsand/John Amato Interview Part 2

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Here's the second part of my interview with Mark Feinsand, the Yankee beat reporter for the NY Daily News from Thursday. We talked about Brian Cashman's job as a GM, the bullpen, his breaking of the ARod story and if he could change a rule in the MLB, what would it be.

Click to listen!  Audio Interview mp3

John: How do you rate Brian Cashman as a GM?  

Mark:  You know, Cashman's done some very good things and some very questionable things and I think you find that with just about every GM.  You look at Theo Epstein and obviously they won the World Series, but there's nobody out there who thinks J.T. Drew was a good signing at this point.  There's no one out there who thinks Julio Lugo was a good signing at this point.  You know, he signed Matt Clement, that turned out to be a disaster.  So for every David Ortiz move or Nomar GarciaParra trade there's one that turns around the other way.

Cashman has done a great job of building up the farm system since he's taken over the operation.  You know, holding on to guys like Hughes and Chamberlain and Kennedy, Cano, Wong - just  5-6-7-8 years ago they would have traded these guys (the deadline in the off-season) to acquire whoever they had to.  You saw them trade Nick Johnson away and everybody was questioning why that was happening but they had nowhere to play him at the time.  And at the time they thought Javier Vasquez was going to be an ace.  And he made the All-Star Team that year and then sort of fell apart in the second half and they panicked and got rid of him for Johnson.

I like the way they've held onto their prospects for the last couple of years.  The free agents have not been good other than Matsui and Messina they're not getting very good free agent signings.  Part of that is the market, part of that is who they've given it to.  I know that everyone points to Pavano as being the worst signing in the world, but there were seven other teams that were willing to give Pavano the same money if not more.  So, I can't fault Cashman on that one because that's all hindsight and obviously if he knew the way it was going to turn out he wouldn't have signed him.  You know, Jared Wright and Pavano and Nagall - he's made some very questionable moves from the free agent market.  But overall, they're still in the post-season every year.  I know they haven't won it all since 2000, but I can't lay that on the GM.  

John:  The way he's looked at pitchers has been awful and I think that's really been his Achilles' Heel.  Signing Steve Karsay, signing Kyle Farnsworth.  Can you explain this to us?  What did they see in Kyle Farnsworth that we didn't?


Rough transcript below the fold.



John:  What did you think about the Angels giving Tori Hunter almost $90 million?  

Mark:  Seemed like a lot of money.  But he had a career year at the right time.  It was a strange move for the Angels to sign for center field given that they were signing Gary Matthews Jr. a year ago to a long-term deal.  But I guess with Garrett Anderson getting older, some questions about Vladimir Guerrero's durability in the outfield [can't hear/can't understand] they now have four guys they can shift around.  They also have Reggie Willis, and I think that he'll end up potentially going in a trade for Miguel Cabrera.  But they've got a surplus of outfielders now, I think Garrett Anderson's on his last leg and Tori Hunter is a good ball player.  He's a great fielder, he can hit.  He has a great clubhouse presence.  There's nothing anybody can say that's bad about Tori Hunter.  I'm not sure I would have paid him $18 million a year, but not my money so I'm not really worried about it.  

John:  You know it is pretty astonishing how much money is in the league (which is a good thing) but it's really changed the way baseball and GMs- I think the GM really has to be on top of things.  How do you rate Brian Cashman as a GM?  

Mark:  You know, Cashman's done some very good things and some very questionable things and I think you find that with just about every GM.  You look at Theo Epstein and obviously they won the World Series, but there's nobody out there who thinks J.T. Drew was a good signing at this point.  There's no one out there who thinks Julio Lugo was a good signing at this point.  You know, he signed Matt Clement, that turned out to be a disaster.  So for every David Ortiz move or Nomar GarciaParra trade there's one that turns around the other way. Cashman has done a great job of building up the farm system since he's taken over the operation.  You know, holding on to guys like Hughes and Chamberlain and Kennedy, Cano, Wong - just  5-6-7-8 years ago they would have traded these guys (the deadline in the off-season) to acquire whoever they had to.  You saw them trade Nick Johnson away and everybody was questioning why that was happening but they had nowhere to play him at the time.  And at the time they thought Javier Vasquez was going to be an ace.  And he made the All-Star Team that year and then sort of fell apart in the second half and they panicked and got rid of him for Johnson.  I like the way they've held onto their prospects for the last couple of years.  The free agents have not been good other than Matsui and Messina they're not getting very good free agent signings.  Part of that is the market, part of that is who they've given it to.  I know that everyone points to Pavano as being the worst signing in the world, but there were seven other teams that were willing to give Pavano the same money if not more.  So, I can't fault Cashman on that one because that's all hindsight and obviously if he knew the way it was going to turn out he wouldn't have signed him.  You know, Jared Wright and Pavano and Nagall - he's made some very questionable moves from the free agent market.  But overall, they're still in the post-season every year.  I know they haven't won it all since 2000, but I can't lay that on the GM.  

