[Brian Cashman] has incredible intelligence, but he has those Machiavellian skills as well, which you need in that town.
-Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane
If Billy says it, it must be true. But SF and plenty of Yanks fans in the stathead community disagree with the hero of Moneyball, and idol for many armchair general managers. So who’s right? The architect of those wildly successful and low-payroll Oakland teams or those ivory tower critics?
The byzantine structure of the Yankees front office in past years has made assessing Cashman’s work a near impossible task. Take the 2004-2005 off-season as an example of the problems facing the Cashman scholar. Reports and leaks pinned the Pavano signing on Cashman, the Womack signing on Tampa or Gene Michaels, the Wright signing and the Big Unit trade on George. Meanwhile, it was also leaked that Cashman argued vehemently for addressing the center field vacancy and signing Carlos Beltran, viewing his signing as the top priority of the off-season… Or none of this speculaton could be true. For all we know, Brian could have internalized the trauma that was the David Roberts steal, and felt that Womack was the most important acquisition of the off-season. The point is that neither critics or defenders could point clearly to moves made by Cashman that either peeved or pleased them.
But once in a blue moon, scientists are presented ideal conditions in nature in which to assess their theories. The 2005-06 off-season is such a case. Thanks to a change in brain chemistry this past fall (and manifested during this spring training), the Boss has transformed from hands-on dictator to Ben and Jerry’s executive-in-waiting. The result was that for the first time during Cashman’s tenure, George agreed to relinquish any control over personnel decisions and hand them over completely to Cashman. Thus, the recent off-season, for better or worse, was entirely young Brian’s doing. And how did he do? As a Yanks fan I’m encouraged.
He addressed the team’s immediate needs, specifically upgrading the relief corps and the center field position. And, at the same time, he cut payroll and did not gut the minor league system, expressing a recommittment to the farm. Exactly one low-level prospect left the system in a trade for a serviceable lefty reliever (Villone). In addition, Tom Gordon’s departure yielded the team a first and second round draft pick, which made up for the loss of the team’s first two draft picks due to the Damon signing. Meanwhile, the lower system continues to develop, Phillip Hughes is impressing veterans in camp, and the Yanks once again are projected by a PECOTA-based system to win the AL East. Cashman’s choices have not been without controversy, but each has solid reasoning behind it, unlike last year’s Womack debacle. He consistently targeted valuable talent this past off-season (Dotel, Giles, Farnworth, Damon) and stuck to his guns by keeping the Wangs, Canos and Duncans. Pretty good work, no?