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During an interview on WFAN, Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman implied rather directly that the extent to which Jorge Posada is no longer an option behind the plate is entirely the result of his own actions.

Posada and Cashman haven’t exactly seen eye to eye this season.

According to Cashman, when Francisco Cervelli was injured during spring training, the Yankees turned to Posada as a potential backup for Russell Martin, but the veteran backstop decided that he would be better off focusing on his new role as DH. Cashman also stated that lingering headaches resulting from last season’s concussion also contributed to Posada’s reticence to get back behind the plate. If Cashman’s version of events is accurate, it would mean that the Yankees could have enjoyed more roster flexibility had Posada decided, or been physically able, to embrace the role as a backup to Martin.

Considering how poorly Cervelli has played since returning to the active roster, and how much Posada has struggled as a DH, it seems as if both problems could have been mitigated if the Yankees and Posada had better prepared for the current predicament. Cashman’s recent revelation is particularly ironic because it has been assumed that one reason Posada has bristled in his new role was because of the lack of an opportunity to catch. What’s more, it also contradicts the prevailing thought the Yankees, not Posada, pulled the plug on a backup role because of lingering health concerns.

Posada has not yet been asked about Cashman’s comments, but one wonders how the feisty veteran will react to the implication that his failure to stay in shape is the main reason preventing him from stepping back behind the plate. Without knowing the extent to which last year’s concussion has hampered his ability to catch, it’s hard to say how receptive Posada would be to the Yankees’ willingness to have him work his way back into being an option at the position. In the meantime, for the sake of harmony in the clubhouse, it’s perhaps even more important that Posada doesn’t contradict Cashman’s account or express resentment at the idea that the end of his catching career has been self inflicted.

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When Saturday night’s lineup was first posted, Jorge Posada was batting ninth. Then, he was scratched just before game time. As various rumors about his status circulated, including speculation about a possible retirement, Brian Cashman announced to FOX cameras that Posada had asked out of the lineup. Cashman also stated that no injury was involved. Soon thereafter, a torrent of tweets suggested that the Yankees’ catcher had thrown a fit and refused to play. That news was followed by reports about the Yankees placing a call to the commissioner’s office about possible disciplinary action. Not to be outdone by the one-sided flow of information, Posada’s wife Laura tweeted that her husband was suffering from a sore back. Meanwhile, the rest of the Yankees were busy losing another game by exhibiting the same brand of impotent offense and sloppy defense that has become a hallmark over the last three weeks.

The original lineup card with Posada batting ninth (Photo: Getty Images).

Before the game, the decision to drop Posada in the lineup seemed like more of historical footnote than a burgeoning soap opera. In retrospect, however, Girardi’s decision to drop Posada in such a high profile game on national television seems at least a little shortsighted. After all, what real benefit could be derived from moving Posada down from eighth to ninth? With Nick Swisher batting just as poorly, would anyone have batted an eye if he was slotted last? Considering Posada’s prideful reputation and Swisher’s happy-go-lucky personality, reversing those two players would have provided the path of least resistance.

Although Girardi shares some blame for the imprudent implementation of an otherwise justifiable decision, Posada also bears some blame. His emotional reaction to the slight is perfectly understandable. For years, he has been an instrumental part of the Yankees’ success, but now he finds himself watching the sands of time fall through the hourglass. It’s a long way from starting catcher to last man in the lineup, so if Posada needed a mental day off, what’s so wrong with that? Having said that, he should have been more honest with Girardi once he decided he could not play. By failing to do so, he contributed to the chaotic course of events that ensued.

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Pedro Feliciano didn’t make this much news when he was almost literally pitching every day for the Mets, but in his short tenure with the Yankees, the once durable lefty has become a hot topic because of his inability to take the ball.

Scott Proctor led the American League with 83 appearances in 2006. Since then, his career has been plagued by various arm injuries.

When the Yankees signed Feliciano back in January, the reliever market had exploded and quality left handers were a scarce commodity. So, although the two-year, $8 million deal given to the reliever was a bit of an overpay, it still appeared to be a worthy signing. After Feliciano’s most recent MRI, which revealed a tear in his shoulder capsule, that no longer seems to be the case.

It’s easy to slam Brian Cashman for sinking so much money into a 34-year old pitcher coming off three straight seasons in which he led the league in games pitched, especially after the Yankees’ GM stated that Feliciano was abused during his time as a Met. Such a statement naturally led many to wonder why Cashman would pursue the signing if he felt Feliciano might be damaged goods, but the issue is much more complicated. After all, Feliciano’s workload could just as easily have been interpreted as a sign of extraordinary durability instead of evidence that his shoulder was a ticking time bomb. Based on the other options available, Cashman took a calculated risk. Unfortunately for him, it exploded in his face.

