Friday, February 29, 2008
So does the Yankees GM deserve four more years? Or perhaps, the more relevant question is whether Brian Cashman qualifies as the man best suited to steward the franchise into the next decade. A question, I regret, I can only respond to with decided ambivalnce.
The principal obstacle to answering it, an insurmountable one perhaps, is that no ready alternative comes to mind, apart from Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees amateur scouting director, who reporters have characterized as everything from an unsung genius, for drafting Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy (if not for also selecting CJ Henry in the first-round the previous year), to a truckling opportunist with, in Bill Madden's words, "designs on inheriting the earth."
Indeed, with a family as capricious and autocratic as the Steibrenners, one always has to fear cronyism, nepotism, and servility will prevail over merit. George's "Kitchen Cabinet" in Tampa, after all, bled the franchise once already. A recrudescence, now, could suffocate the body Cashman has restored while still in its infancy.
Still, this last year, beginning with his refusal to acknowledge the folly of hiring Marty Miller, continuing through his recent public criticism of Bernie Williams and Joe Torre, and ending with his eschewal of Johan Santana, Cashman's decisions only have underlined the dubious side of the GM's record and raised the question whether 10 years inside the Yankees crucible hasn't begun to distort his judgment.
CASH, THE DELIVERER
As this blog has argued before ("In Cash We Trust," 01/12/08) Cashman's greatest contribution to the franchise, exceeding in signficance even his dramatic improvement of the Yankees' farm system from a league worst to one of its best in three short years, is his modernization of its management structure and its governing philosophy-- how the franchise divides responsibility and how it identifies and values talent.
But it is precisely this visionary quality to what Cashman has accomplished that brings to mind the ancient parable's wisdom about the foibles of prophets. The man with the vision of the Promised Land, that is, isn't always the one best equipped to lead his people there. Why? Because the fervor and tenacity he needs to break with conventional wisdom, to transform customs and habits consecrated by age, and to persuade his people to trust his vision so easily hardens into a myopic, rigid dogma over years spent exhorting, prodding, and badgering them to see the Light.
Indeed, Cashman had to rebuff Tampa's interference and opposition for seven years before he he could wrest the power and authority most GM's inherit with the title. Then, once he did so, once he enacted his plan, subordinating the Tampa faction, revamping his scouting department, and re-investing in the amateur draft and then clinging to the prospects reaped from it, the Steinbrenners hardly repaid him with gratitude and affirmation. During the Yankees early season doldrums last season, the Boss himself warned that the GM was on "a big hook". And Boss Jr, following in his father's footsteps, already has threatened reprisals should the Yankees' decision to forgo Johan Santana return to haunt them.
It should surprise no one, then, if all the resistance Cashman has had to overcome to wean the Yankees from free-agent dependency, if all the internal pressure to trade prospects that he has had to deflect-- if all of the stubborn tenacity he had to muster now prevents him from seeing the farm system he has built with the dispassionate, rational insight his job requires of him.
Indeed, his peremptory rejection of the Twins' eleventh-hour trade proposals for Johan Santana--one, according to Bob Klapisch, of Ian Kenndy, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Marquez; another, according, to Kevin Kiernan, that excluded the Big Three entirely-- should make us wonder whether Cashman has developed an irrational fetish for his own creation.
Witness his comments to The New York Post this winter about the Yankees prospects: "I'm definitely fully invested in a lot of young talent. You get attached to it." Has he forgotten that the cultivation and retention of young pitching isn't an end in itself but merely a component part in the overall scheme for winning?
FORGOING SANTANA: CASHMAN'S VANITY PROJECT?
A few other less charitable explanations for Cashman's decision to forsake Santana have circulated however. Michael Kay has bandied one that has gained adherents. Kay insinuates that Cashman refused to trade his young pitching prospects because they're cheap and the Yankees GM wants to prove he's smart enough to win without relying about sport's largest payroll. Now, while the arrogance and corruption of power never ceases to amaze me, I nonetheless have a difficult time accepting Kay's hypothesis. It strikes me as both too transparently simple and too ruthlessly narcisistic. That Cashman would place his own reputation above the franchise's best interest doesn't square with his public persona nor does a man interested exclusively in his reputation and advancement endure the public recrimination, aggravation, and second-guessing that attends upon running the Yankees or suffer the Steinbrenner for 10-years. There are far easier ways for Cashman to prove his brilliance.
in any case, vanity and hubris, typically, afflict executives-- from Presidents to CEOs to GMs-- in far more subtle and insidious ways. It's when they believe that they act with the most noble and self-sacrificing purposes-- as in exporting Yankee democracy or restoring a Yankee dynasty-- that pride, more often, brings miscalculation and ruin.
