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Brian Cashman’s Tenure, Part 1

December 19, 2008
I don't get no respect. No respect at all.

I don't get no respect. No respect at all.

Brian Cashman has a very strange job. He’s the general manager of a baseball team with the net worth the size of a mid-sized African nation’s GDP, and an annual expectation of making the postseason by both fans and owner(s), who constantly threaten to bake him into a Steinbrenner Ogre Family Pie.

Cashman became GM in February 1998, and his dealings with King George were of constant interest in the New York tabloid papers. It was no secret that Steinbrenner was a demanding BossTM; by most accounts Cashman didn’t gain full control of personnel moves until after the 2005 season, so it’s hard to tell what transactions were Cashman’s and which came from on high. Newsday’s Ken Davidoff has his thoughts on the subject, but some of this is still conjecture and hearsay.

Whatever deals have been solely his – Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano? – Cashman has to answer for at least some of 1998-2005, and all of 2006-present. Despite barely tolerating Hank Steinbrenner this past season, Cashman signed a three-year extension this past September, a contract that will take him through 2011, when the A.J. Burnett and C.C. Sabathia deals can be properly judged, re-judged, and judged again over ogre pie.

I don’t know what Cashman would do if he were to actually go, as it’s always rumored, to another ballclub like the Nationals. No idea if he’d be able to work under far different parameters – like, uh, one-fifth the budget. So I thought I’d examine the Yanks’ transactions since February of ’98, in full admission that some of these were not his idea. I just thought it’d be fun.

Under his tenure, the Yankees have:

*Signed marquee former All-Stars on the downswing of their careers (save Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens, though this latter for, uh, different reasons).

*Made headlines by signing splashy international free agents (Cuba, Japan, the Dominican Republic).

*Traded for a number of key role players to fill a spot in the starting lineup, rotation, or bullpen for the playoff stretch.

*Drafted horribly (due, in part, to the loss of draft picks), with the exception of – and we’re still waiting on – Joba, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes.

Here’s part one:

Major Marquee Domestic Acquisitions

 February 6, 1998 – Received Chuck Knoblauch from the Minnesota Twins for Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Danny Mota, and cash.

Okay, it’s not fair to include this because Cashman didn’t have the GM throne of blood until later in February. But I bring this up for the following sidebar: It’s not ridiculous to ask whether Knoblauch would be finishing up a Hall of Fame career right now had he never demanded a trade out of Minneapolis. He was granted his request at 29 years old, a four-time All-Star, Rookie of the Year, sporting a .304 batting average and a .384 OBP. It’s possible that his throwing problems were connected with his personal problems (divorce from his wife, father’s Alzheimer’s disease), but it’s also possible that New York intensified it. And he may never have gotten all HGH-y had he stayed in Minneapolis.

February 18, 1999: Received Roger Clemens from the Toronto Blue Jays for Homer Bush, Graeme Lloyd, and David Wells.

Graeme Lloyd has a special place in my heart, not just for looking like the human form of Sam the Eagle, but for being the most memorable part of the big 1998 Orioles-Yankee brawl after The Big Stupid plunked Tino Martinez and gesticulated something along the lines of “Come on New York. I’ll take you all on. And this ridiculous expression of stubborn machismo that ends up with me running around and falling on my ass is a grim omen of how I will pitch with the Mets for the next couple of years.”  Watching the tall, lanky Lloyd and Darryl Strawberry go into full battle with Baltimore, I felt like immediately awarding them a hundred experience points each, and maybe adding ten points to their weapon skills. Is that too generous? They’re probably both wood elves, so who knows. Hey, Curt Schilling plays D&D. Nerd.


June 29, 2000: Received David Justice from the Cleveland Indians for Ricky Ledee, Jake Westbrook, and Zach Day. This was a win-win for both teams. Justice had a great short stint with the Yanks and won the 2000 ALCS MVP.


July 12, 2000: Received Mike Frank and Denny Neagle from the Cincinnati Reds for  Ed Yarnall, Drew Henson, Brian Reith, and Jackson Melian. The Yanks were hot on Neagle, who had a strong first half with the Reds – they ended up shipping off two of their prize prospects in Henson and Melian (though neither ended up doing much of anything). Neagle had a crappy time with the Yanks, outside of four good regular-season games. Neagle signed with the Rockies in the offseason, nailed a hooker, got a DUI, and screwed up his marriage. He’s not around the ol’ MLB anymore.


November 30, 2000: Signed Mike Mussina as a free agent. The Yanks quickly emerged as the favorite to sign Moose in the offseason, and blew other offers out of the water. I don’t think there was really a question where he was gonna end up.


December 13, 2001: Signed Jason Giambi as a free agent. HA HA. You know, despite it all, Giambi’s numbers weren’t as crappy as – ah, screw it. You know who wasn’t worth $120 million over seven years? That guy.


