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The Yankees and Brian Cashman: A lesson in backtracking

After a rough November, Cashman has quietly made amends with the fan base in both action and communication.

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has always had an up-and-down reputation with the general public, but his particular brand as an executive has taken a hit across the past year and a half. The Bombers slumped late in 2022 en route to yet another playoff embarrassment at Houston’s hands, and followed it up with their worst season in 30 years. The on-field product would be difficult enough to swallow given the expectations in New York, but he has not covered himself in glory in front of the media in recent months.

Fans demanded answers after the 82-80 finish in 2023, and at Cashman’s media availability to discuss the way forward, he raised some eyebrows to say the least. Over the next 45 minutes, he put together one of the worst media appearances I’ve ever seen from a Yankees employee:

If the intent was to stick up for his employees, that’s understandable.

However, Cashman only built cringeworthy steam from there and had a lot more to say with a tone of personal offense rather than professionalism. An on-the-fly ill-fated defense of the disastrous Joey Gallo and Sonny Gray trades came across as you might expect.

Cashman’s statements are technically true, but it’s probably not a good idea to bring up the fact that both players improved after leaving New York.

In his previous 25 years in his position, we’d never seen Cashman this overtly combative at a time when the fanbase only wanted accountability. He could get testy at times, but this was next-level aggression. Rightful questions about analytics dogged the team’s offensive streakiness throughout the season, and Cashman simply denied them, chastising the media:

Cashman didn’t stop there — things eventually devolved to throwing his own current players under the bus. On Giancarlo Stanton’s future, the GM shrugged and said “(Getting hurt) seems to be part of his game” among other things. Although it’s speculation, comments from top free agent target Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s agent led us to believe Cashman’s conduct may have contributed to his client spurning the Yankees’ offer in favor of the Dodgers.

At this point, it was clear Cashman’s attitude was becoming a liability. In his sweeping declarations, he pointed out tons of trees, but very little forest. The first month of the offseason was a low point, and the veteran GM airing his grievances and bringing up four-year-old trades didn’t help.

Keeping priorities in order though, Cashman acted shrewdly augmenting the roster. Fast-forward two months, and after thorough preparation, Cashman took the action necessary to land Juan Soto. Hal Steinbrenner’s vocal willingness to spend more helped. Cashman capitalized on the goodwill and seems to have learned what he knew all along: Yankee fans don’t respond to the blame game very well. The rosters he had built recently were not worth defending so arduously.

Looking at Cashman’s public comments over the past month or so, it’s possible he got an earful from the Yankees’ PR department. His tone flipped completely from thin-skinned snappiness to unifying voice of reason, and the latter suits any Yankees executive much better.

This week, Cashman was much more optimistic on the topic of Stanton:

The GM’s tone remained similarly upbeat throughout his comments. It’s also worth noting the magnanimous way in which he handled the past beef with Marcus Stroman — another addition needed to bolster hopes in 2024. The touchy version of Cashman railing against the media in November might have been grappled with signing Stroman. The fan base just doesn’t have the tolerance for a GM who refuses to admit the Gallo trade was a disaster, for example. To his credit (and maybe to Yankees PR’s credit), Cashman’s stock is way up.

To be fair, I’m sure everyone in the building is in a much better mood than in November, and that can smooth over almost anything. Most would say the front office has come back strong from a rough year. There’s now hope that maybe Cashman was just having a really bad day before the November interview.

The singular quote that really ties this all together came at the end of that most recent interview:

If Cashman had meant strictly a better product on the field, he’d have said that. “Running a 2024 season in a much better light” encompasses much more than that. For perhaps the first time, Cashman’s professionalism wavered in November. To his credit, he’s walked the walk and talked the talk since then.