The New York Yankees own the second best record in Major League Baseball this season (84-49). And their success warrants credit to the players, manager Aaron Boone, and general manager Brian Cashman. But the never-ending notion that Cashman is a mastermind and a figure who cannot do anything wrong is wildly inaccurate.
Here are several examples of Cashman swinging and missing in a big way over the last five years:
Signing Jacoby Ellsbury
The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013, and management tried to buy their way back to the playoffs. The most notable way they did so was by giving Boston Red Sox outfielder Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million contract. Now, while he was one of the best outfielders in the game at one point in his career, it was clear that giving Ellsbury a contract of that magnitude was a major risk. The year before inking a deal with the Yankees, Ellsbury missed 28 games due to injury, played just 74 games the year prior, and played in 18 games in 2010. In his first four years with the Yankees, he never hit above .271, or drove in over 70 runs. Last season, Ellsbury played himself out of the everyday order and struggled to stay healthy. This season, he hasn’t played a single game due to a plethora of injuries, and it’s unknown when he will ever return. And there’s still two years left on his contract worth roughly $21 million per season.
Trading and Paying Brian McCann to Play for the Houston Astros
Towards the end of the 2016 season, Gary Sanchez came on the scene and flat-out raked. After hitting 20 home runs in just 53 games, the Yankees decided that Sanchez was going to be their starting catcher in 2017. While there was nothing wrong with them making that decision and trading veteran catcher McCann, it’s the desperate way which they did so that was alarming. Before the 2017 season, McCann had two years and $34 million left on his contract. Now, while he hit just .242 in 2016, McCann was still one of the best defensive catchers in the game and hit for power. That particular skill set for a catcher is not common, and there are very few great catchers in the sport. Well, the Yankees decided to trade McCann to the Astros and pay $11 million of the remaining money. Then, McCann was part of an Astros team that won the 2017 World Series and defeated the Yankees in the process. Today, McCann is still an Astro and on the Yankees payroll.
Giving Aroldis Chapman $86 million
After trading Arodis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs at the 2016 MLB trading deadline, the Yankees opted to pursue bringing the closer back in free agency. Although Chapman was overworked by Cubs manager Joe Maddon, Cashman decided to lockup the flame-throwing lefty on a five-year, $86 million deal. Then, Chapman struggled with his command, was shaky in the ninth inning, and, at one point, was removed from the closer role late in the 2017 season. This year, he has improved, but he is currently nursing a knee injury and looked rattled before hitting the disabled list. If Chapman were to hit the open market after this season, he wouldn’t come close to cashing in on the contract Cashman and friends gave him a year and a half ago. Acquiring Gleyber Torres was phenomenal on Cashman’s end, but breaking the bank to bring back Chapman was a mistake.
Possessing a Never-Ending Commitment to Greg Bird
You always want to trust your youth, but Cashman and the Yankees’ insistence on Bird being their franchise first baseman is puzzling. Yes, he has some pop and hit three home runs in the playoffs last season, but Bird is batting .198 in 2018 and is a career .213 hitter. He’s also been shaky in the field and has been on the DL for the majority of his career. Meanwhile, Cashman traded first baseman Tyler Austin — who played in place of Bird when he began the season on the DL — to the Minnesota Twins because removing Bird’s production from the order would’ve been a sin (apparently). Austin is currently hitting .286 with six home runs in 14 games with the Twins. The Yankees may value that Bird is a left-handed hitter in what is a right-handed-heavy lineup, but if it was to the point where they moved the more proven and better player, then that’s extremely odd. But outside of that theory, there really isn’t any other reasoning behind keeping Bird over Austin, or just refusing to give him competition for the starting gig.
Trading for Sonny Gray
Last year, Luis Severino established himself as the Yankees ace, but veteran righty Masahiro Tanaka was getting hit hard, and the team’s starting rotation, as a whole, was shaky after Severino. As a result, they fortified their efforts and ultimately acquired Gray from the Oakland Athletics. While the righty was solid in his 11 starts with the Yankees in 2017, he has fallen off a cliff this season as he currently owns an abysmal 5.05 ERA and has been pitching out of the bullpen over the last month. Cashman acquired Gray to be a glue guy and bring their rotation to prominence. Instead, it worsened in his presence, and the Yankees were forced to go out and acquire J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn to bolster their rotation.
Not Trading for Gerrit Cole and/or Justin Verlander
After the Yankees acquired star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins in the offseason, they still had the majority of their top-tier prospects in place and were in discussions to acquire Pittsburg Pirates righty Cole. But they were hesitant to trade top-pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, despite another starter being the last glaring weakness on their roster. Ultimately, the Yankees passed on the righty, and the Pirates traded him to the Astros — who just so happen to be the team that beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series last season. And while he has struggled as of late, Cole is still putting together arguably the best season of his career, as he currently owns a 2.85 ERA, as well as a career-best 1.01 WHIP and AL-best 234 strikeouts. However, he’s not the only Astros starter who could’ve been a Yankee.
When the Yankees needed a starter at last year’s trade deadline, they opted to acquire Gray which, at the time, wasn’t egregious. Then, in late-August, the Astros pulled off a trade for Verlander, convincing him to waive his no-trade clause. The Yankees had the farm system to acquire Verlander, but Cashman chose Gray over the future Hall of Fame righty. And the Yankees felt the impact of doing so when Verlander pitched a complete game and surrendered just one run in 16 innings pitched versus them in the ALCS.
Cashman is Human
Cashman has made some impressive and tip-your-hat-trades in the past. He made the shrewd trade for shortstop Didi Gregorius, acquired Torres for two months of Chapman, held onto key youngsters such as Aaron Judge and Severino, and took advantage of Stanton being on the trade market, among other moves and decisions.
But the problem is that for every smart or successful decision Cashman has made, there’s one that’s equally bad — which essentially offsets itself. Cashman is one of the best GM’s in the game. Heck, he has kept his job for 21 seasons, so he must be doing something right. At the same time, that doesn’t make it illegal to point out the fact that he’s not a flawless decision-maker.
When a team is winning, it’s easy to point to all the positives from top to bottom. How often do you here anything negative about the Steinbrenners? What about Cashman? At times, it’s easy to look at all the good things management does and disregard the bad decisions the same people make. It’s also important to keep in mind that it doesn’t take a great general manager to spend money like it’s no one’s business; it takes ownership that can afford and/or is willing to pony up the money to win. Granted the Yankees payroll is not absurd given the narrative that surrounds their franchise, this is a team that has been able to buy themselves the best talent in the game (for example, them spending a combined $423.5 million to sign C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira before the 2009 season).
To say that Cashman doesn’t deserve some credit for the Yankees’ success this season would be foolish. But he has made a number of awful decisions, both when they were made and when a clear verdict on the decision presented itself. That doesn’t sound like a mastermind. It sounds like a human being.