Spring training is underway, and it looks as though the Yankees will refrain from signing a major league free agent. Fiscal responsibility has become the new company line, a line which New York has toed carefully in recent offseasons. During that time, fans have seen many capable major league players stroll out the door to potentially greener pastures. Have Brian Cashman's decisions made sense?
McCarthy was the most productive member of the 2014 Yankees who was allowed to leave. After being acquired in July of 2014, McCarthy was stellar, posting a 2.89 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 14 starts for the Yankees. However, after the season, he signed a four-year, $48 million pact with Dodgers. New York displayed very limited interest in acquiring McCarthy's future services, as they reportedly would not even offer a contract longer than two years.
Much of the Yankees' reticence to go long-term with McCarthy stemmed from medical concerns. Those concerns seem to have been well-founded, as just one month into his first season in Los Angeles, McCarthy suffered a torn UCL. McCarthy could certainly return to have a productive major league career, but Cashman likely does not regret letting him skip to the west coast.
Ichiro recorded the most plate appearances in 2014 of any Yankee who was not retained for 2015, totaling 385 trips to the plate. He was actually somewhat serviceable, posting an 89 OPS+ with adequate outfield defense, an impressive output for a man of forty years. However, Ichiro posted a 56 OPS+ in his age-41 season, after signing a one-year deal with the Marlins. I hope Ichiro plays for as long as he wants; I just hope it's not for the Yankees.
After the retirement of Mariano Rivera in 2013, Robertson was faced with the unenviable task of replacing a legend. He did so admirably, striking out over 13 batters per nine in 2014, and recording a 3.08 ERA. The Yankees found his price tag of four years and $46 million to be excessive, so he can now be found on the White Sox.
While his ERA worsened, rising to 3.41 in Chicago, Robertson continued to post excellent strikeout-to-walk figures, and still profiles as an elite reliever going forward. Yet, the Yankees moved on from Robertson by signing Andrew Miller to a deal that saved them $10 million. It's safe to say the Yankee faithful have had no problems so far with their new relief ace.
Well, here's where things get really interesting. Cano was a genuine superstar when he was allowed to leave, and he is likely the finest player the Yankee farm system has produced in years. The decade-long $240 million contract that he signed, however, sent many recoiling in fear. The Mariners may have an albatross on their hands, and there have been rumors that Cano himself wants out. It must be noted that Cano is still very early in his contract, but thus far, it has seemed like an unhappy situation for all involved.
Yet, should fans be happy Cashman let Cano walk? At face value, the decision looks like a fair one, considering the length of the contract and Cano's struggles in 2015. However, given that the Yankees took most of the money they offered to Cano and used it to sign Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, the front office's decision-making looks much less favorable.
Over the past two seasons, Ellsbury and Beltran have used over 2,100 plate appearances to total just 6 WAR by Baseball-Reference. In contrast, Cano has produced nearly 10 rWAR over that span, across 1,339 plate appearances. The eight years remaining on Cano's deal may be a burden, but so may be the six combined years guaranteed to Beltran and Ellsbury.
Granderson's case has been a volatile one. After smashing 84 home runs as a Yankee across 2011 and 2012, the team let him go after a trying 2013. The Mets swooped in and delivered a four-year, $60 million contract. Granderson continued to struggle in 2014, but bounced back for a surprisingly great season in 2015, hitting 26 home runs and posting a 132 wRC+.
How much you value Granderson probably depends on your opinion of his outfield defense, but regardless, he looks like a valuable piece across the final two years of his contract. ZiPS projected him for 2.6 WAR and a 116 OPS+, and if he can maintain that level of production moving forward, the Mets will be thrilled they swiped Granderson from their crosstown rivals.
Letting Swisher leave to Cleveland may have been Cashman's most prescient decision on this list. Swisher's acquisition in 2008 turned out to be an underrated move, as the Yankees got a consistent three-to-four win player for next to nothing. However, after a strong first season in Cleveland, Swisher quickly spiraled downward. Among position players with at least 500 plate appearances over the past two seasons, Swisher has been the third least valuable, per FanGraphs.
Swisher is now with the Braves, and is in the final year of his four-year, $56 million pact (this is assuming he doesn't record 550 plate appearances, thus vesting his 2017 option). Swisher was a fine Yankee, but it appears management let him walk at precisely the right time.
The Yankees getting outbid by the Pittsburgh Pirates for Martin's services after the 2012 season ranks as one of the most curious offseason events in recent memory. Martin never set the world on fire in New York, posting just a 93 OPS+ in pinstripes. Yet he still profiled as an at least average backstop towards the end of his prime when the Yankees let him go to Pittsburgh for the price of two years and $15 million.
Martin now is the owner of a shiny $82 million contract as the catcher for the Blue Jays. The Yankees surely have no problem with the abilities of Brian McCann behind the plate currently, but letting Martin go to the Pirates for a relative pittance ranks as one of the Yankees worst decisions in recent memory.
While Cashman's history with regard to trades has been sterling, his track record when it comes to re-signing players or letting them walk seems much more mixed. The jury is still out on several of these players, but based on early returns, there have been some truly valuable contributors that the Yankees have willingly let walk in recent years.
However, in some cases, these players may have been let go due to financial reasons given by ownership, rather than due to a choice by Cashman. The fact that New York had no problem letting these players go, while also appearing shockingly quiet on the free agent market, has to be frustrating for a good portion of fans.