Friday, July 1, 2011 Updated: July 2, 10:38 AM ET
Yankees' biggest free agent? The GM
By Ian O'Connor ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes spent the afternoon pledging his allegiance to the New York Mets, telling anyone who asked that he wants to be a one-uniform lifer, a Met in sickness and health, no matter how improbable that notion appears to be.
His legs churning at video game speed, his dreads flapping this way and that, Reyes has kicked up a free-agent frenzy in the big city so consuming that fans in five boroughs have forgotten the New York Yankees also have a big-name player without a contract or any guarantee he'll return in 2012.
Brian Cashman at Citi Field prior to Friday night's Subway Series game.
"I'm not afraid to go somewhere else," Brian Cashman said, "but I don't want to go anywhere else, if that makes any sense."
It made perfect sense.
"I'm not desperate to stay," Cashman said, "because I also know how hard this job is."
No, the Yankees' general manager didn't sound quite as enthusiastic about staying home as did Reyes, who said the unmitigated fan support has touched his heart and hardened his desire to keep slapping triples around Citi Field's unconventional walls.
"My players know it's my job to find someone better than they are," Cashman said, "and that applies to me, too. It's Hal Steinbrenner's job to find the best for the franchise, and if there's someone better in his mind that's available, or should be promoted ahead of me, then he should do that."
Cashman was speaking to ESPNNewYork.com before his Yankees took the Subway Series opener by a 5-1 count. On muscle memory, the GM had more than a few interesting things to say.
He claimed Robinson Cano, not Reyes, is the best player in this series, even if Alex Rodriguez was busy canonizing the Mets' shortstop in the visitors' clubhouse. Cashman said in a draft of Yanks and Mets position players, he would take Cano first, Reyes second, and poor A-Rod third.
But the GM was at his candid best when discussing the possibility that he could follow Reyes out the offseason door and leave the only franchise he's ever known.
"I want to see what they have to say," Cashman said of his judge and jury, the Steinbrenners and team president Randy Levine. "I want to talk about it at the end of the year. I'm not looking to leave. I honestly think this is the best job I'll ever have, in theory.
"I know the landscape here. I know the politics here. This is an ownership committed to winning. It's a great setup, beautiful facility, a great fan base, and I've got roots here."
Cashman has been a part of five World Series championships here, four as GM. He started out as a wide-eyed intern, a gofer, a security guy who helped pull unruly drunks out of the old Yankee Stadium stands.
Cashman got the big job, Bob Watson's job, in February of 1998, and he's outlasted one parade of Yankees after another, Joe Torre included.
"I'm just focused on doing the best I can now, and everything should take care of itself one way or another," Cashman said. "It will either work out and we'll do well, or I'll fail at what I'm doing and they'll want me out and get someone else to do this.
"I don't think about it. Honestly, I'm wired in such a way that I don't look ahead. We'll figure it out on Oct. 31, when my contract expires, and after that we'll see whatever it is, whether that means I've got to sit out a year and take time off, re-up, or go into broadcasting."
Broadcasting? Might Cashman actually leave the world's most famous ball team for a job breaking down Sandy Alderson's moves, not to mention those of the next Yankees GM?
"I've got agents coming at me left and right," Cashman said. "For years they've been thinking I'm on my way out the door, I'm going to walk. ... Literally I've got emails, letters, people asking me to lunch and dinner to represent me. They feel like I might have a career on that side of the fence."
Cashman turns 44 on Sunday. He has permanent scars from his head-on collisions with Torre, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, and from deals he did or didn't consummate -- Cashman didn't get Cliff Lee when he badly wanted him, and he got Rafael Soriano when he wanted no part of him.
But he isn't a burnout case or an executive with a death wish. Cashman is merely a realist, and one who understands that every Yankee career runs its course.
The GM has a longstanding policy against conducting contract extension talks during the season, a policy he applied to the likes of Jeter and Mariano Rivera and Joe Girardi, and one he now applies to himself.
Cashman hasn't asked for a new deal, even though people around the Yankees believe Hal Steinbrenner wants him back.
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"We should just let Hal make the best decision for the franchise," Cashman said. "If I was Hal, I wouldn't want to make a decision right now. I've got more work to do, more things to prove.
"If I was Hal, I'd let it play out, evaluate all of it, look at all the choices in front of him and make a decision. And then we'll have a conversation, whether it's 'thanks for everything,' or 'let's keep it going.'"
The odds favor 'let's keep it going.' Even if the prospect of winning in a smaller market with a much smaller payroll might intrigue him, and enhance his legacy, Cashman knows he holds the best front-office job in professional sports, a job you don't surrender on a whim.
"I'm in a really good spot," the GM agreed.
But his spot doesn't have to be any more permanent than Jose Reyes' spot in the Citi Field dirt. If Brian Cashman isn't afraid to lead the New York Yankees, he isn't afraid to leave them, either.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter"