ST. LOUIS - In Brian Cashman's 17 seasons, his Yankees have qualified for the playoffs 14 times. Six trips to the World Series. Four rings.
Looks pretty good on a general manager's resume. But it's the last two misses, the back-to-back October whiffs, that we're concerned about.
Is what we've seen the past two years a freakish exception, the byproduct of bad luck and too many trips to the MRI tube? Or is the Yankees' business model of throwing money at their problems not as effective as it used to be?
It's a combination of both. But in giving Cashman a new three-year contract, as the Yankees announced Friday, the club's top decision-makers, Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine, clearly favor the system they have in place.
As Steinbrenner pointed out earlier this month, the Yankees' costly signings are not done without his approval -- and he still believes the $480 million spent last offseason ultimately will be a fruitful investment. Then again, what did you expect him to say?
"Being in my chair, I'm responsible for it all -- offensive, defense and pitching,'' Cashman said. "I've got to find a way to get our fan base back to enjoying October sooner rather than later.''
Writing big checks always has worked for the Yankees. It's not the only reason they've won during the past two decades, but those large payrolls certainly have helped a great deal. The 2009 championship was the perfect example. Miss the playoffs the previous season, then spend like crazy again to win No. 27.
These days, however, it's not so easy to buy a title -- or even a trip to the semifinals. Just look what happened in the first round of this postseason, with the Dodgers ($235 million), Tigers ($162M), Angels ($155M) and Nationals ($134M) being bounced, including two sweeps.
The two other teams in the top five payrolls -- the Phillies ($180M) and Red Sox ($162M) -- barely cracked 70 wins.
But this is not a habit that's kicked overnight. Cashman can't just rip up his worst contracts -- CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira -- and start over. No one dares to utter the words "rebuilding process'' in the Yankees' offices, so you won't see the tearing down of the roster we've witnessed in Boston and Flushing.
Instead, you get Cashman trying to explain how an older, flawed roster can be turned into a contender by Opening Day 2015. After all, that's his responsibility -- assembling a winning team -- and that's what Steinbrenner expects him to do.
The club produced scapegoats. Hitting coach Kevin Long and infield/first-base coach Mick Kelleher were fired, even if Cashman couldn't fully explain what they did wrong. Long admittedly was out of answers by the end and Kelleher's dismissal, Cashman said, was more about going in a new direction.
Long is sure to be picked up by another team quickly, and given his good working relationship with Curtis Granderson, the Mets would be wise to pursue him. Maybe a new voice won't immediately improve the Yankees' plate production. But after the past two years, they probably think it can't be any worse than it was under Long. "The one issue we couldn't fix was the offense,'' Cashman said.
Now that the bone spur has been removed from Carlos Beltran's right elbow and A-Rod will be returning from a season-long suspension, that could make the next coach seem like a genius. But Long, one of the game's most respected hitting gurus, couldn't prevent Teixeira and Brian McCann from being neutralized by the analytics-driven shifts, something Cashman's title teams didn't have to deal with to this extent as recently as five years ago.
That's part of the new playing field Cashman's Yankees are competing on now. The failure of the past two years has emphasized just how special the success was of the previous 15.
Winning used to be automatic in the Bronx. It's going to be difficult for Cashman to make it look that way again.