I prefer accordingly the theory that Cashman simply has become overinvested emotionally in the farm system he built, a pitfall into which artist and visionaries often slip-- falling in love with their own creations, pace Pygmalion's infatuation with Galatea. Ego and object merge. Creation becomes fetish. Rational appraisal surrenders to irrational prejudice. And Cashman mistakes uncertain potential for established talent.
A corollary to which would attribute to Cashman the classic tragic flaw of the General who fights the last war. Having watched as the legion of established pitchers Cashman acquired arrive in NY with great fanfare only to flounder (Weaver, Vasquez, Contreras, Brown, Pavano, The Unit), Cashman derives from the result the obvious strategy. Avoid the Trojan Horse. Eschew opponents' pitcher; Cultivate your own.
Only as Generals often learn too late, every war is sui generis and the tactics of past battles may ill serve future ones. So too, Cashman, I fear, may soon discover about Santana. For the chance to acquire the premiere pitcher in baseball, while he is still only 29 years of age, is one of those unprecedented, sui generis opportunities that presents itself once a decade. The relevant comparison, then, is not the Yankees acquisition of Brown, RJ, Vasquez, or Pavano. The relevant parallel is the Red Sox' trade for Pedro Martinez.
SANTANA'S PRICE: THE FLAWS OF ECONOMIC ANALYSIS
In fact, irrational bias can plague the economist and actuary as often as the general.
Consider Cashman's reluctance to committ to Santana, reportedly because of the financial cost.
Vincent Genarro, author of Diamond Dollars and informat advisor to the Cleveland Indians, examined the Santana trade through an economists' prism, applying business school models that GMs, evidently, increasingly utilize and that Cashman, reportedly, often adopts as well. (http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=ys-gennarosantanafinal011808) And Buster Olney reported that the Yankees' front office recoiled at the contract Santana demanded for many of the same reasons Genarro elaborates.
Genarro's logic, at least as I understand it, begins from the following premise: relinquishing young prospects for Santana, in addition, to paying him the $137 million contract he sought is tantamount to paying a tarriff. The Yankees pay twice: (i) $22 million a year for Santana and (ii) a surchage for yielding Hughes or IPK, quantified as the salary difference between (Hughes/IPK's replacement - Hughes/IPK himself).
In this view, the tarriff increases the price of Santana's $137million contract above and beyond whatever revenue Santana possibly could earn them by securing the Yankees a playoff spot and in the best scenario, a World Series. Supposedly, Cashman, for this very reason, opposed any deal for Johan Santana that would have necessitated yielding prospects, any prospects, whether or not named Hughes or Kennedy, regardless of their talent or promise.
Only the foregoing equation contains far too many unreasonable assumptions to be dispositive.
It either excludes variables it should consider or assigns higher or lower values to them than warranted.
For example, how does one assign a value to the glory of a World Series ring? George and Hank would tell you the trophy exceeds in value the added broadcast and gate revenue it earns. But beyond the fallacy of assuming one can quantify winning, there's another ulitarian bias at work as well. One that evokes Lenin's metaphor about the omlette justifying the broken eggs. The assemblage of a winning baseball team, after all, isn't like the production of widgets. The players aren't just a production cost; unlike assembly line workers, baseball player consist as much in the output as in the input. Wages or profit-sharing alone doesn't satisfy them Like the owners, players have an unquantifiable emotional stake in winning, their finished product. Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, to illustrate, won't care if retaining Hughes and IPK earns the Yankees multiple championships five years from and with a cheaper payroll besides. By then, they'll have retired and their celebrity will have dimmed. They want to win NOW. And with the age of the Yankees' position players, who can blame them.
THE COST OF FORSAKING SANTANA
What Cashman and Gennaro fail to consider, then, is the countervailing risk the Yankees have incurred by NOT acquiring Santana. One cannot calculate the financial cost of Hughes, Kennedy, or some group of prospects in a vaccum or static context.
