The Yankees' offseason has yet to begin, but all signs point to at least one key free agent returning. Team president Randy Levine told ESPN New York that the Yankees would like to retain general manager Brian Cashman, who's in the final year of a three-year deal. Cashman, while deflecting the urgency of Levine's comments, indicated that he wants to return as well. "They know that I would like to come back and we have a good working relationship, but we'll deal with that stuff on another day."
Cashman has been at the helm of the Yankees since February 1998, a span that's seen them reach the postseason 13 times in 14 years, winning four World Series, six pennants, and 11 division titles. He's gone through three straight three-year deals (one with an option that was picked up), all of which have featured some amount of intrigue as to whether he would return. After the 2005 season, he wrested some amount of autonomy within the team's convoluted hierarchy, though as we saw this past winter with the higher-ups' heavy-handed Rafael Soriano signing, that took him only so far.
Indeed, it's been a rocky season for Cashman, who has been increasingly acted as though he could take or leave his job. As I wrote at Baseball Prospectus back in May when Jorge Posada staged his Big Sitdown and the general manager insisted upon airing dirty laundry mid-game:
Cashman has rarely seemed like the cooler head in recent months. Since the end of last season, he has spoken to the media with increasing candor, making for entertaining copy but no doubt ruffling the feathers of those around him. In November, he went on the offensive against Jeter as the team tried to work out a follow-up contract upon the expiration of the shortstop's 10-year, $189 million deal. When the Yankees' opening offer of three years and $45 million was coolly received, Cashman responded by announcing, "We've encouraged him to test the market and see if there's something he would prefer other than this. If he can, fine. That's the way it works."
The Yankees ultimately locked Jeter up in early December via a three-year, $51 million deal with a player option, but just a week later, Cashman's most prized offseason pursuit, Cliff Lee, got away, signing with the Phillies at the 11th hour. Having shunned the secondary starting pitching market (not without reasonable cause, given the relatively slim pickings), Cashman nonetheless raised a stink when the higher-ups—the Steinbrothers, as well as team president Randy Levine—decided to spend what amounted to a budget surplus on setup reliever Rafael Soriano via a three-year, $35 million deal that includes opt-outs after the first two seasons. Cashman stated that he didn't recommend the deal: "I didn't think it was an efficient way to allocate the remaining resources we have, and we had a lot of debate about that."
Not that he hadn't thrown dubious dollars at the bullpen himself over the winter himself. In early January, Cashman signed free agent Pedro Feliciano to a two-year, $8 million deal, even though the lefty had made a record 266 appearances over a three-year span with the Mets from 2008-2010—a workload Cashman later termed "abusive" after Feliciano had fallen victim to shoulder woes that will likely cost him the season. "It's a thin market when you are out there looking for lefties, and he was one of the better ones out there," Cashman said. "You don't typically run to sign up guys that have been used like that." And yet, here he had. One almost expected him to follow with the famous Simpsons line: "Oh, I said the loud part soft and soft part loud."
Despite those missteps — not to mention the ongoing reminder of A.J. Burnett's woeful contract — Cashman put together a team that has topped last year's win total and clinched home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the upcoming playoffs. The fliers he took on Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Russell Martin have paid off well enough, even if they did keep key prospects on the farm for longer than many of us would have preferred.
The other day, Cashman conceded that Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein "kicked my ass in the offseason… The Red Sox had a great winter, and I had a bad winter. But as it turned out, I had a better winter than anybody would have expected, including myself." He also confirmed the amusing long-standing rumor that he dined with Carl Crawford's agent last December in order to drive up the price of the free agent left fielder, tit for tat over Epstein's discussions with Mariano Rivera. The Red Sox ultimately signed Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal, one that's off to a dreadful start; the 29-year-old has hit .258/.293/.406 while stealing a career-low 18 bases, and — as we saw this past weekend — playing left field with the grace of a man putting out a grease fire.
With the playoffs right around the corner, we'll see how long this Era of Good Feelings lasts. Despite the Yankees' strong record, the erratic nature of their rotation behind CC Sabathia could make for a short stay in October; the past cycle through the unit has seen Garcia and Burnett make reassuring starts, while Colon did not, but none has been anywhere near as consistent as one would hope going into the playoffs. Should they falter, fingers will presumably be pointed at the GM over his decision not to further fortify at the trade deadline or during the waiver period. That's the heat that comes with being in the game's hottest kitchen, though, and Cashman has shown over the past 14 seasons that he can stand it as well as anyone.