The Yankees aren’t strangers to signing free agent relievers with a history of heavy workloads. In 2003, the team inked Paul Quantrill to a two-year deal following three seasons in which he too led the league in appearances. In his first season with the Yankees, Quantrill led the league for a record fourth straight time, but after bouncing around with three teams in 2005, his career was over. Steve Kline was the only other reliever to lead the league in appearances for three straight seasons with a minimum of 80 games in each year, but he showed no ill effects from the workload. Following his trifecta, Kline pitched in at least 66 games over the next six seasons.

Seasons with Over 80 Appearances

Pitcher Yrs From To Age
Paul Quantrill* 5 1998 2004 29-35
Kent Tekulve 4 1978 1987 31-40
Pedro Feliciano* 3 2008 2010 31-33
Peter Moylan 3 2007 2010 28-31
Ray King 3 2001 2004 27-30
Steve Kline* 3 1999 2001 26-28
Mike Stanton 3 1996 2006 29-39
Mike Marshall 3 1973 1979 30-36


*Led the league with at least 80 appearances in three straight seasons.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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Update: Minutes after this post was published, Law also released his top-100 prospect rankings. Angels’ outfield prospect Mike Trout topped the list, just ahead of 2010 draft wunderkind Bryce Harper and the Phillies’ Domonic Brown.

As for the Yankees, Jesus Montero ranked highest on the list at number four. According to Law, Montero’s ability to hit is without question (he invoked Frank Thomas as a comparison), but concerns about his defense as well as the durability of catchers his size remain. Also appearing in the top-100 were four other Yankees, most notably Manny Banuelos, who not only ranked 12th overall, but also fourth among pitchers. Despite his young age, Law stated that his advanced physical development means Banuelos isn’t far from helping the big league club. Perhaps, he will be the Yankees mystery fifth starter by midseason?

Also ranked in the top 100 were Gary Sanchez (68), Dellin Betances (73) and Andrew Brackman (88), while Austin Romine just missed the cut. Rounding out Law’s list of the Yankees’ top-10 prospects were Graham Stoneburner, Slade Heathcott, Hector Noesi and Adam Warren.

Keith Law’s latest MLB organization rankings have been posted at ESPN.com, and the Yankees find themselves inside the top-10. Law singled out the team’s catching depth, which includes Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez and Austine Romine. Law was also impressed with the development of Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman, both of whom made significant strides in their recovery from injury. Also mentioned were Manny Banuelos as well as a mystery player selected toward the end of last year’s draft. On Friday, Law intends to publish a profile on that player, so all readers with an ESPN insider account should mark it on their calendars.

Most Yankees fans are familiar with Jesus Montero, but fellow catching prospect Gary Sanchez is not that far behind.

Law’s high opinion of the Yankees’ farm system echoed Jonathan Mayo’s prospect rankings, which were unveiled at MLB.com on Tuesday.  The Yankees placed three prospects –Montero (9), Sanchez (32) and Banuelos (35) – on Mayo’s list of the game’s top-50 prospects, while Betances just missed the cut at 53. Like Law, Mayo also rated the Royals (six prospects) and Rays (four prospects) highly. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mets, Marlins, Brewers and A’s were the only four teams not represented.

Law’s and Mayo’s findings validate Brian Cashman’s strategy of paying almost as much attention to the minors as the major league roster. Even as the Yankees have been able to maintain a championship caliber team, Cashman has simultaneously gone about rebuilding and then fortifying the team’s farm system, which is why the general manager was so reticent to surrender a first round draft pick with the signing of Rafael Soriano. The strength of the farm also provides insight into why Cashman has been so patient this offseason. As Steve S. at TYU noted in his excellent recap of Cashman’s WFAN breakfast chat, the Yankees’ general manager believes Banuelos and Betances both have “Phil Hughes or better ceilings”, and all levels of the minors will feature legitimate prospects in their respective rotations. Cashman even relayed Gene Michael’s belief that David Phelps and Adam Warren could be better than Ivan Nova.

Although Mayo’s list is available in its entirety at MLB, Law’s work (which is probably the most exhaustive and informative in the field) remains behind ESPN’s pay wall. So, listed below is a brief and select summary of his conclusions.