One has to consider the following factors as well:
1) Hughes will accompany Kennedy and Chamberlain to comprise 60% of a starting rotation of untested rookies whose a) statistics we can't project accurately and b) whose innings the Yankees will limit to a high of approximately 185 innings for Kennedy and to a low of approximately 140 for Chamberlain. If Wang and Pettitte stay healthy and contribute 200 innings, Yankees starters would amass approximately 880 innings. And if we assume 6 innings per start (a liberal assumption because in 2007, Yankee starters only averaged 5.5 innings per game), the Yankees would still have to accrue another 100 innings or so, representing 16 starts, from Mussina, Igawa, Rasner, and Karstens. 16 games is considerable a league as highly competitive as the AL has become.
2) That the Yankees roster is old and that aging stars like 38-yr-old Rivera, 36-yr-old Posada; 33 and 34-yr-old Jeter, Damon, Abreu, and Matsui; even 32-yr-old A-Rod don't have many prolific seasons left before their production regresses, if the decline hasn't begun already. The window they have to win another championship is a narrow one. These aging veterans can't afford to squander a season or more while their fledgling starters build their stamina and mature.
3) That each year the American League becomes more competitive with more teams contending for the playoffs; that the Yankees current financial model is anchored on qualifying for the post-season; and that the Yankees' two prinicipal competitors for the wild-card last year, the Tigers and the Mariners, dramatically improved this off-season.
Meanwhile, with exception of Baltimore, each of the division rivals the Yankees play 18-19 times a season will be better as well. Toronto, if healthy, has the best pitching staff, 1-12 in the division, if not the league. On the hand, many predict Tampa, with the acqusition of Garza, Percival, and Bartlett, the addition of Evan Longoria and the promotion of their young pitchers, could win 75-80 games. And Boston, a team already two games better than the Yankees, is poised to improve as much as the Yankees, if not more, with Ellsbury, Bucholz, and Lester each contributing full seasons and Dice-K, gaining another year of seasoning.
4) That if Cashman is correct and pitchers like Santana don't reach free-agency in their prime anymore, the Yankees may have forsaken their last best hope of guaranteeing themselves one. When's the next time the Yankees will have the opportunity to acquire the best pitcher, while still in his prime, if the Elite 3 suffer injuries or don't fulfill their promise? Does Sabbathia really rival Santana?
THE PERILS OF YOUTH
Even if Cashman is correct and all three of his wunderkind evolve into celebrated pitchers, the past performance of great pitchers in their first year doesn't bode well for the Yankees.
Just look at the statistics of the some of the modern era's greats when in their early 20's during their first year in the major leagues.
1984 Roger Clemens (Age 21)---------133.3 IPs, 4.32 ERA, 1.31 WHIP
1987 Greg Maddux (Age 21)---------- 155.7 IPs, 5.61 ERA, 1.64 WHIP
1987 Tom Glavine (Age 22)-----------195 IPs, 4.56 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
2000 Roy Halliday (Age 23)------------67.7IPs, 10.64 ERA, 2.20 WHIP
2000 Brad Penny (Age 22)------------119.7IPs, 4.81 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
2001 CC Sabathia(Age 20)------------180.3IPs, 4.39 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
2002 Jake Peavy (Age 21)-------------97.7 IPs, 4.53 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
2002 Josh Beckett(Age 22)-----------107.7IPs, 4.10 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
2003 Dan Haren (Age 22)-------------72. 7IPs, 5.08 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
2004 Eric Bedard (age 25)------------137.3IPs, 4.59 ERA, 1.60 WHIP
With this history, I can't envision the Yankees qualifying for the playoffs, let alone winning a World Series.
In which case, this fans' ambivalence about Brian Cashman won't matter one iota. Come November, rest assured, Randy Levine will appear from behind his curtain to announce yet another purge.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Well, now that Chairman Henry A. Waxman has defended Pope Mitchell's Bull against recusant Roger Clemens and his circle of wicked apostles, we can expect Congress, mercifully, to conclude its steroids Inquisition, once and for all.
After the Chairman's latest comments, one certainly hopes so. Evidently Chairman Waxman enacted the role of Grand Inquisitor with such relish and brio he may have antagonized his own constituency.  He says he now regrets convening the hearing in the first place. On Thursday, Congressman Waxman had the following epiphany: "I didn't think it was a hearing that needed to be held in order to get the facts out about the Mitchell report. I'm sorry we had the hearing. I regret that we had the hearing."
