For once, history isn’t on the Yankees’ side, and GM Brian Cashman marched into a minefield Wednesday when trying to defend himself under interrogation about his last-place team.
Cashman stood trial during a 22-minute news conference before that night’s 9-1 victory over the Nationals, with the Yankees ending a nine-game losing streak, their longest since 1982. Cashman’s $294 million “disaster” — his own words — was 10 games out of the third wild-card spot, the playoff chase realistically over, if not mathematically so.
The GM had the good sense to speak in terms of having all of October to go through the forensic analysis of this pinstriped “embarrassment” — again, Cashman’s words — but slipped up when asked why his front office has earned the right to fix this Bronx catastrophe.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good track record,” Cashman said. “We’ve had a real good run of success.”
Notice the past tense. Dynasties end. Empires fall. This will only be the fifth time in Cashman’s 25-year reign the Yankees won’t make the playoffs — an incredible stretch of prosperity. But these Dive Bombers also are plunging toward their first losing season since 1992, and Cashman’s extended title drought is about to reach a 14th year, with 2009 the Yankees’ lone World Series appearance in two decades.
That is now Cashman’s “track record.” And the occupational hazard of being the Yankees’ GM is that you don’t get to take seasons off. Cashman & Co. have set a high bar for sustainable excellence, but his pinstriped playoff machine ran out of momentum this year — and the sputtering wreckage that takes the field every night in the Bronx doesn’t seem easily repaired for the future.
Aside from Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, at a combined cost of $684 million, what else is championship-caliber among this disappointing junk pile? The Yankees’ malfunction is not just a recent phenomenon, either. Since July 16 of last season, when they were 63-28 with a 13-game lead in the AL East, the Yankees aren’t even a .500 team (96-100).
Hal Steinbrenner ponying up $537.5 million for free agents over the winter was supposed to make everyone forget the Astros’ broom job in the ALCS last October. And full disclosure: I was among the many who predicted the Yankees would make the World Series this year (although losing to the Padres — oops). Turns out, Cashman’s roster was not only flawed, but it dramatically aged on a nightly basis, with DJ LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson crumbling before our eyes.
While Cashman has nimbly adjusted to adversity in past seasons, this time was different. The roster was crippled by health issues, with 22 players missing a total of 1,614 days on the IL at a cost of more than $70 million, and the GM couldn’t come up with ways to plug those holes. Instead, the dam burst.
“I don’t think there’s anybody on this planet that felt that the New York Yankees, as constructed leaving spring training, wasn’t a playoff-contending team,” Cashman said. “I certainly did. But at the same time, [expletive] happens, and a lot of it’s happened. And because of that, there’s a mess on our hands. . . . Why I’m in the position I am, I’ll do everything I can to try to clean it up and fix what’s broken.”
Cashman definitely gave the impression that he’ll be allowed to again spearhead that process. Given his close relationship with Steinbrenner, and this being only the first season of his four-year deal, his job is not in jeopardy, despite the daily “Fire Cashman!” chants in the Bronx. That’s hardly a surprise. But Cashman didn’t provide any assurances for the rest of his staff, or manager Aaron Boone, for that matter.
And with Cashman staying on, he better find some changes to satisfy Steinbrenner, who can’t move forward with the status quo after this debacle. The near-sellout crowds that continue to fill Yankee Stadium surely bought their tickets months ago, but the fans in those seats have morphed into an angry mob. It’s going to take more than promises to smooth over that turbulence, regardless of how this lost season finishes up.
“I think we’re all going to be evaluated,” Cashman said. “We’re going to look at every aspect of the operation, because that’s what you have to do under these circumstances, and that will take us where it takes us. Nobody’s happy where. We’re better than this, but haven’t played better than this. So we’ll see. Stay tuned.”
Cashman didn’t go as far as to guarantee Boone’s job security — the manager has another year left on his contract — but he would seem to be the most vulnerable. Not because the blame lies with Boone. Those gigs just run their course eventually and this type of season, for a Yankees’ manager, is hard to shake off.
“I think Boonie’s doing everything he can possibly do,” Cashman said. “Just like all of us.”
The Yankees’ collective effort wasn’t anywhere near good enough this season. Although Cashman acknowledged that much Wednesday, affixing blame shouldn’t be too difficult for his front office. All they need is a mirror.