John:  The way he's looked at pitchers has been awful and I think that's really been his Achilles' Heel.  Signing Steve Karsay, signing Kyle Farnsworth.  Can you explain this to us?  What did they see in Kyle Farnsworth that we didn't?  

Mark:  As far as Farnsworth - Karsay was not a bad signing.  Karsay actually had a tremendous year his first year with the Yankees and then the World Series killed him from there.  You can't foresee what's going to happen because of injuries.  The guy had a problem with his shoulder; his back had a problem that ended up causing further problems.  If you look at the first year he had with the Yankees, if he'd done that for the final three years of his contract that would have been looked at as a tremendously good contract, so I won't kill him for Karsay.  Farnsworth, I didn't understand it at the time, I don't understand it now.  I really don't have an answer for you on that one because it seemed to be a very strange move to give that guy $17 million.  You know, it's proven to be exactly that:  A very strange move.  

John:   What's the deal with bullpens and relievers in general?  Why is such inconsistency from year to year with relievers?  

Mark:  Well, because if they were really, really good they would be starters.  That's what it comes down to.  Very few pitchers get into the game as set up men or relievers.  Those are the guys who didn't succeed as starting pitchers.  If you look at it, there's a reason they didn't succeed.  They don't have a third pitch, they don't have a fourth pitch, they don't have total command of their first two pitches.  The really excellent pitchers for the most part are starters or they're converted into closers.  You saw a guy like Limebreak who was lights out one year and then very mediocre the next.  You've seen it time after time, one guy after another, who are tremendous one year and then... Chris Hammond had a year-ender one year and then the next year were still under three but everyone looked at it as a bad year.  So, it's tough.  There's no stability in middle relief and there's a shortage of really quality guys out there.  That's why I think the Yankees are going to start looking within at their own starters who they may not necessarily have room for.   A guy like Ohlendorf is a perfect example.  He was a guy who was a big starting pitching prospect, but the Yankees decided that between Hughes and Chamberlain and Kennedy they had a lot of starters.  Howard Horne is another guy.  They had enough starters.  So, Russ Ohlendorf was converted into a reliever and he's going to be a key to the Yankee bullpen next year; I'd be surprised if he wasn't.  So I think they're going to look to some of the guys in their minor league system - especially after the success they had with Chamberlain last year - and say (not necessarily who is going to be the next Joba because he is a rare talent) "Who can we have to make a transition to the bullpen that won't cost us $4 or $5 million a year, where if it doesn't work we're not stuck with a guy like we've been stuck with Farnsworth for the last few years".  They can just keep moving guys back and forth until they find the right combination.  

John:  And hopefully they can discover a left-hander.  What's your take on Mahay from Texas, because I heard some rumors that the Yankees were interested in him?  For some reason, I just can't remember how the guy pitched.  

Mark:  Yeah, I've only seen him a couple of times.  I don't know a whole lot about him, but I do know that the Yankees have expressed interest in him.  Obviously finding a lefty for your bullpen is key; they didn't really have a reliable one last year.  Meyers was up and down, [can't hear/can't understand] was up and down, Sean Henn was more down than up.  They have some guys down there - the Chase Wrights and the Sean Henns and even Igawa who they may look to for that bullpen spot but Mahay is a guy who is definitely on their radar.  

John:  Any other players that you think the Yankees are targeting at this point that we don't know about at this point?  So much to talk about!

Mark:  Not really.  You know, the bullpen is really the only thing they have left to do short of Santana and short of getting a word on Andy Pettitte - and how that's going to turn out I have no idea.  Right now he's probably leaning towards retirement, but the fact that all these guys - Rivera, A-Rod, they're all back - especially if Santana comes I think that could really spur Andy to come make one more run at it.  But other than those two things, the bullpen is the only thing left.  They've already got a backup catcher taken care of with Molina, they've got Betemit and some other guys in the infield to be backup infielders; Chris Gomez's name has been out there as a guy they could bring in as a backup infielder and there really isn't all that much else to do.  Now, if they do spring for Santana it obviously opens up a hole in center field.  I don't think it would turn them towards an Aaron Roland or an Andrew Jones, sign a big guy up for center field; You could see a Mike Cameron come in for a year or two or you could see them maybe give Brett Gardner a try and let Johnny Damon see a little time in center field and see how that works out.  But other than that there's really not that much left them to do.  

John:  Who do you see at first base, by the way?  

Mark:  I think the combination of Giambi and Philly Duncan with a little Betemit, maybe a little Andy Phillips in there.  If they're going to play Johnny Damon in left field and DH and Matsui in left field and DH, Giambi is going to have to play first base to get some at-bats.  They're not going to pay him $21 million to be a pinch-hitter off the bench.  