Read: I'm sorry that my Hollywood constituents saw in my hectoring zeal a disturbing echo of HUAC and its interrogation of celebrities in the 40's and 50's; even though Roger Clemens, another selfish, inarticulate, rich, white male who votes Republican, happens to occupy the diametrically opposite pole of the political spectrum.
Watching Waxman, one almost waxes nostalgically for a good old communist witch-hunt. At least when HUAC was trying to decide between the conflicting stories of Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, Congress had charges of treason to weigh and national security to protect. Yet as Marx once observed, History always repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. And who better than the American Henry James celebrated for his "sense of humor" to appreciate the grotesque comedy of what unfolded this week in Washington. Anarchy besets Iraq, al-Qaeda regroups in Pakistan, an economy falters and Congress stages an elaborate theatrical spectacle that proves nothing, benefits no one, and serves no greater public good.
For how, really, did Congress think a a single American would benefit from a Congressional investigation of the credibility of Brian McNamee, the veracity of Roger Clemens, and the validity of the Mitchell Report? That is, a single American, of course, other than George Mitchell, a DLA Piper Rudnick lawyer, IRS Agent Jeff Novitsky, U.S Attorney Matthew Parella, Brian McNamee or everyone else connected to the Mitchell Report whose reputation, probity, and motives Roger Clemens' vehement denials have impugned.
And therein lies the tragedy beneath the farce, the graver implications Congress' theatrical comedy poses for the audience.
Indeed, the collaboration between George Mitchell, major league baseball, federal agents and U.S. prosecutors raises troubling questions that should unsettle all Americans-- questions that had the Committee really been concerned about the public's interest it would have investigated or at least, broached.
Much outrage has been wasted on the conflict of interest underlying Mitchell's ties to baseball's ownership, in general, and the Boston Red Sox, in particular. Criticism that's valid and yet misplaced. It obscures the far more ominous implications Mitchell's former titles as a U.S. Attorney, U.S. federal judge, and U.S. Senator posed for players and now poses for all Americans.
THE MITCHELL REPORT'S OWN PRIVATE FEDERAL PROSECUTOR
One of the questions Waxman should have asked was how and why Mitchell could capitalize on the power and resources of the U.S. government and its criminal investigative arm in an inquiry a private industry commissioned. After all, the full title of the committe Waxman chairs is , "The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform." Why then didn't the Committee perform its assigned role and oversee the conduct, in this instance, of the U.S Justice Department. More specifically, what legal basis did U.S. attorney Matthew Parella and Federal agent Jeff Novitzsky have for,
(1) placing the witnesses, testimony, and evidence the Federal government can gather only within circumscribed Constitutional and judicial mandates at the disposal of George Mitchell and MLB, a private entity, beholden to neither?
(2) What legal basis did they have for disseminating incriminating evidence about the drug use of individual players not subject to a criminal investigation but nonetheless facing sanction by their employer, MLB?
(3) And in do soing, what basis did they have for violating the legal and constitutional obligations a Federal prosecutor has to obey in a criminal proceeding, such as furnishing a defendant's lawyer with all the inculpatory evidence they've accumulated before the government can try or sentence him; and then permitting him the opportunity to confront his accusers and to rebut their testimony.
- For all baseball writers' effusions about what a great American George Mitchell is, it appears the the former Federal judge and U.S attorney doesn't think too highly of the Constitutional principles American cherish because he certainly didn't heed them in his steroid inquiry. For example, he supposedly invited players to appear and to defend themselves once someone had incriminated them. However, Mitchell refused to inform the players and their counsel of the specific charges' substance or to allow them to confront their source, as the Constitution would have obliged a government prosecutor. True, the Constitution didn't require this of him; it doesn't regulate a private industry's investigation. However, Congress and the press then shouldn't allow this great American paragon to pretend his inquiry was scrupulously fair and unimpeachably defintive either.
(4) What legal basis or practical justification did Federal prosecutors have for excusing Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee (and/or extenuating their sentence) for the alleged crime of selling and distributing illegal drugs simply because they cooperated with George Mitchell in MLB's private investigation and because they implicated players for the less culpable and less severely punished transgression of illegal drug use?
Of course, for their cooperation, Federal and State prosecutors reward defendants (and/or suspects) with immunity or lighter sentences all the time. Their Faustian bargains with the guilty is supposed to serve the greater good. They co-opt the drug runner to implicate the drug kingpin. They excuse the hit man to convict his mob and its boss. They pardon the possession of narcotics to curtail its sale. Murder goes unpunished but the government extirpates an entire criminal enterprise. The trade supposedly serves the greater good.