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Brian Cashman was the guest of honor at WFAN’s Breakfast with a Champion, a question and answer session hosted by sports talk host Mike Francesa at the Hard Rock Café in Manhattan. ESPNW’s Amanda Rykoff attended the event and provided “live tweets”, from which the following key points emerged:

  • The Yankees need another starter, and their ability to obtain one will determine their chances at winning a 28th World Series.
  • Cashman believes the Red Sox are a better team on paper, but feels the addition of Soriano gives the Yankees a better bullpen.
  • Joba Chamberlain has been limited since his injury in 2008, and as a result, the organization’s plans for him have been altered.
  • Derek Jeter is not expected to remain at SS over the entire length of his current four-year extension.
  • Being a general manager in New York is hard work.

Is Brian Cashman Fed Up Being the Yankees' GM?

Although some of Cashman’s candor was worthy of a raised eyebrow, none of the opinions expressed were particularly groundbreaking. The revelation about Chamberlain represented the first time the organization has used injury as justification for its handling of the once prized pitching prospect, but otherwise, most of the observations were fairly benign.

One remark that was somewhat of a concern, however, was Cashman’s comment about the media in New York having the ability to “wear you out”. Taken alone, it’s really a very mild remark, but in the context of his conduct this offseason, it does make you wonder about whether Cashman really wants to be in New York after his contract expires in 2011.

Last week, New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden wrote about Cashman possibly wanting to leave the Yankees for an opportunity in which he would have less scrutiny and more autonomy. Also hinted at in Madden’s column was Cashman’s desire to operate without the “burden” of the Yankees’ significant financial resources. In a sense, it seems as if Cashman wants to make it on his own…almost like a child of wealth might desire to get out from under his parents’ shadow.

Although Cashman has sometimes bristled at the implication that his success is directly the result of the team’s high payroll (usually by doing so in a self-deprecating manner), he has always seemed content toeing the party line. In fact, Cashman has developed a politician-like reputation for being able to say nothing by saying everything. However, that has all changed this offseason.

Cashman’s conduct during the Derek Jeter contract negotiations was the first sign that something was amiss. Not only did the Yankees’ GM take an early hard line with the team’s superstar, but he also openly discussed the negotiations, even going so far as to lob a few criticisms in Jeter’s direction. Then, after adamantly stating that he would not surrender a first round pick for Rafael Soriano, Cashman was overruled by Hal Steinbrenner, and wasn’t shy about saying as much during the reliever’s introductory press conference. When Cashman talked about having Soriano “forced down his throat”, he was trying to make a point about the positive influence of the Yankees’ resources, but the way he chose to express the thought didn’t seem very flattering.

One can get carried away reading too much into comments, but in this case, it seems like something is up. Is Cashman fed up with the Yankees, and New York in general? Is he tired of the scrutiny and weary of being thought of as “director of spending” (as Madden claims he referred to himself at the recent Winter Meetings)? Does he feel diminished by ownership’s intervention in the Soriano signing, and perhaps even the Jeter negotiations (and, by extension, could there be a split between general manager and short stop)? Finally, has the charm of being a smaller fish in a big pond worn off now that the Boss is no longer the head shark? Regardless of the reason, if Cashman is strongly considering a change of scenery, the Yankees have to consider how that realization will affect his approach during the season.

I’ve always been a fan of Brian Cashman, and see no reason why the Yankees should look to make a change…unless, their GM has already made that decision. If Cashman really would prefer the challenge of a smaller market team with less pressure, less media and less money to spend (i.e., a pasture with less “green”), then it might be better if he and the Yankees part company sooner than later. The Yankees not only have significant challenges facing them before the start of the season (and likely leading up to the trade deadline), but there are also some long-term transition issues slowly emerging. The Yankees need to make sure their general manager is committed for the long haul, and if not, the team might be better off finding that out now.

In a perfect world, the best approach for the Yankees would be to offer Cashman a “take it or leave the organization” contract extension. Because of his long and meritorious service to the organization, however, Cashman deserves the benefit of the doubt as well as every opportunity to decide upon his future. Having said that, it might be time for Hal Steinbrenner and his general manager to have a frank discussion about each man’s respective vision for the future. If it is determined that both paths will not converge, then Cashman and the Yankees might be better off going their separate ways.

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Joe Girardi welcomes Rafael Soriano at his press conference, but the sentiment of Brian Cashman’s comments was not as warm (Photo: MLB.com).

Rafael Soriano may not be asked to save many games for the Yankees, but at the press conference announcing his signing, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was forced to save face.

