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Cashman faces Bronx changes
by Alan Schwarz
Brian Cashman went on national television and used the E word: embarrassing.
His $200 million Yankees spent most of the first half fluttering around .500, incurring the wrath of the Gotham press and the guffaws of Yankee haters everywhere, who delight in how this team of aging stars suddenly looks only aged. With a roster he calls "inflexible" and a farm system with few prospects, Cashman is facing the most challenging summer of his career--with the Boss circling overhead. He sat down to discuss his team's wild inconsistency, his valuation of his thin farm system and his future with the Yankees, now as uncertain as ever.
ALAN SCHWARZ: The Yankees started 11-19, then went 16-2, then 3-11, then 6-0, then 1-5 . . . How difficult is it to get a read on the team's capabilities and base decisions accordingly?
BRIAN CASHMAN: It's been a Jekyll and Hyde situation. We know what it's capable of because of the talent level. And you see flashes of it. You just scratch your head. In baseball, on any given day it's all about execution--if you can make your pitches, play solid defense, that could certainly bridge the gap between the talent levels rather quickly. Unfortunately for us, we've had trouble consistently executing, and it does seem that everybody else is doing that side of it much better than we are.
AS: Your choice of words is interesting: talent and execution. It seems to me talent is assessed through past performance, and execution is present performance. The Yankees are the kind of team with a lot of past--veteran players, the team buying into players on their decline--and a questionable present.
BC: Our expectation level is still there. We expect to go out and win--we expect to perform. When you have players of the caliber of Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Randy Johnson, et al it's easy to expect to win, but it's not as simple as just showing up. You have to play the games, you have to go about your business properly and do the things that have made you successful over the years, and for some reason collectively we haven't done that.
Someone told me once that, and they're so right, everyone else plays 162 games--but the Yankees play 162 seasons. Every game and every adverse situation that occurs in a game by the Yankees is magnified so much.
AS: Talking about 162 games and 162 seasons, your job is to pan back--to not get stuck in that muck.
BC: That's absolutely right.
AS: As you look at the bigger picture, one of the things I've heard you say is that, "We made our bed. This is not a flexible roster." What can be done to help this team, given the immovable contracts, the state of your farm system and your stated preference not to trade your top prospects, the Eric Duncans and Philip Hugheses?
BC: The fan base is used to the Yankees going out and being the big-game hunters and sacrificing the future for the present. The message I'm trying to send, at least from my recommendation, is that we've gotten an early snapshot of what the future could look like if we continue on this path--with an all-veteran type team--without the proper blend.
So it might not be business as usual this trade deadline, in terms of at least the recommendations from me. I think that we have to be very cautious. We have to transition this carefully. We're going to have to focus more on fixing this talent level here than going out and trading.
AS: Given the state of your farm system, there aren't a lot of prospects to trade in the first place. In fact, if you look back, since the Derek Jeter pick in 1992, you guys have had only a few solid Top 100 picks, and you traded them away in Eric Milton and Nick Johnson.
BC: There have been times where we've been very successful at things, and there have been times when we were not and haven't been--despite money. In the draft and in player acquisition, free-agent signings, all the money won't buy you the right decisions. You have to go back to the bottom line of making good, quality, consistent baseball decisions or you're going to run up against it. And we've had our fair share of decisions that haven't gone the way we had hoped when we made them, in all aspects of the organization.
AS: In 2000, you guys held on to three guys who were aging pretty fast--Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill--and finished with only the ninth-best record in baseball (87-74) but got hot in the playoffs and still won. Was that a dangerous precedent?
BC: I don't think so. Some other organizations would have scaled back down: "Yeah, we might be good enough to win, but the payroll is going higher and higher, let's live to fight another day and take one step backwards to take two steps forward," but thankfully we didn't do that. We forged ahead, and in 2001 got back to the World Series again and lost in Game 7 of one of the best World Series in history.
I see what you're saying, but we try to force the issue and forge ahead. And we came very close last year. We were one win away from getting back in the World Series again, so despite the perception of how bad things are going, we've been in the World Series in '96, '98, '99, 2000, 2001, 2003 and one game away from being in it last year. But because of the expectations, that gets lost in the shuffle. We've had one hell of a run that anyone is going to be hard-pressed to match.
AS: As for your future with this club, you've said, "I prefer to come back," but you don't have to be GM--you could decide to return as a special assistant or something, and not endure all the pressure that you have now for eight years. Have you considered that?
BC: I don't know what is possible. I'm not wired to think about what is going to happen. My contract runs through Oct. 31st, and I'm wired to think about what I'm doing now and honoring everything that is being asked of me at this stage. And then what will be will be. I am open to anything going forward.
AS: You're very loyal to George Steinbrenner, given how he hired you as an intern back in 1986. At what point do you decide that you've paid him back? Do you wrestle with that?
BC: It's always a constant. I owe him a lot. I'm smart enough to realize who has had a major impact on my life and the career path that I ended up on unexpectedly. When I did the internship I thought I'd do it for a year, I'd have some stories to tell people--"Hey, one day I worked there"--and never expected (this). It's been a remarkable experience that I have only him to thank for. So, my loyalties to him run very deep.
AS: When you were a wide receiver on your high school football team, you dropped an easy pass that would have gone for a 50-yard touchdown--and you say you replay that scene in your mind almost every day. Why does that moment play such a role with you?
BC: I remember that all the time. I've had people tell me, "Remember when you did this?" or "Remember when you did that?" Good things. Those I don't remember that much. I remember the bonehead mistakes. I don't know why--it's just the way I am.
I think that's why I feel I have to work harder to shore up whatever deficiencies might be here. That's what drives me. That works for me.
AS: Some people call it fear of failure, but it sounds more like fear of regret.
BC: I don't know what it is, but I do know it's how I have to be wired. I know we've done a lot, but it doesn't help me right now.
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.