However, when the goverment does the exact opposite, cui bono? Why, that is, did Federal prosecutors trade a seller and distributor of illegal drugs for their mere users? How does the public benefit, morever, if Federal prosecutors reward the cooperating defendants not for the convictions they've won but simply for aiding a private investigative body, The Mitchell Committee, that lacks the power and authority to sanction them. Who is served other, of course, than the Federal prosecutor and agent themselves in the self-aggrandizing publicity and career boost they receive from taking down a celebrity? If we're fortunate, they'll join Henry Waxman in Congress.
THE CORPORATE PROSECUTOR: COMING TO A THEATRE NEAR YOUIndeed, the zeal with which Federal prosecutors have pursued baseball players, in general, and Roger Clemens, in particular, for using illegal steroids, a preponderantly self-inflicted harm, should worry every American. Witness Brian McNamee's account of his interrogation.
Listen, Brian this is [Assistant United States Attorney Matthew] Parrella-he
goes,"You have three strikes to go to jail." He goes -- he goes, "You know, you're a cop." He goes, "You picked up steroids and you delivered steroids. That's a federal crime." He goes, "And if you lie to a federal agent, you go to jail." He goes, "I'm going to tell you" - my attorney just sat there. He goes, "Yesterday, you took two steps back" -- no. "You have two strikes against you to go to jail. You have one more strike." All right. So, then, they recapped what we talked about that day and then -- the day before. And, then, right away, "So what about Clemens?" "Well, what do you mean?" [IRS Special Agent] Novitzky went on this big tirade because it was the biggest embarrassing thing I've ever heard from anybody. He's trying to tell me that I -- that how can I tell him that I don't know anything about steroids and Clemens with, first of all, what they know and then also I must not be good at what I do because I stretch him and I train him; so if I put my hands on his body, how can I not know that his body's changing by taking steroids. And, then, he threw a piece of paper at me and he goes, "Do you know how many people we've talked to?" Parrella jumped in. He goes, "We know about [sic] more about you than you know about yourself." He goes, "You're going to jail." My attorney just sat there. And they said, "Let's go back to when you first met Clemens in '98." Paragraph 27 of Roger Clemens's defamation suit.
Of course, Roger Clemens has both the money and the public stage to defend himself. The average American citizen does not. More troublesome than the Federal prosecutor's zeal to implicate baseball players, then, is their colloboration with Mitchell's investigation to do so because of the dangerous precedent it sets.
Just imagine what would happen if it's your employer Federal prosecutors assist next time.
 I don't live in California's 30th District. But I, a staunch Democrat, for one, would never vote for him following his performance.
Monday, February 11, 2008
But amid the nauseating piety, the repetitious groupthink, and the hysterical bombast baseball fans hear daily from the media and George Mitchell's Washington cronies about the nefarious spectre of steroids, the witches' brew Roger Clemens allegedly ingested, and the witch-craft his late-career statisics supposedly imply--- amid the cry to deplore and to punish, one Congressman has distinguished himself for his independence, his wisdom, his sense of fairness and proportion and above all, his historical vision. And for the clarity of that vision, he deserves praise and recognition, even if he is a Republican: Representative Darrell Issa of California's 46th Congressional District.
The Congressman had this to say last week.
"To me, [the steroids brouhaha] smacks of the McCarthy era. We have the broadest investigation power in the House...I'm hoping we're not abusing it. I've noticed that to a certain extent we're doing the same thing [Joseph McCarthy once did] here, promenading people before Congress," though the inquiry has outgrown its original justification and has beggared the committee's time and resources.
Yet there's a deeper and more far-reaching historical current feeding Congress' sick obsession.
You needn't hearken back to Salem or to evoke McCarthyism for the parallels to disturb you. Just recall yesterday. Remember 1998? The last time a moral frenzy gripped Washington and deprived our leaders of foresight and circumspection, while the public rolled its eye and recoiled in disgust.
Then, the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees spent months investigatin the great harm the wayward Presidential penis wrought to our Republic. Meanwhile, Osama Bin-Laden and al-Qaeda gathered in Afghanistan, solidifying their power, establishing base camps, planning and preparing the most lethal and calamitous attack ever inflicted on American soil.
