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Yankees 2018 Season Review: Evaluating Brian Cashman

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Brian Cashman put together an impressive team, but its Achilles’ heel - the starting rotation - was exposed repeatedly throughout the season and postseason.

Wild Card Game - Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

How well did Brian Cashman do this year? Answering that question isn’t as easy as you might think. The biggest issue lies in determining what to credit, or fault, Cashman for.

Granted, as general manager of the Yankees, Cashman has the last word on virtually every decision regarding the on-field product, so it’s tempting to say that the buck stops with him, period. However, all Cashman can do is put the pieces in play, and ultimately it’s up to the players themselves to perform. The thing is, baseball has a nasty tendency to blow up in your face. I mean, can you really blame Mike Chernoff, Cleveland’s GM, for Andrew Miller and Cody Allen simultaneously becoming pumpkins and destroying what was just last year an elite bullpen?

In the end, I decided to evaluate Brian Cashman’s 2018 by focusing on the acquisitions he made or did not make, and how sound those decisions were at the time. By controlling for the effects of hindsight on my analysis, I hope I’m giving Cashman a fair shake. That doesn’t mean giving him a pass on bad signings - what I want to do here is focus on the process rather than the results.

Just because New Player A had a bad season doesn’t mean that signing him in itself was a bad idea. The real question should be, was the thought process behind the signing defensible? If you think there’s a discrepancy between my following evaluations and the actual results, well, there’s your answer.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at Cashman’s moves and non-moves of the 2018 (pre-)season, starting with the positive ones.

Positives

  • Trading for Giancarlo Stanton

Sure, Giancarlo Stanton had a bummer of a year, being outslugged by Miguel Andujar in the regular season and slashing .238/.273/.381. For the purposes of this article, I don’t care. When you have the chance to swap Starlin Castro and change for Giancarlo Stanton, you do it every dang time.

  • Trading for J.A. Happ

Happ was arguably the best starting pitcher on the trade market this summer, which probably says more about what a ho-hum trade market it was than Happ himself, but I digress. Happ came at the price of Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney, which is kind of like trading two new releases from up-and-coming indie bands, who have catchy singles but nothing else and who don’t really fit in with the rest of your collection, for the Foo Fighters’ The Colour and the Shape. Okay this simile was horri-bad, but the trade was good, is the point.

  • Signing Neil Walker

See how adamant I am against using hindsight? Walker was a non-factor for the majority of the season, but I’m not sure how Cashman could be expected to have predicted that. Sure, 2017 showed that Walker was a platoon bat at this point in his career, but it’s not like Cashman signed him to be a starter. His role was to look like a big leaguer until Miguel Andujar/Gleyber Torres was ready to take his place. He, uh, didn’t. But he was a good bet to do so based on his career numbers, and he cost only four million dollars to boot. The results were bad, but the thought process was good.

  • Trading for Luke Voit

Ok, this might have a little to do with hindsight. But, there’s evidence that Cashman knew what he was doing when he made the Voit trade, as Voit ran one of baseball’s highest exit velocity marks in 2017. Kudos on Cashman for betting on the numbers and coming up big.

Negatives

  • Not getting SP depth preseason

I realize that this bullet point is a bit nebulous when compared to the positives, but bear with me. Starting pitching has been the bane of the Yankees year after year after year, and 2018 was certainly no exception. Sure, the Yankees’ starters weren’t bad per se, but they were certainly prone to bouts of ineffectiveness and inconsistency. In addition, there was little in the way of depth, forcing the Yankees to rely on the likes of Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German when injuries struck.

Am I letting hindsight cloud my evaluation here? I don’t think so, as the Yankees’ starting pitching was marred by those same question marks - inconsistency and lack of depth - prior to the season. And while I admit that the market for free agent starters wasn’t all that attractive in the 2017-2018 offseason, Cashman could have taken flyers on low-cost, high-risk, mid-to-high upside arms like Miles Mikolas or Trevor Cahill to address the question of depth, at least. But Cashman, aside from re-signing CC Sabathia, stood pat. I’m not going to say that’s why we’re here now instead of the playoffs, but there’s a good chance that a few more credible SP options would have made for a tighter division race.

As you can see, I’m pretty pleased with how Cashman has constructed the team offensively. The pitching, however, I’m less inclined to praise. All in all, I think Cashman’s body of work this season amounts to a B+. Reliably solid, but leaves you wanting a little more. This winter, I’m hoping for some quality pitching. Here’s hoping that Cashman can pull a big signing off.