Coming into the season, most analysts expected the New York Yankees to be one of the best teams in the American League. Although writers, scouts, fans, and projection systems alike all expressed some concerns about the Yankees’ boom-or-bust approach to constructing the starting rotation, almost everyone had confidence that the team’s offensive prowess and bullpen depth would be enough to keep the team atop the division and make them title contenders.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. Not surprisingly, the fanbase is pissed: on the regular, the comments section is filled with outrage against manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman, and our most recent monthly general manager approval poll saw Cashman’s approval rating drop all the way to just 10 percent. To put it short, the fans pine for the days of George Steinbrenner and want heads to roll. That, however, would be a mistake — at least when it comes to the front office.
Before you scroll down to the comments in order to tell me that I’m wrong, please, hear me out. Yes, the Major League roster has underperformed, and yes, that’s on the front office, but to judge the front office solely on the performance of one team out of six within the organization (even if that one is the big league one) is shortsighted. Although the public mostly pays attention only to the Major League roster — and rightfully so, since championship flags at the MLB level are what matter most — the front office has a number of responsibilities, among the most important of which includes player development.
If you follow our minor league coverage, you probably know where this is going, but just in case you don’t, let me catch you up: the Yankees farm teams have been absolutely on fire this season, with all four full-season squads at least tied for first place. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders lead with a 41-21 record, and their run differential of +104 is second only to Tampa Bay’s Durham Bulls in Triple-A East. The Somerset Patriots are tied for first in their own division with a 40-24 record and lead Double-A Northeast with a +99 run differential; moreover, they’re actually underperforming their run differential by three games. The High-A Hudson Valley Renegades, for their part, are pacing the High-A East North Division, their 42-23 record giving them a full six-game lead in the division, while the Low-A Tampa Tarpons have put up a ludicrous +118 run differential en route to a league-best 44-20 record.
The team success nice, but prospect development is paramount in the minors, and several have seemingly taken the next step in 2021. Infielders Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Hoy Park, Josh Smith, and Diego Castillo have put up big power numbers at all levels throughout the farm, while on the mound, Luis Medina, Luis Gil, and Glenn Otto have begun to climb the ladder. 2020 first-round pick Austin Wells has done his part to prove his bat is no joke from behind the plate, and phenom Jasson Dominguez has now joined him in Low-A Tampa at age 18. While it remains to be seen whether they will be able to replicate that success going forward — Deivi García ought to be a reminder that prospect development is not linear and will break your heart — the sheer amount of success this season suggests that the organization is doing at least something right in player development.
At the end of the day, while results definitely matter, a good process is more important to generating long-term success; after all, how else have Tampa Bay and Cleveland been very good at regularly developing starting pitching, or the Dodgers at player development in general, if not for good, sound processes that help players reach their full potential? Although it’s too soon to say for certain whether any recent changes that the Yankees have made to the player development program will bear fruit, the early returns in 2021 have been promising. Upending the front office now by firing Cashman this winter would throw a wrench into that process, as the new general manager would almost certainly want to bring his own ideas to the table.
At this point in time, with the way the minor league teams have been playing, doing anything that could upset the player development program is a mistake. And for that very reason, Cashman’s job as general manager of the New York Yankees ought to remain safe — at least for the time being.