Today, another war-ravaged Islamic country confronts the U.S. with a power vacuum (albeit this time of its own making) where terorrists run rampant and militants committed to slaugherting Americans slowly accumulate power and influence despite the presence of 160,000+ US troops. Meanwhile, the U.S. House Oversight Committee convenes a grand Inquistition into lesions on The Rocket's Ass. And the fans of a $5 billion dollar industry at the height of its popularity shrink, again, with revulsion at the conduct of their representatives.
From where does this hysteria arise? Daniel Bell explained it as follows:
"The moralism so characteristic of the American temper had a peculiar schizoid character: it would be imposed with vehemence in the areas of private conduct...The idea of the 'right of people to know'... operates without a sense of limits and often becomes an invasion of privacy. For what is it that 'the people' have a right to know? One's morals and habits? One's political views? The self-appointed guardians of morals insisted on the right of scrutiny of private conduct in the name of public decency... [Meanwhile, this moralism] is rarely heard regarding the depredations of business and the corruption of politics... and in the arena of foreign policy allows us [to refuse] to face realities."
God help us if this time Congress refusal to face reality presages the arrival of incipient horrors they've, once again, neglected.
Friday, February 1, 2008
Are verbal incontinence, smug self-satisfaction, and thin-skinned pettiness contagious? In Yankee Land, these are traits we come to expect of the Steinbrenners.
However, Brian Cashman's behavior of late raises the question whether he's contracted the Steinbrenners' character flaws.
Last week, Cashman made some rather tactless and disparaging comments about his former manager and center-fielder. This week, Cashman gambled the house to protect the farm, rebuffing the Twins' eleventh-hour offer, according to The Bergen Record, of Johan Santana for Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and a prospect.
Are these isolated lapses or symptoms of a more fundamental shortcoming, of the vanity and hubris that often come to afflict men who wield power?
Let's analyze each in its turn.
STEINIS-ITUS: DISHONORING THE OLD GUARDNow, Brian Cashman, it's true, has never exactly been the most magnetic or charismatic personality: the guarded, saturnine demeanor; the un-inflected monotone; the prolix and ponderous responses to the most basic question.
(The "Sports Pope" and "The Idio-Savant" had some juvenile fun at Cashman's expense during Joe Girardi's press conference. They turned their mike off at varying intervals only to discover Cashman effusing ad nauseum about the managerial search "process," in response to a single question, a discourse about as intriguing as a Ben Stein lecture on the "process" by which the Agricultural Dept. calculates corn subsidies.)
But if his public comments are hardly models of charm, wit, and eloquence, they usually betray the saving grace of discretion.
That is, until recently, when Cashman appeared with his new friend and counterpart, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, at William Patterson University. Listed below I excerpta few of the more incendiary remarks Cashman offered about his former manager, centerfielder, and some of his current players' and team's "mental toughness" and "physical conditioning"
- About why the GM declined to offer Bernie Williams a contract for the '07 season, "Williams had become more involved in his music 'and that took away from his play' and that Williams had a 'terrible season' in 2005." -- NY Times, "A Bitter Rivalry Finds a Little Common Ground," January 26, 2008)
- About Joe Torre's role: "Torre had played Williams 'ahead of guys who could help us win' in 2006, a reference to Melky Cabrera" -- Id.
- About Joba's performance during the midge infestation, "'I thought our guys weren't mentally tough enough to get through it."
- About Damon and Abreu's off-season conditioning, "Cashman said Damon struggled last season because he reported to spring training out of shape, adding that Bobby Abreu was also out of shape."
"51"*?: THE BERNIE VENDETTA
The first problem with criticizing Bernie and Torre is that it doesn't serve what should be Cashman's primary responsibility-- assembling the best talent available and winning ball games.
Sure, rebuking Damon and Abreu for their commitment and work ethic may spur them to work harder in the off-season. However, disparaging the performance and diligence of a former player (one effectively retired) and impugning his former manager's judgment won't improve the 2008 Yankees any.
Then again, it might avail Cashman himself: by implying his manager's favoritsm and his player's neglect accounted for his team's failures he retrospectively acquits himself of responsibilty. He also depletes the good will of two Yankees infinitely more popular than him. After all, diminishing one's predecessors and blaming one's subordinates is a long, ignoble tradition men in power employ to safeguard their legacies and to burnish their reputation.