The biggest news from yesterday’s media gathering was not the player being introduced, but the back story behind his acquisition. As has now been widely reported, Brian Cashman was not on board with the decision to sign Soriano because he wanted to protect that first round pick that was ultimately forfeited to the Tampa Bay Rays as compensation. So, it was with great anticipation that media members gathered at the press conference to grill Cashman, and not the Yankees’ new reliever.

Let me put it this way, I think 29 GMs would love their owner to force Rafael Soriano down their throat. I don’t think that’s something that anyone would want to complain about. I took a stance and I’m not running from that stance. It doesn’t mean I was right, or that it’s the best approach, but that’s who I am and still am. But we are better in 2011 for this, there’s no doubt about it.” – Brian Cashman, quoted in the New York Daily News, January 20, 2011

Despite his frankness, yesterday’s media event couldn’t have been very comfortable for Cashman. After all, it’s not easy to listen as your authority and autonomy are called into question. Although he seemed at ease with the decision, the now public split could put both Cashman and the organization in line for more uncomfortable questions as the general manager enters the final year of his three-year contract.

For Soriano, the introduction must have been a little surreal. Not only was he forced to play second fiddle at his own press conference, but then he had to sit by as the team’s general manager talked about having him forced down his throat. Hopefully, the Yankees instructed the interpreter (Soriano answered all questions in Spanish) to not use a literal translation. If he is even the least bit sensitive, a comment like that could make Soriano’s transition to the team a little more uncomfortable.

Perhaps anticipating some of the potential awkwardness, the Yankees decided not to air the press conference on YES. Of course, that did little to quell the stories about the latest bizarre happening in what has been a very unorthodox offseason for Cashman and the Yankees.

Immediately after the signing was announced, I noted the potential negative ramifications that could result from the emergence of a split in the Yankees’ baseball operations. As Craig Calcaterra of NBC’s HardBall Talk  replied, however, the decision by Hal Steinbrenner to override Cashman’s recommendation really wasn’t unprecedented. Both before and since Cashman demanded more autonomy from the Boss, the Yankees utilized a committee approach to making decisions. As evidenced by the Joe Torre situation, Cashman has not always gotten his way, even on matters as significant as hiring a manager. Viewed in that light, the Soriano signing really shouldn’t be considered so ominous. As he noted at the press conference, Cashman was fully aware of the negotiations, despite not being in favor of the transaction. In other words, he was not bypassed in the process, as had been the case during the days of Billy Connors and the Tampa faction (not to mention signings like Gary Sheffield and David Wells that were almost exclusively transacted by the Boss). As long as the Yankees maintain a chain of command in which Cashman presides over all baseball recommendations, it shouldn’t be an issue when the owners of the team decide to go in a different direction.

Finally, because of the uniqueness of the situation, it’s easy to see why Cashman and the Yankees have been held to more scrutiny on the matter, but the reality is every single ownership group plays a role in baseball personnel decisions. The only difference is that with 29 other teams, ownership’s constraint revolves around saving money, not spending it. As Cashman noted, it really isn’t a negative when your owner is willing to spend beyond your recommendations. If the Yankees had given Cashman a mandate to cut spending, no one would view it as a blow to his autonomy, so the same inference shouldn’t be made because the Yankees collectively decided that signing Soriano was an affordable cost of doing business.

If Cashman had expressed concerns about Soriano’s ability or his clubhouse presence, then there might be reason to worry about the Yankees’ decision making process. However, when the owner overrules the general manager on what essentially amounts to a financial decision (and does so in order to spend, not save, money), the organization and fans alike should be grateful. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having your cake and eating it too…even when it’s forced down your throat.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeU.)

All winter, Brian Cashman has taken his lumps for patiently biding his time during the off season. However, those criticism were nothing compared to harsh rebukes he has received in the hours since John Heyman announced that the Yankees had signed Rafael Soriano.

According to reports, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman may not have seen eye-to-eye over the Soriano contract (Photo: The Star-Ledger).

Before delving into the wisdom of the signing, the pink elephant in the room is Cashman’s earlier insistence that the Yankees would not surrender a first round pick for any free agent not named Cliff Lee. So, either Cashman was holding his cards close to the vest (i.e., lying), had a serious change of heart, or was overruled by another in the organization.

If Cashman was being deceptive, well, good for him. His chief responsibility is to make the Yankees better, so if that means throwing up a smoke screen or two, so be it. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see where the Yankees benefitted from an improved negotiation position, but then again, the full details of the contract and pursuant negotiations have not been revealed. Nonetheless, a general managers’ commandments are made to be broken when the right (or sometimes wrong) deal comes along. Just ask Bubba Crosby.