July 5, 2002: As part of a three-team trade, received Jeff Weaver from the Detroit Tigers. Sent Ted Lilly, John-Ford Griffin, and Jason Arnold to the Oakland Athletics. In addition, the Oakland Athletics sent a player to be named later, Carlos Pena, and Franklyn German to the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Tigers sent cash to the Oakland Athletics. The Oakland Athletics sent Jeremy Bonderman (August 22, 2002) to the Detroit Tigers to complete the trade.

The Jeff Weaver debacle. Christ almighty.


December 13, 2003: Received Kevin Brown from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jeff Weaver, Yhency Brazoban, Brandon Weeden, and cash.

I’m trying to think of names I’ve loved more in baseball than Yhency Brazoban, and it’s tough. Dick Pole? Johnny Wockenfuss? Van Lingle Mungo? (speaking of which, if you never listened to Dave Frishberg’s bizarre and excellent late-night-easy-listening-lounge-song composed solely of baseball names,  you must download it now. I miss baseball songs. Thank god I bought this CD in high school, and now know that Mickey Mantle signing a duet on “I Love Mickey” is the single greatest thing ever. That and Tommy Lasorda’s insane rant about Dave Kingman.)


December 16, 2003:

Received Javier Vazquez from the Montreal Expos for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and Randy Choate. Forgotten in the wake of Vazquez’s meltdown with the Yanks that ended up with Johnny Damon slugging a Game 7 granny off him in the ALCS, is the fact that he was an All-Star that year on the strength of his first half. But man, that was a bad season overall for the guy.


December 19, 2003:

Signed Gary Sheffield as a free agent.

The epitaph on Gary Sheffield’s tombstone will probably read “Gary ‘Respect’ Sheffield: All he respectfully wanted was respect. Rest in respect, Respecty.” He had two really good non-injured seasons with the Yanks, and hit upon something real and very sensitive with his point about Latin players being easier to control than African-American players.  But wherever he’s gone, Sheff seems to have been a me-first kind of guy. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t articulate himself well. Or maybe it’s because he thinks the term ‘respect’ means a flying panda, and because he’s never gotten one, he still wants “respect.”

Here’s an excerpt from Buster Olney’s epilogue to The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, which is a good summation of the Sheffield signing.

After the 2003 season, without soliciting an opinion from Michael or Cashman, Steinbrenner negotiated a $39 million handshake deal with Gary Sheffield, a 35-year-old perennial All-Star with a reputation for complaining. It was a mistake, Cashman thought: the team had to get younger. He had lobbied unsuccessfully to shift Soriano to the outfield and sign the Japanese-born Kaz Matsui to play second base in his stead. And when Sheffield wavered on his oral agreement with Steinbrenner, Cashman, seeing an opening, worked frantically to complete a deal with 27-year-old free agent Vladimir Guerrero. But with Guerrero on the verge of signing for the same annual salary as Sheffield and with one extra year on the contract, Steinbrenner killed the negotiations with Guerrero. Sheffield had capitulated, and Steinbrenner insisted, “I want him, I want him, I want him.”


February 16, 2004:

Received Alex Rodriguez and cash from the Texas Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. The New York Yankees sent Joaquin Arias (April 23, 2004) to the Texas Rangers to complete the trade.

How different would everything have been had Ol’ Whistlin’ Bat ended up on the Red Sox? Would Jorge Posada have shoved him in the face with his mitt that July? Would Mike Mussina say that he wasn’t a “true Red Sock?” Is it possible that, despite his inner peace at shortstop, his close relationship with Teresa Heinz Kerry would’ve destroyed his marriage? Yeah, probably.


December 20, 2004:

Signed Carl Pavano as a free agent.  HA HA.


January 3, 2006:

Signed Johnny Damon as a free agent. For $13 million per year over four years, which was a year more than the Red Sox were offering. Damon throws like this: (imagine me in a schoolgirl outfit with pigtails, throwing with my left hand and yelling “ooooof!”)


January 11, 2005:

Received Randy Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey, Dioner Navarro, and cash.

The Big Unit is going to get his 300th win this year, and he seems to be just fading away. When people talk about the best post-Tom Seaver pitcher, they limit the argument to Clemens, Pedro, and Maddux. Poor Randy. He’s unreal.


July 30, 2006:

Traded Matt Smith, C.J. Henry, Carlos Monastrios, and Jesus Sanchez to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle

The Hardball Times has an excellent lookback at that deal, noting that at the time, Philly writers were ready to take to the streets to demand Pat Gillick’s kidneys. 

The gist: the Phils were 14 games behind the Mets in 2006 and needed a salary dump. The Yanks were half a game behind the Red Sox and needed a healthy outfielder.

Cory Lidle’s tragic end makes this trade hard to judge – though it should be noted he never pitched past the sixth inning for the Yanks (despite a good start against the Red Sox), and did pretty awfully in his postseason mop-up appearance against the Tigers. None of the mid-level prospects in the deal panned out to anything. The Yanks ended up running away with the division in ’06 and Abreu performed very well that second half; but for the last two years, he’s been far less valuable than his $31 million price tag.


Next week, Cashman’s role-player deals. (Mike Lowell for Mark Johnson and Ed Yarnall! Ridiculous!)


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