Organizational structure changes over time. Firms are forced to adapt their management styles or risk losing out to more efficient, dynamic competition. We’ve seen this in tech companies, where flatter hierarchies encourage more creativity and collectiveness among employees. We’ve also seen it in baseball, notably in the way front offices are organized.
The most obvious example of this is the evolution of the President of Baseball Operations office. In yesteryear, some teams didn’t even have such a position, and those that did usually acknowledged the role as supervisory, a liason between ownership and management, or dealing with the macro level issues of a baseball team, like the stadium the team plays in.
More recently, however, the President’s office has become responsible for what the general manager USED to be: roster optimization, player acquisition, talent development. Dave Dombrowski, Mark Shapiro, Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman are all examples of baseball ops Presidents that wield the full authority of traditional GMs. To their credit, they often work closely with general managers - Friedman in particular - , but are still in charge of the team in full.
Brian Cashman, too, has changed the face of baseball’s front offices. By declining to bring Joe Girardi back earlier in the offseason, hiring Aaron Boone, and building a roster of young, high-ceiling talent, he’s consolidated every aspect of baseball operations into his vision, and this is now truly Cashman’s team.
This starts with the decisions surrounding on-field management. Cashman’s worked with two very independent, almost hardheaded managers in Joe Torre and Girardi. Both managers had unique visions for what baseball looked like to them, and it appears that conflict between those visions were what eventually caused their departures. Important to note is that both Joes were managers in MLB before joining Cashman and the Yankees.
Contrast that with Aaron Boone, a new manager with zero experience running a team. Plucked from the ESPN booth, Boone will mainly be tasked with handling the media circus around New York, absorbing the flak that will inevitably rise whenever a Baby Bomber goes 0-4 against the Red Sox. When Gary Sanchez was struggling defensively, Girardi was unable to both properly communicate how to improve with the young catcher, and protect him from the ire of beat writers and commentariat. Managers have to be able to do one or the other, and the belief that Boone could and Girardi couldn’t is a reason why Boone is now a major league manager.
We know that Aaron Boone isn’t going to be asked to make too many complicated decisions. He’ll be guided along by the bench staff, most of which remains unchanged likely because they agreed with Brian Cashman’s vision for the team. Cashman hasn’t had to strip down the team’s leadership, since most of the leadership seems to defer to him already.
Cashman’s consolidation of authority can also be seen in how he’s built the roster, especially the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton and future of Gleyber Torres. After the 2017 Yankees were the second best offense in baseball, guided primarily by the team’s ability to hit home runs and work walks, one could have imagined the Yankees going into 2018 with an identical lineup, or at most improving a thin bench.
Instead, well, the Yankees doubled down on their offensive mindset. Snaring the reigning NL MVP adds to the prodigious projected offense and ignores the calls some have made for more contact and speed. Augmenting the offense is also the reason that Torres will likely end up as a starting infielder for the Yankees by May, despite questions about where exactly he’ll play and how good he’ll be at it. Cashman’s vision for an offensive juggernaut is now the overriding factor in roster construction.
Remaking the team in Cashman’s image comes with one significant risk, of course. Should everything go wrong, and the Yankees end up not nearly as good as they could or should be, there will be no one else to blame but Cash. Heading into a season with a foursome of powerful teams in the American League, Cashman’s betting heavy on his vision, and has to know what the cost of a bust will be.