Which makes one wonder whether diminishing their popularity was precisely Cashman's motive, or at the very least, his unconscious wish, because of the indignation directed at him in the wake of their departures. The uproar Torre's ouster provoked occurred recently enough for most of us still to recall it. But Cashman's passive-aggressive minor-league invitation to Bernie in late January of 2007-- an offer he made reluctantly and designed to be refused, besides, much like Torre's-- fomented a backlash every bit as furious, especially after the roster Cashman assembled consisting of four first-baseman and no fifth outfielder started 22-29. (In retrospect, the rebuff to Bernie foreshadowed the Torre fiasco nine months later.)
So it raises the question: did Cashman resent the public outcry their departures generated? Did Cashman resent having even to offer Bernie a minor league invite because of public pressure and Torre an offer they knew he'd refuse? Did Cashman especially resent their decisions to spurn the offer and then to shun the organization? It wouldn't be the first time the front-office denigrated an ex-Yankee to deflect the outrage his ouster provoked.
But worse than gratuitous, Cashman's characterization of Bernie's 2005 season as "terrible" is also unjust. And more egregious still is Cashman's insinuation that it resulted from two factors the precise effect of which we can only speculate -- (1) his physical conditioning and (2) his musical career. Finally, there's the added irony that Cashman would choose to reproach a player for his off-season, extra-curricular activities during a public appearance having nothing to do with his duties as GM.
Now, in fairness, Bernie's offensive production in 2005 did represent the nadir in a decline that actually began back in 2003. However, he hardly had a "terrible" season. If he did, what do we make of the 2007 season of the center-fielder that Cashman considered so indispensable that he spurned a deal for Johan Santana, in part, because he feared, at this late date, he couldn't replace.
Compare Bernie's 2005 offensive statistics with Melky Cabrera's last year.
- Bernie Williams-- 2005-- .249/.321/.367/.288 RISP-- 12 HRs-- 64 RBIs (485 ABs), RC/G= 3.8
- Melky Cabrera-- 2007-- .273/.327/.391/.272 RISP-- 8 HRs-- 73 RBIs (545 ABs), RC/G=4.3
Perhaps, Cashman would have preferred Bernie emulate Roger Clemens' off-season work-out regimen. How else does a player arrest the physical decline the body undergoes around 35, whether he plays classical guitar or no? Players, it seems, are damned if they use performance-enhancing drugs and damned if they refuse them.
On the defensive side, Bernie's waning speed, it's true, also curtailed his range in center-field, but evidently, not enough to convince the Yankees to sign Carlos Beltran at a $20 million dollar discount the winter before. Anyway, until someone shows me a proven metric to quantify precisely how many runs Bernie's diminished range yielded, I remain dubious to Cashman Apologists' unsubstantiated assertions that Bernie's defense handicapped his team.
In 2005, the Yankees won 95 games and their pitching staff surrendered 789 runs. How many of those 789 runs did Bernie's defense cost them? How many more wins would Bubba Crosby's defense, say, have garnered them. In 2001, the Oakland A's won 102 games with Johhny Damon in CF. In 2002, they won 103 with Terence Long in the position.
And really, if Bernie had such a "terrible" season, why did Cashman reward him for it in the off-season with a guaranteed major league contract for 2006.
But Cashman seems determined to rewrite history. Indeed his assertion that "Torre played Williams 'ahead of guys who could help us win' in 2006" represents an even greater distortion than his musings on William's 2005 season.
Of course the reproach of his ex-manager did warm the hearts of Torre-haters everywhere, awakening a few them from their two month larval dormancy to vent their hatred and malice. I quote one below.
- "joe torre who didn’t want to be woken up to go out and speak to his ROOKIE pitcher in a palyoff game who was being attacked by bugs! was there ever a worse manager than joe torre the last 7 years, can any true yankee fan not be ecstatic this bum will not be here next year? anyone is better than torre. sorry, but this defense of bernie is for the birds..recall how he was such a team player that he didnt even show up for spring training last year?"-- Anonymous poster, Lohud blog
The tenor, I think, speaks for itself.
In any case, Cashman, it seems, rather conveniently, has forgotten the circumstances of the 2006 season. Torre didn't start Bernie in the outfield, on a regular basis, until Sheffield and Matsui suffered season-ending injuries in April and May respectively. In the 23 games, the Yankees played in April 2006, Bernie started in only 15, 9 of them as the DH. So in the mere 6 games Torre started Bernie in the outfield, what player did Torre bench "that could have helped the Yankees win?" Andy Phillips? The Yankees, after all, didn't promote Melky Cabrera until May 9, 2006, the day after a broken wrist landed Matsui on the DL for almost the entirety of the regular season.