As mentioned, the exact terms of the Soriano contract have not yet been divulged, so in the details may be the reason why Cashman did an about face from his earlier vow.  Maybe he believed that Soriano would return to the Rays at a discount, or sign with a wild card competitor? Perhaps further evaluation of the draft revealed less than promising prospects for the 31st pick? Maybe it was Andy Pettitte’s latest display of indecision that pushed his hand? Or, it could be that Cashman has other contingent moves in place (e.g., moving Joba Chamberlain back to the rotation, or a trade that involves the team’s now impressive bullpen depth)? Regardless, just because Cashman changed his mind doesn’t mean he panicked.

The third option is the one that is cause for real concern. In his daily column, Buster Olney hinted at a divide within the Yankees organization, while Peter Gammons tweeted that Randy Levine was the driving force behind the signing. Even Mariano Rivera has been credited with holding sway. If true, that could be disastrous for the Yankees. Whether you like Cashman or not, the Yankees have seemed to benefit from having one coherent voice on baseball-related matters, so a return to the days of front office factions could have undesirable consequences. I am sure more on that topic will be written in the coming days, but usually when there’s an early leak, there’s also an unhappy general manager.

Putting aside the intrigue behind the Yankees’ change in course, let’s now return to an examination of the player and the contract (for a concise rundown of how the Yankees blogosphere has reacted to the deal, check out Bronx Banter). The biggest criticism of the deal has dealt with the fact that Soriano does not address the team’s greatest weakness, which, of course, is the starting rotation. But, should that really make a difference? The Yankees did not get Cliff Lee, nor were they able to trade for Zack Greinke or Matt Garza. Nothing can change that reality, and there are no apparent acquisition targets capable of filling the resulting void.

Instead of focusing on a cadre of has-beens, also-rans, and could-bes, the Yankees instead decided to bolster the backend of the bullpen with a bonafide quality reliever. Granted, the contract, which at $11.7 million per year makes Soriano the third highest paid reliever in the game, seems exorbitant, but should that matter to anyone but the Yankees’ accountants? After all, just because he will be paid closer money doesn’t mean he won’t be very valuable pitching in the eighth inning. When you are a billion dollar franchise in an offseason when no one else will take your money, you can afford that kind of luxury.

Another knock on the contract stems from the fact that Soriano has had Tommy John surgery, but since undergoing the procedure in 2004, he bounced back with healthy seasons in four of the last five. In 2008, however, Soriano missed most of the season and eventually required another elbow surgery, so the risk is definitely real. But, again, that’s really a financial concern.

Does Soriano have a higher power (Mariano Rivera) to thank for his contract with the Yankees?

Statistically speaking, it’s nearly impossible to justify the monetary terms of the contract, so once you get past that hang-up, the bottom line becomes that the Yankees are a better team with Soriano than without. Even if one wanted to boil down the addition in terms of value added, it could be argued that if he pitches as he did in 2010, Soriano would come close to approximating the contribution that would be lost if Andy Pettitte does in fact retire. Also, in addition to giving the Yankees one of the major’s best bullpens, it also provides the team more flexibility, both in terms of whom they can move into the rotation and how much rest they can afford Rivera. There is a domino effect at play, and although the benefits don’t trickle down enough to match a $12 million outlay, the addition of Soriano does strengthen the team.

Perhaps the most legitimate criticism of the deal centers around losing the 31st pick in the 2011 Rule IV draft. It should be noted, however, that the Yankees still have a supplemental round pick thanks to the departure of Javier Vazquez. So, if the draft really is as deep as many experts have suggested, the Yankees should still have enough quality selections to replenish their farm system.

Finally, much has been made of Soriano’s opt out clauses, which allow him to terminate the deal after the first two seasons AND be paid a $1.5 million buyout for his troubles. Although this may seem to be a very one-sided perk, it actually gives the Yankees an out in the event that Soriano has a terrific 2011 season. Because the contract is end-loaded, it isn’t likely that Soriano’s future performance would ever surpass his salary, so if the right hander were to allow his ego to send him back into the free agent market, the Yankees would be freed of the risk associated with the length of the deal. In other words, the Yankees would wind up with one great year from Soriano and Type-A free agent compensation, which means they’d swap one draft pick for two. Should that happen, the Yankees’ end of the bargain would look much better, which is exactly why the opt outs are probably more in their best interest than Soriano’s (i.e., it provides him with a temptation that isn’t likely to work toward his benefit).

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