Hal Steinbrenner isn't happy with the Yankees' offense. Me neither, Hal. After scoring just six runs in a rain-shortened two game series in Baltimore this week, the team's currently twelfth in the American League in runs-per-game at 3.98 and eleventh in OPS at .695. That kind of production isn't exactly what the Yankees' principal owner was counting on when he agreed to chuck plan 189 last winter and commit over $300 million in new money for position players. Piecing together Steinbrenner's comments, it seems like was holding Brian Cashman at least partially accountable for the club's scoring woes when he declined to give the general manager, whose contract expires after the season, a vote of confidence for the future.
It's sometimes hard to judge Yankee execs because it's never very clear who's making which decisions. The final call on whether or not to meet Robinson Cano's sky-high demands probably didn't fall on Cashman's desk, and it's hard to say which of the team's ensuing moves were pushed by ownership in an effort to salvage ticket sales and TV ratings in the wake of his departure and of a rare missed postseason. In the past, Cashman hasn't been shy about distancing himself from moves he disagreed with. He pouted all the way through Rafael Soriano's introductory press conference in 2011 and last July, he spoke openly about his opposition to the deal that swapped pitching prospect Corey Black for Alfonso Soriano. This year, Cashman has seemed on board with all the Yankees' moves, from their aggressive pursuit of Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann to their choice to go three years for Carlos Beltran and down to the more minor deals made to tack together the rest of the lineup.
Assuming that Cashman was the force behind the latest round of Yankee acquisitions, is it fair for him to take the heat for the team's sluggish attack? In some ways, no. No one could have anticipated as severe a drop-off as McCann has seen, with the 30-year-old coming off a 121 wRC+ season that placed him as one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Soriano hit 34 home runs in 2013...it was unrealistic to expect that again, but being awful enough to get cut by early July is another thing entirely. Beltran, given his age was a risky signing for sure, but his second half return to form points to his early struggles being strictly related to his elbow injury, which seems to now be healing nicely.
On the other hand, no one else in the Yankee order is really "underachieving" and they've gotten better-than-expected performances on some counts. Ellsbury is essentially having an Ellsbury season at the plate (108 wRC+ vs. 109 career) and Brett Gardner is in the midst of the best year of his life. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira aren't quite setting the league on fire, but the fact that they've stayed on the field more often than not has to be considered a win. Their health was no given heading in and the Yankees lacked viable backups for either. Meanwhile, glaring holes at second and third were patched with Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and a slew of career minor leaguers. Even if McCann and Beltran were at their best all season, this was never going to be a classic Yankee offense...they entered the year without a player coming off a 140 wRC+ or better season for the first time since 1997. That team turned out alright - it finished second in the AL in offense - but it also boasted incredible depth. There was no Roberts or Ichiro or Solarte in that lineup.
Bereft of the goods to deal for a bona fide slugger - and without one available anyway - the Yankees spent their deadline bringing in struggling hitters with solid pasts who could be had on the cheap. Those moves, though, haven't done much so far to buoy a sinking offense. After a quick start to his Yankee career, Chase Headley's fallen back to a non-savior-like .724 OPS/105 wRC+ in 83 plate appearances. Martin Prado and Stephen Drew have somehow managed to look worse than the 2005 All-Stars they were replacing in Roberts and Ichiro. Prado, who's still owed $22 million is hitting .175/.233/.275 through his first twelve games in pinstripes, and Stephen Drew has picked up right where he left off in Boston with a line of .172/.242/.310. If the rest of this year was truly an audition to replace Jeter as the next Yankee shortstop, it's not looking like there'll be a call-back.
One of Cashman's stronger points over the years has been his willingness to go out and correct his mistakes. It's clear the Yankees need some sort of offensive overhaul this winter, but that'll be a difficult thing to achieve without a lot of maneuverability on the roster. After adding Prado, and counting Alex Rodriguez, the team has seven position players signed to contracts worth at least $11 million per season that are guaranteed at least through 2016. Whoever's brought in to play short - and it'll have to be someone, since there's no imaginable in-house solution - will likely bring that number up to eight. In the 2012-13 off-season, when the Yankees were spending most of their time working on short-term deals for older players, roster flexibility was a major Cashman talking point. But in less than two years, that flexibility has pretty much vanished. As much fun as it would be to see a totally revamped Yankee lineup in 2015, what you see now is for the most part, what you're going to get.
As is the case with anyone who's been at their job for seventeen years, opinions on Cashman are pretty much set. Some love him, some loathe him and others fall somewhere in the middle. For all the recent failures there have been plenty of smart moves too...the Gardner extension is looking like a steal, as is the Brandon McCarthy trade, and Cashman has done a lot right to keep afloat a pitching staff that's lost the greatest closer of all time and four-fifths of its starters over the past calendar year. But if the Yankees are home watching in October for the second straight year - something they haven't done since 1992-1993 - someone's head may very well roll. Joe Girardi is owed three years and $12 million. Cashman's owed zero and $0. Anyone care to guess whose it will be?