Jim Baumbach is an investigative / enterprise sports reporter for Newsday. A Long Island native, he started working
The Yankees' general manager since 1998, Cashman didn't always enjoy the authority that should accompany the title. That changed when he nearly walked away after the 2005 season - "I had resigned, basically," he said recently - and now the Yankees are reaping the benefits of his increased power.
Seventeen of the 25 players on the Yankees' postseason roster this year entered the organization after Cashman did an about-face in October 2005 and agreed to return for the 2006 season. George Steinbrenner convinced Cashman to sign a new contract by assuring him that he finally would have the authority to run the baseball operations department the way any other general manager would, and he kept that promise.
The result five years later is a juggernaut of a baseball team, one that looks at least as deep and talented as any of the other teams still playing. No one is fooled by the Yankees' wild-card status. Through one week of postseason play, they are thought of by many as favorites to return to the World Series.
Cashman deserves credit for the strength and depth of this roster, and that's not just because he has an annual payroll of more than $200 million to spend on players. He likes to say he's "evolved" as a decision-maker, and that's clear from looking at the recent contributions of the players he's acquired.
Last year he took a great deal of pride that a handful of young players who came through the Yankees' system contributed to the franchise's first title since 2000. Those include Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera. Cashman is the first to tell you that within "the old Yankee way of doing business," they wouldn't have been around long enough to contribute.
This year, the early postseason returns show that Cashman's best work has been the way he patched the problem spots on the roster through midseason trades.
Lance Berkman and Kerry Wood are big names with impressive resumes, but they hardly were the most sought-after players at the trade deadline. Berkman was having the worst offensive season of his career and Wood again spent some time on the disabled list.
The Yankees were able to acquire them mostly because they were willing to swallow their salaries, something not every team is in position to do. But that being said, it's still Cashman's job to find these players, identify them as solutions to the Yankees' problems and make it happen.
Cashman likes to refer to the explosion of statistics as "the forensic science of baseball," and he is a subscriber. He says it's made him a better general manager, helping him become more proficient at getting a good overall picture of what the Yankees' needs are - and which players match them.
Berkman contributed a pair of tiebreaking extra-base hits in ALDS Game 2, a home run and a double. Wood pitched a strong eighth inning, giving him 12/3 scoreless innings in the first two games.
That brought to mind Cashman's trade-deadline performance, and it's easy to get the sense that these two deadline deals could continue to pay dividends for the rest of the month.