Brian Cashman seems like a changed general manager.
As the Yankees feel their way through the first offseason since the death of iconic owner George Steinbrenner last July, a sense of flux has come over the storied franchise — perhaps most apparent in the conduct of Cashman, who began as an intern with the team in 1986 and was named GM by Steinbrenner in 1998.
True to an offseason marked by his blunt talk and conspicuous antics, Cashman distanced himself from the signing of Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million contract on Jan. 19, telling reporters that he "didn't recommend the deal" that gave "closer-type money" to a setup man.
“It was aired in public because Cashman knew he wasn't going to get fired for it,” said Peter Golenbeck, author of the 2009 biography “George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire.” “When he was working for George, he could never talk out of turn.”
A wild winter
During the past few months, the 43-year-old Cashman presided over acrimonious contract negotiations with Derek Jeter, needlessly suggested publicly that Jeter might lose his hold on the starting shortstop job and even rappelled down the side of building in an elf suit as part of a public holiday celebration.
The Yankees denied requests for interviews with Cashman and other executives, Psychologists, however, speculated that since the decline and death of Steinbrenner, and the handover of power to the Boss’ sons — Hal, 41, and Hank, 53 — Cashman, who is in the third and final year of a $6 million contract, has been pushing the limits of his freedom.
“It wouldn’t be hard to speculate that Cashman felt indebted to Steinbrenner for the opportunities, but also angry at him for being so restricting,” said Kerry Sulkowicz, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University who also does leadership consulting with CEOs. “And now he’s sort of enjoying that freedom in a rebellious way."
“There’s something symbolic about the actual death that often triggers liberation,” Sulkowicz added (Steinbrenner was in ill health for years until his death at age 80). “But the effect of it can be seen for a long time afterwards.”
His Pinstripe future
Cashman has dismissed speculation that his uninhibited conduct reflects dissatisfaction with the only organization he has ever known.
"Hopefully, [Cashman’s superiors] would also recognize everybody's roles are changing, everybody's in … new territory, and has to figure out, without this iconic leader at the helm, how does each role work, and what are the limits,” said Chris Allen, a life coach who teaches psychology at Syracuse University.
In the meantime, Cashman, who has a history of struggling for organizational control during his reign over four championship teams, continues to act with newfound spontaneity, for better or for worse.
"He has a new freedom, and he is enjoying it,” Golenbock said. "The winner in all of this is Brian Cashman."