Commentary

Cashman saying a whole lot of nothing

GM hosts talk show after signing new contract -- but offers no clear vision for Yanks

Updated: November 1, 2011, 9:39 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Brian Cashman spoke to the media at length on Tuesday -- for 41 minutes and 50 seconds, to be exact -- for the first time since the premature end of the New York Yankees' season nearly a month ago, and the only bit of hard news to come out of it is that he will be sleeping in the street on the night of Nov. 17.

No need, however, to throw a benefit for the Yankees GM, who signed a new three-year contract this weekend presumably worth more than his last one, which paid him $2 million a year.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesBrian Cashman may have a compelling offseason plan for improving the Yankees, but he didn't share it on Tuesday.

No, Cashman's night out will be purely symbolic, and in the name of a noble cause as part of his work with Covenant House International, a group that raises funds to benefit homeless children.

The other bit of information, that the Yankees had decided not to pick up the option on Andrew Brackman, was hardly news. Most seasoned Yankee observers have been aware for months that the 6-foot-10 former No. 1 draft pick was headed for Bustville, ever since he was removed from the rotation and sent to the purgatory of middle relief for Triple-A Scranton due to an alarming lack of control.

Otherwise, Cashman had few concrete answers and, quite frankly, no clear vision for what the Yankees need to do to improve off their disappointing 2011 performance, in which they won 97 games and the AL East title in the regular season but couldn't manage to win three games in the division series.

The free-agent market? He'll explore all options.

Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon? Too early to say.

Yu Darvish? Couldn't tell you.

Jorge Posada? Hasn't really thought about it yet.

Albert Pujols?

"I don't anticipate needing a bat at all," Cashman said. "That doesn't mean that I'm not open-minded to anything else that may benefit the club, but in a realistic fashion offense is not an issue that we'll be focusing on."

If you feel like you've heard this news conference before, well, you have. Just about a year ago at this time, right after the premature end of another Yankees season, albeit one that came to a halt just two wins shy of a second straight World Series.

The 2011 Yankees did not take a step forward, but a couple of steps back, unless you consider winning the division but going out in the first round preferable to making it to Game 6 of the ALCS as a wild card, as the 2010 Yankees did.

Still, it sounded very much as though Cashman, and the Yankees, will be even less active in the free-agent market this winter than they were last winter.

Last year, at least they had an excuse; their negotiations with Derek Jeter dragged on nearly into the Christmas season, and whatever attention they had left was paid to Cliff Lee, who ultimately jilted them for Philadelphia.

This year, all the heavy lifting, pardon the pun, seems to have been done already now that CC Sabathia has been appeased with a contract extension that will keep him a Yankee until at least 2016.

Listening to Cashman on Tuesday's conference call, it appeared all that is left for him to do is take a nice three-month vacation until the start of spring training.

"I think we have a great team," Cashman said. "We need to continue to explore opportunities to find ways to get better, but we have a lot of depth, we have a lot of youth coming, we have a lot of support. We're in a position now to take our time, explore and digest -- as well as pursue -- but at our own pace."

The signing of Sabathia, Cashman said, makes this relaxed approach to the winter possible. If last year's Plan B was patience, this year's may be complacency.

After all, CC was safely in the fold at this point last year, too, but that didn't stop the Yankees from indulging in their favorite offseason pursuit, pursuing the No. 1 free agent on the market.

That turned out to be Lee, who decided he liked Philadelphia a lot better than the Bronx.

This year, the No. 1 free agent is undoubtedly Pujols, but for the first time in recent memory, it appears as if the Yankees won't even kick the tires.

I know all the easy answers: Too much money. Too old. No room for him to play.

And yet, at 31, Pujols is younger than everyone in the Yankees' infield but Robinson Cano -- Pujols and Mark Teixeira will turn 32 within three months of each other next year -- and also unlike everyone in the Yankees' infield but Cano, had the kind of October that moves teams to the next level and the next round of playoffs.

The Yankees have the money and they can make the room -- why couldn't they consider a rotation of first base/DH using both Pujols and Teixeira, with Alex Rodriguez occasionally mixed in, keeping all three of them fresh? -- but still refuse to consider adding the one player on the free-agent market this year that could actually make them a better club.

"Pitching, pitching, pitching," Cashman said. "That's what we'll be focusing on."

Cashman, of course, deserves the benefit of the doubt, having in 2011 cobbled together a pitching staff out of other team's rejects such as Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, rising star Ivan Nova and lead balloon A.J. Burnett to go along with Sabathia.

There is little doubt he can do the same for 2012, even if the Yankees decide to pass on C.J. Wilson, Roy Oswalt, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson, the not-so-sweet cream of this year's free-agent pitching crop.

And then there is Darvish, the 25-year-old right-hander of Japanese-Iranian descent who is expected to enter into the posting process required for transition from the Japan league to Major League Baseball.

Cashman does not deny being somewhat gun shy about committing big money to a Japanese pitcher after having been burned with the late Hideki Irabu and the failed Kei Igawa, who is still drawing a Yankees-sized paycheck while pitching in Double-A ball.

"I think we're in a much better position entering the 2012 season to make better decisions than we have in the past," Cashman said, not clarifying whether that meant in terms of judging how Darvish's talent will translate to U.S. ball, or simply knowing when to walk away.

In any event, it was not the arms that let the Yankees down this season, but the bats. For all their offensive potency in the regular season -- the Yankees led all of baseball in home runs and were second in runs scored and third in slugging percentage -- the bats came up limp in October, and even if five games is a ridiculously small sample upon which to judge, it is precisely that small sample by which the success or failure of a Yankee season is determined every year.

How many times have we heard the Yankees, from owner to GM to manager to players, describe their season as a failure if it ends short of a parade on Lower Broadway?

The F-word was used this year, as well, by Cashman and Joe Girardi and team president Randy Levine and Derek Jeter, among others.

Every year, the Yankees have the same mission, and whether it is realistic or not to expect it to be accomplished even more often than it has, by the team's own standards the 2011 season was a failure.

Asked at the end of the conference call to explain how and why the Yankees' season ended so poorly, and what could be done to rectify it in 2012, here is what Brian Cashman said:

"I don't think we played to the best of our abilities. Part of that is our control, and part of that is obviously controlled by what the [Detroit] Tigers put forth. Our A-game was either diminished by their A-game, or we weren't able to bring our A-game because of the ebb and flow of this sport. We have a 97-win team, one of the best teams in baseball. But October's a lot different -- it's not an excuse, but October's a lot different than April to September. … Unfortunately, on the very small window that we had as an opportunity to figure our way through certain things, with this particular team, this particular year, this particular club, the Detroit Tigers, we fell short. I'm just going to try to improve on what we have, which is very, very good, as is. Is there a way to make it better? I think so, and we're certainly going to pursue it to the fullest extent."

I'm not sure what that meant, either. Nor can I glean one inkling of what Brian Cashman plans to do about it.

Maybe it's something he can think about while sleeping out on the street on Nov. 17.

At the same time he is helping to give hope to the homeless, maybe Brian Cashman can come up with a way for the Yankees to win nine more games next October.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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