Cashman a steadying force amidst Yanks storm
There is always a sense of a reality show when one is running the Yankees, Mets or Red Sox. Go back to November 2005. Theo Epstein walked out of Fenway Park in a gorilla suit, and Brian Cashman received a call from a writer claiming that, on behalf of Larry Lucchino, he was letting Cashman know that the Red Sox would like to make him Epstein's successor.
It can be that nuts, as it has been with the Mets, who, in the morass of betrayals, Ponzi schemes and billion-dollar lawsuits, may long for the days when they had Omar Minaya to blame.
By his own account, Cashman says, "We have not had a great winter because of the Cliff Lee business." Although, weeks after buying his place in Philadelphia, Lee was at the center of a heated war of words between Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg and Yankees president Randy Levine.
Cashman has been compared to a member of the cast of "Jersey Shore," the lowest of the low blows. He has been compared to George Costanza on "Seinfeld," when Costanza tried to get The Boss to fire him. Cashman has read that he wants to move to a smaller market, that he is at war with Derek Jeter, that his admission that he would not have paid a middle reliever $35 million is a rift with the Brothers Steinbrenner.
Then Hal Steinbrenner told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that he crafted some of the words in the Jeter negotiations, that he understands and respects Cashman's position in the Soriano signing and that while Brian's contract is up at the end of this season, Cashman is still very much in charge.
Hal is private, and we all think he is tough. He also knows what his father once told me, that, in the end, Brian will do what's in the Yankees' best interest, not just his own. Cashman proved it in 2005 when his contract was up and, in the best long-term interest of the organization, would not do a back-page cosmetic deal in the pennant race. He proved it again in 2006 when the Yankees lost in the playoffs to the Tigers, when George Steinbrenner and Levine wanted to fire Joe Torre and were well down the line toward hiring Lou Piniella, and Cashman stood his ground, talked his bosses off the ledge and saved Torre's job.
Hal Steinbrenner thus respected Cashman's position on Soriano. He had told agents for relievers like J.J. Putz, Kerry Wood and Bobby Jenks that no matter how good they were, they were not getting three-year deals. When the owners and club president accepted Scott Boras's presentation -- and at this point, it doesn't matter if it was fueled by Boston's moves -- they understood that if Cashman were not honest, all those other agents would say, "This guy is a liar, why would I listen to him in the future?"
Then came the WFAN breakfast. Mike Francesa asked the right questions, such as whether Jeter could someday move to third and Alex Rodriguez to designated hitter. Cashman said he hoped Jeter would play shortstop through the length of his contract, but if he were to move at some point, he thought it would be to the outfield, because Cashman believes that the corner infield positions are power positions and that Jeter's athleticism would play better in the outfield. Total hypothetical. Big story.
Cashman was honest about Joba Chamberlain's arm. He was honest about Jorge Posada seeing more time as the DH. He was honest about his opinion that in January the Red Sox appear to be the best team in the game, knowing full well that Andy Pettitte's decision hasn't been made and that he may have to move a Jesus Montero, Manuel Banuelos or Gary Sanchez for another pitcher or two.
Of course, the fact that the Yankees' system is deep despite losing Draft choices (such as the one for Soriano) is one category Hal Steinbrenner has checked in his general manager list. Have the Yankees contended every year? Check. Has Cashman lowered payroll, at least pre-Soriano? Check. That is important to an owner who sees some of his profit distributed around baseball.
Don't make the mistake of shoveling dirt on the Yankees. Not yet. Injuries and age do raise issues about A-Rod, Posada, Jeter and even the invincible Mariano Rivera, but this is still a team that should be one of the two best in the league offensively, has a very deep bullpen -- if Soriano accepts his role and remains healthy -- and has the players in its system to fill in at catcher (Montero, Austin Romine) should Russell Martin not work out.
Obviously the biggest questions revolve around the starting pitching. Unless his knee operation proves a problem for a body suited to offensive tackle, CC Sabathia is a rock. Almost everyone expects that A.J. Burnett will bounce back, without last season's distractions, with Larry Rothschild and with a newfound chip on his shoulder. Some worry about Phil Hughes' delivery, but he won 18 games. Pettitte seems to be leaning toward coming back, which leaves 20-25 starts to Ivan Nova, Banuelos ... maybe even a Gio Gonzalez, if Cashman will give Billy Beane enough of his prospects.
When Hal Steinbrenner admitted to Sherman that he orchestrated part of Cashman's response in the Jeter negotiations, it was evident that even with Levine's occasional imitation of the organ at St. Patrick's Cathedral, there is a sense of stability around the Yankees that will remain in place as long as Cashman is in charge of the baseball operations.
It is also very clear that if Cashman were to leave, Hal Steinbrenner can see the rush for power that would take place below him, which, with the contracts for some of their older players outstanding, might send the Yankees into the kind of chaos Cashman has been able to avoid. Had Torre been fired in 2006, would the Yankees have won a World Series championship three years later? My point, precisely.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.