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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Brian Cashman holds that line as Yankees struggle -- and what else could he do?

Yankees GM Brian Cashman during spring training at

Yankees GM Brian Cashman during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa Fla., on Feb. 24. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

What did you expect Brian Cashman to say?

That Aaron Boone had been fired? Seriously?

And if not, what was the next option? Pinning it all on hitting coach Marcus Thames? Banishing Gleyber Torres to the alternate site? Benching [insert Yankee here]?

This is Cashman’s roster. This was his plan. These are the players he entrusted with the task of getting the Yankees back to the World Series for the first time since 2009.

To make any significant moves after only 15 games, even with the Yankees (5-10) off to their worst start in nearly a quarter-century, would be to admit that his winter strategy was severely flawed. And Hal is the not the type of Steinbrenner to demand any seismic changes just because he wields the power to do so.

At field level, the Yankees have been terrible in almost every aspect of the game. There’s a reason only the Rockies have fewer wins. But it was Cashman who decided to run it back this season with virtually the same 2020 team, and it was Steinbrenner who turned off the money spigot at $200 million, preventing any offseason upgrades at the top of the market.

"I think we have great players," Cashman said during Monday’s Zoom conference with the media. "I think we assess every opportunity that comes our way within the current confines of our budget, which is larger, obviously, than most and always will be. We assess it, and if we think that something could benefit us, we pursue it and add it to the cast of characters we already have. But the same core players are still here that have wreaked havoc on many a great pitching staff."

That’s not to say $200 million shouldn’t be plenty to fund a World Series trip. The Rays, as you may remember, got there last year with a pre-COVID payroll of $69 million. And they’ve made the Yankees look foolish since 2019, winning 18 of their last 23 meetings and seven straight series, if you include knocking Boone & Co. out of the 2020 playoffs in the divisional round.

But we digress. It was unrealistic to think Cashman was going to reveal some dramatic measure during Monday’s Zoom call because he really doesn’t have one to make. Where on the field can he do that?

Cashman took a leap of faith in going with Gleyber Torres as the starting shortstop, and he’s been rewarded with subpar defense to go with a surprisingly weak bat incapable of covering up those blemishes.

Torres is batting .196 (10-for-51) with one extra-base hit (a double) and 15 strikeouts, directly behind a trio of Aaron Judge-Aaron Hicks-Giancarlo Stanton that currently is in an 8-for-71 (.112) slide.

Hicks will have to be moved out of the third spot, and he can be spelled by either Brett Gardner or Mike Tauchman. But Judge and Stanton aren’t going anywhere and the Yankees don’t have a ready-made sub for Torres, other than spot duty by Gio Urshela. The shortstop position could turn into a glaring problem going forward.

The Yankees have a .210/.296/.346 slash line — tied with Texas for the worst OPS in the majors at .642 — with only 16 home runs and 55 runs scored.

"Individual below-average performances, those will get corrected we believe over time," Cashman said. "We trust our players. We trust our process. But the record is something that we're better than, and we have to correct that here in the near term as well as the long term.''

Cashman hinted at Boone potentially shuffling a few spots in the outfield, with Hicks and Clint Frazier looking more than vulnerable. The manager also suggested that he had some options to consider after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Rays, one that featured some shaky defense from Hicks, who looked like a player taking his problems at the plate with him to centerfield.

Through 15 games, however, there’s no magic bullet. Or even one particular problem to aim at. When a roster designed to hit home runs doesn’t clear the fences on a consistent basis, what’s the solution for that? Additional time in the weight room? More protein shakes?

For now, Cashman can only cross his fingers and pray for the track records to kick in ASAP. He doesn’t have any other recourse at the moment.

Cashman gave Boone the anticipated vote of confidence Monday, mentioned that Steinbrenner is "disappointed" and wove in as much team-wide accountability as he could in 45 minutes. Regardless of the Yankees’ pitiful performance, it’s still too early for anything more than that.

"There's that fine line of having patience as well as recognition and trust of who you are, and what you're capable of, and what you're meant to be," Cashman said. "And allowing that to play out."

He’s got time for that to happen. But if the Yankees go 5-10 in the next 15 games and they fail to pull out of this April malaise, optimism isn’t going to cut it anymore. Cashman will need to come up with solutions.

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