John:  No, I know.  To be honest with you I've been down on Matsui especially this playoff run.  If you look at his three years when the Yankees decline he's been as bad or worse than when Sheffield has been here and A-Rod's post-season woes.  So, I'm very down on Matsui, I know he has these streaks where he looks like Godzilla.  What's your take on Matsui, because I'm probably more down on Matsui than most Yankee fans.  What's your take on Matsui?  

Mark:  I think he's a tremendous ball player, a steady hitter.  He's really a professional hitter.  I'm not down on him at all.  Injuries have taken their toll on him the last year or so, ever since he went down with [can't hear/can't understand], but I think Matsui's still a very solid hitter and there aren't many other guys who are hitting fifth or sixth who can do quite the job that he does.  

John:  Right on.  One other quickie before you go - if you could change one Major League rule at this point what would it be?  That's coming from Jscape, one of our other writers.  

Mark:  One Major League rule...I would probably institute the DH in both leagues.  I just think at this point especially with inter-league being [can't hear/can't understand] every year, no one wants to see pitchers hit.  I realize there's a strategy angle of it, but I would put the DH in both leagues.  I'm a fan of the DH.  I think it makes for a better game, it makes - the National League, you look at their line-ups.  The pitcher is an out, the usually the A hitter is an out, and if they're not then they're a walk every time.  So, if I were going to do one thing it would probably be that.  

John:  Whoa, you're not a purist!  What would Bob Costas say?  

Mark:  I like the wildcard, I like the DH.  I 'm definitely not a purist.  

John: I love the wildcard, I can go either way - I kind of actually wish they could come to a census one way or the other.  

Mark:  I grew up in the late 70s, early 80s and I've never seen baseball without the DH.  I grew up in New York, my dad was a Yankee fan, I grew up watching Yankees games.  I've been watching American League ball for most of my life.  I like the DH, I think it's a good thing for baseball.  

John:  I happen to think A-Rod is one of the most incredible talents I've seen on the field.  Without A-Rod I again I thought the Yankees would not be able to compete for years.  So, how the did breaking of that story - I don't know how much you can reveal about it...  

Mark:  Well, you know, I can't reveal a lot about it.  But I had gotten word that A-Rod had in fact reached out to the Yankees and that the Yankees were open to talking to him.  After working the phones and talking to enough people I came across the news that they were pretty close to a deal and it was going to happen.  I think it was a good deal for both sides; obviously Alex gets the richest contract in baseball history.  But at the same time the Yankees made up for the money that they had lost for Texas compared to what they were originally looking to pay out.  So I think it was a deal that made sense for both sides and was certainly a positive on both sides, both for Alex's sake and the Yankees.  

John:  Yeah I think even most Yankees fans that weren't A-Rod fans realized that the prospects for the team without having any right-hand power or real first baseman or third baseman knew that they needed A-Rod back. I've seen a huge difference in the way business is being handled.  Do you find that to be true as well?  

Mark:  Well, I think with the big markets that certainly most of them have tried not to go over that threshold where they have to start paying luxury tax.  Obviously, the Yankees have blown by it with ease, but you've seen other teams like the Mets and the Red Sox really stick by that number.  So, to that extent I think baseball has achieved what it was looking for to some extent, which is not to have teams go crazy.   The Yankees were not going to let any of these rules or revenue sharing stop them from doing what they wanted to do, and kudos to them.  They make a tremendous amount of money and if they want to put it back in their team, good for them and good for their fans.  The only thing I would like to see is I think the teams that are receiving millions and millions in revenue sharing should be required to take that money and put it back into the team, put it into players.  Don't pocket it.  When you see teams like the Royals - they went out and got Mesch last year, which was great to try to compete on that level - but you see a lot of teams go out and take the money that they get and just put it in their pocket instead of spending it on players.  Teams that their payrolls are less money than they've been given for nothing, so that ought to change as well.  I think teams that are receiving all this money - that money should be required to be put towards players and try to improve your product on the field.  

John:  I completely agree.  I think it's a travesty in Minnesota the way a billionaire treats that team.  I'm like, if you have a Major League team in a city that also creates a lot of jobs for the community and you're a billionaire, it drives me crazy that he refuses to pay people.  And Tampa, what was their salary last year?  And what did they do with their money, they put it in the stadium?  People don't care if they stadium is falling apart if they have a good team on the field.  I completely agree with you on that.  Listen, thanks for your time Mark and I hope we can do this some more throughout the year.  You've been a real good sport.  

Mark:  I appreciate it.  Happy Holidays!  

John:  OK Mark, thanks.  Happy Holidays.    

Mark:  Thanks a lot.  

John:  And that was Mark Feinsand from the New York Daily News, brought to you by Pinstripe Alley.  We will be bringing you more interviews as the year goes on and I will see you later.  This is John Amato.