Earlier this week, Yankees GM Brian Cashman held a press conference, in light of another successful campaign that nonetheless ended too soon. If you’ve navigated your way to this page, you’ve probably caught wind of how that presser went. As has become usual in recent years, Cashman fielded pointed questions about another great team that fell short, and at times, things got heated.
You can catch our Ryan Chichester’s analysis of the conference here. The short of it: when asked about the team’s decisions regarding aces like Justin Verlander, Patrick Corbin, and Max Scherzer, decisions that led to said players pitching in the World Series for other teams, Cashman got defensive. “I didn’t pass on them,” Cashman said defiantly. He defended the team’s process in past seasons, pointing out that while it didn’t yield them Verlander or Corbin, it did put them in position to win a championship each of the past three seasons.
Nothing Cashman said was really false. His points either rang true or at the least came with a kernel of truth at heart. He’s right that the Yankees are good enough to win a title right now. He’s right when he alludes to the role of chance in the postseason (just look at the Astros getting taken to task by a 93-win Nationals team!). The Yankees’ “process” obviously has its merits, if it’s helped the team to three consecutive playoff appearances, and set them up for more down the line, without coming to close to the level of losing and rebuilding teams like Houston and the Cubs and others have deployed to turn their teams around.
Everything Cashman said Thursday feels of a piece of a larger plan that’s been in motion for years. With Hal Steinbrenner at the helm, the team has clearly made efforts to change the way it does business. They don’t throw money at problems the way they used to. Now, they use David strategies as Goliath. They have cash but act like a team without it at times, seeking out all the small ways to win while leaving the big ones the the side.
Such a tact can yield plenty of good! The Yankees are at the forefront of scouting, player development, and analytics. They helped pioneer the ideas of catcher framing and defensive shifting. They turn castoffs into stars at the plate. That tact can also lead a team to look for market inefficiencies in every possible corner of the world, which helps explain how they saw Aroldis Chapman’s domestic violence incident in 2015 as an opportunity for arbitrage. As the Astros have learned this week, such behavior can, and should, come with consequences.
It all adds up to a team that appears to have found its equilibrium. Cashman said it best on Thursday: “You put your best foot forward and you live with it. I have no regrets that we have a strong process and we put our best foot forward.” The Yankees have no regrets regarding the way they are run and the processes they have. They have found their happy place. As much as fans like us might implore them to do more, it’s getting harder and harder to expect them to deviate from the plans that got them this far.
The Yankees sound like they’ve found a process, a level of team quality, and a level of player payroll, that is all in balance in their eyes. They have lines in the sand. They won’t cross those lines if their process dictates that they shouldn’t. That can lead to an efficient organization, but one that leaves opportunities on the field.
Cashman’s comments this week echo sentiments we’ve simply gotten used to. At this year’s trade deadline, Cashman painted a picture of a franchise that did their due diligence and went to market, only to find the prices too high. “These prices were way out of reach” Cashman said at the time. They surely might have been. We can’t know for sure, though we can know for sure the Yankees lost their final game of the year in a bullpen game, and that multiple players got injured during the summer perhaps because they were pushed too hard when the team lacked pitching depth.
Flash back to last offseason, when a raft of young, high-end talent hit the free agent market in the form of Corbin, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper. Cashman argued that they made an offer to Corbin and that Washington simply beat it, and that the Yankees couldn’t go any further. They have their line in the sand, and it cannot be breached.
Flash back even all the way to Houston’s trade for Verlander in 2017. Cashman indicated that Verlander was simply a non-starter, because of dictates from on-high that the veteran ace’s salary was too prohibitive. Again, Steinbrenner drew his line, and it kept the Yankees from considering an option that could have helped the team win more games.
At this point, it’s hard not to consider Cashman’s words at this particular press conference to be the same ones the Yankees will parrot at every newser going forward. The trend has become too clear. They are at peace with where they are. They will breach one or two of the luxury tax thresholds, but probably not the final one, in pursuit of a title. They will turn over most of the stones, but not all of them. They’d prefer to turn over most of the cost- and team-controlled stones first before considering the big, heavy, veteran ones.
This isn’t to say the Yankees don’t spend, or don’t win. They do both of those things more than almost every team in baseball. It just seems that they’re happy with where they are, and aren’t considering whether maybe just some more financial might could help push them where they want to go.