And with both Matsui and Sheffield sidelined, Torre had no choice but to start Bernie in the outfield, a decision, quite frankly, for which, the Yankees GM should be grateful. Because were it not for Bernie rising to the occasion, increasing his batting average by 30 points and his slugging percentage by 70 points over 2005, the Yankees might not have qualified for the playoffs
Is Cashman, perhaps, thinking of the period after he acquired Abreu on July 31st? Well, if so, he's mistaken here as well. Because if anything, Torre played Bernie, NOT Melky, less after Abreu arrived. Bernie's Plate Appearance dropped from highs of 103, 89, and 78 in May June, and July to 66 and 61 in August and September. Melky's Plate Appearance remained constant throughout: 112 (June), 106 (July), 122 (August), 108 (September)
What about the playoffs? Well, thereto Cashman would be mistaken. Torre ddn't play Bernie Williams, let alone start him, in any game of the 2006 ALDS, except as DH in Game 3 against Kenny Rogers. In a game incidentally during which Bernie Williams came about 6 inches from a 2-run home-run in the 5th inning that would have narrowed the Tigers' lead to 3-2.
THEO-ENVY: THE ATHLETE v. THE INTELLECTUAL
All of which raises the question why? Upraiding players and maligning ex-managers in public is, of course, a Steinbrenner hallmark, or a George Steinbrenner one, anyway. But why would a GM ordinarily so guarded and evasive that he regularly bores his audience by repeating the same hackneyed cliches over and over again to avoid offense or indiscretion take the occasion of an appearance, with of all people, Theo Epstein, GM of the Yankees' arch rival, to denigrate his former manager and center-fielder?
Here's one theory that amused me greatly.
- "Where does that little peanut-head Cash get his balls, throwing dirt on Bernie out of the blue? This is the second time in a month that this bug-eyed little squirt has embarrassed our team while playing kissyface with his new drinking buddy, Epstein. Anyone who thinks that’s accidental isn’t paying attention." -- Anonymous Blogger, Lohud Blogs
Now, I can't condone the attacks on Cashman's physical appearance. After all, the toll working for Steinbrenners exacts is probably enough to make anyone look "bug-eyed" from stress and sleep-deprivation after 2o years.
However, in his suspicion that it wasn't "accidental" that Cashman criticized Bernie and Torre while playing "kissyface" with Epstein, the blogger may be on to something. The theory calls to mind something Tom Verducci wrote back in October about Cashman in his superb article about the Torre debacle, "Blood On Their Hands"
"It's apparent now that in his heart Cashman didn't really want Torre back... Cashman has fancied himself a Billy Beane-Theo Epstein wanna-be, an intellectual GM known for running an efficient system, especially when it comes to player development, rather than just a guy who writes checks. He has traded veterans for prospects, embraced sabermetrics and surrounded himself with young number-crunchers who get jazzed about PlayStation tournaments. The more he has put his self-worth in the image of cutting-edge GM the less Torre and his old-school ways became relevant."For if Verducci is right and Cashman envies Epstein's public image as a "baseball intellectual" and wants to remake his own in Theo's likeness, it's not suprising he'd become a little too expansive, a little too earnest, a little too eager to impress in his company.
In fact, what better time for Cashman, the ex-athlete, the former Cathlolic University 2nd baseman, to signal he's every bit the Ivy League Epstein's intellectual equal, to signal that he too has embraced baseball's new sabermetrical vanguard, than a joint appearance with Epstein to depreciate the two most prominent symbols of the Yankees' old, antiquated regime, Torre and Bernie, his figurative Son and to elevate the most prominent embodiments of the new one, his young pitchers. Witness the other much reported statement Cashman issued that night: "My strong recommendation," Cashman also said, "is that we stick with our young pitching and keep it in-house."
And that's exactly what Cashman did four days later, by forgoing the opportunity to acquire the best pitcher in baseball. I only wish I endorsed his decision. In part II of this post, I will explain why I do not.
 Because to Cashman's credit, he recognized that in the new marketplace wrought by expansion and revenue-sharing, championship-caliber pitching had become too scarce and too costly a commodity to purchase via free-agency. The Yankees had to cultivate it on the farm. For this reason, Cashman shrewdly augumented the sums spent on the draft-- from $3.8 million in '03 to $7.4 million in '07