Yesterday, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman spoke to the media for the first time since the end of the disastrous 2023 season. To say that these comments were controversial is an understatement. Brendan Kuty and Chris Kirschner asserted on The Athletic that Steinbrenner offered nothing but vague statements despite assertions that “some big changes” are coming behind the scenes. Brian Cashman’s defended himself and the organization so intensely that his NSFW comments were picked up by TMZ.
With New York coming off its worst season in three decades and with fans looking for signs that the arrow is pointed in the right direction, it’s needless to say that their takes were not well-received. Cashman’s comments in particularly were ripped apart by the fanbase, who criticized his flex that the team has the division’s smallest analytics department, mocked his defense of the Joey Gallo and Sonny Gray trades, and all in all said that he came off as an out-of-touch and arrogant team executive who knows his job is safe and thus feels no pressure.
I disagree. When I heard Cashman’s comments yesterday, far from hearing a guy who knows his role is safe, I was reminded of former New York Giants general manager Dave Gettleman. I heard a guy whose seat has suddenly gotten very, very hot, perhaps for the first time ever.
To see what I mean, let’s wind the clock back to 2021. The Giants had just come off their third season with Gettleman as their GM and their first under head coach Joe Judge. They had wrapped up a 6-10 year, their fourth consecutive losing season and sixth in seven years. Despite whispers that the organization was looking to kick their unpopular GM upstairs, team owner John Mara opted for continuity.
Even so, the fact that these rumors existed at all highlighted the fact that ownership was losing its patience and wanted results.
This situation doesn’t perfectly mirror that of the 2021 Giants, but nonetheless there are some parallels. The Yankees were a lackluster team in 2023, and in truth, aside from the hot start to 2022 that drew early comparisons to the 1998 Yankees, they have been a lackluster team since the abbreviated 2020 campaign. An outside agency is putting the front office — particularly the analytics department — under a microscope, and even if no personnel changes are made, there’s uncertainty about the current process.
The fanbase is frustrated, and despite Steinbrenner’s vague comments leading to accusations of apathy, it seems like ownership is too: Hal did, after all, go out of his way to call the season “awful” and said that the team “accomplished nothing.” While these might just be empty platitudes, the fact that they were such diametrically opposed to Cashman’s comments later in the day suggests either an extraordinarily complex PR routine or the existence of at least a slight rift in the front office.
With Mara breathing down his neck, how did Gettleman respond? He doubled and tripled down on what he did. Three years after his infamous press conference in which he mocked analytics by pretending to type on a keyboard after drafting a running back with the second overall pick, Gettleman doubled down on the decision, rejecting the critique that running backs are injury-prone (while said injury-prone running back was rehabbing from a serious injury, mind you!) by saying, “You can talk about injuries at any position.” Defending his decision not to take any offensive linemen in the 2021 NFL Draft, Gettleman defiantly declared to the media, “We have a little more confidence in our offensive linemen than you guys do.” He doubled down on Daniel Jones. As the team went nowhere fast, he doubled down on the roster at the trade deadline rather than acquiring future draft picks, like Joe Schoen did at this year’s deadline.
Gettleman doubled down, and doubled down, and doubled down, for one reason: He was out of time. He spent years steering a sinking Giants ship, striving to build a contender, and with time running out, he pushed all the chips to the center of the table and went all in. He doubled down, because he could not afford to be wrong — if he was, he would be shoved out the door, and even if it was technically called a retirement, that’s exactly what happened in January 2022.
When we look at Cashman’s comments from Tuesday, we see him double down a lot. He criticized the notion that the team is too analytics-dependent and called minor leaguer Ben Ruta, who claims the organization doesn’t teach baseball in the minors, “Bitter Boy.” His back-and-forth with a reporter about the organization’s player development would be comical if it didn’t refuse to acknowledge the growing tendency for Yankees prospects to struggle at the plate at the Major League level.
Cashman also defended the decision to trade for Gallo and Gray. While I do happen to agree with him on the general premise (the trades were after all widely praised at the time; nobody could have predicted Gallo would forget how to play baseball, and in truth it’s Larry Rothschild who failed Gray), his exact defense — noting that two playoff teams brought in Gallo and that Gray, several years after leaving the Bombers, is a Cy Young finalist — does not resemble a rational, coherent defense so much as grasping at straws. It really isn’t a brag when the good players you acquired couldn’t figure out a way to be good with your team.
Lastly, there’s the pièce de résistance: Cashman’s statement that the Yankees are “pretty f*****g good.” Look, I’m aware of the context; he’s defending his staff, and that’s something I will never criticize. But wording matters — and you can’t call yourself “good” while using foul language after a season your boss called a disaster. Unless, of course, he’s calling the organization “good” because he, like Gettleman in 2021, needed the team to be good, because the axe has been raised above his head and his chair has been set ablaze.
Does this mean that Cashman is on the hot seat? Absolutely not. As the lords of Westeros regularly say in A Song of Ice and Fire, “Words are wind.” But as the offseason goes on, it’s important to keep this confrontation with the media in the back of our minds.
If the Yankees have a fairly quiet offseason, making moves around the edges akin to the winter of 2018-19, then this is probably much ado about nothing. But if the Yankees dive headfirst into the top of the trade and free agent markets, reeling in the top of the market like they did after missing the playoffs in 2008 — if, say, three of Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Cody Bellinger don the pinstripes in 2024 — then, perhaps Cashman is actually feeling some heat.