Commentary

Cash: 'We're not going to be desperate'

Yankees GM planning conservative approach with underwhelming free-agent class

Updated: November 9, 2011, 5:28 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Brian Cashman came to town Wednesday bearing Yankees jackets to help the needy, but that doesn't mean he is willing to give the shirt off his back to benefit the greedy.

That was the impression the Yankees GM left after a brief Q-and-A session with reporters during an appearance at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan for an annual winter coat drive.

The New York Yankees care, too, about the disappointing end of their 2011 season, but Cashman said they are not about to overpay for what looks like an underwhelming crop of free agents this winter.

"We're a very aggressive organization and I think that has led us to a lot of the major talent that we've brought in here," Cashman said. "But we're not going to be desperate [this winter]. I think we're going to be very conservative. If we don't think a deal looks right or feels right or smells right, we'll pass."

If you get a whiff of "Plan B is patience," in that statement, trust your nose.

It is understandably difficult to get much in the way of specifics out of Cashman at this time of year, but it doesn't take much in the way of detective skills to draw a pretty safe conclusion from his remarks on Wednesday as well as the other statements he has issued since the Yankees' season ended in a first-round KO by the Detroit Tigers.

Neither he nor the rest of his organization is in love with any of the available free agents this winter, although if one of them happens to fall into his lap at a bargain-basement price, he'll take it.

That includes C.J. Wilson, the gem of a mostly costume jewelry field, as well as the handful of other FA starters for sale, none of whom Cashman was able to name in probably the most revealing moment of a most guarded media session.

Asked which free-agent starters the Yankees might have an interest in, Cashman said, "C.J. Wilson, and, um … the other prospective guys."

Hey, when the guys are basically Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, each of which carries his own unique warning label, their names might slip your mind, as well.

Cashman doesn't mind acknowledging the obvious -- "We need more additions [to the pitching staff]. We've got to find something," he said -- but don't try to pin him down on any particular name.

Not only is it not smart business, it's pretty obvious that there is no perfect fit this season for a pitching staff that, just like a year ago, seems to be a starter or two short of a full deck.

Brian Cashman
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesBrian Cashman is preaching a mantra of patience this offseason.

CC Sabathia is back in the fold, and so is A.J. Burnett. Cashman is expecting Ivan Nova, said to be fully recovered from the forearm strain that troubled him in Game 5 against the Tigers, to repeat the form that won him 16 games in the regular season and one in the playoffs.

After that, all jobs are up for grabs. Last week, Cashman left the door open for a return by Freddy Garcia, who won a surprising 12 games after making the team in spring training. Phil Hughes, who was the Nova of 2010, when he won 18 games as a rookie, will be given another shot to prove his miserable 2011 was an anomaly, not his future.

And if, somehow, the GM comes home with an empty shopping bag this winter, the remaining slots could be won in a competition among the youngsters -- Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren and David Phelps -- next spring.

"Am I comfortable with that? No," Cashman admitted. "But I wasn't comfortable going into last spring training [either], and I said that. There is obviously more developmental steps necessary for some of those guys. Are some of them capable of doing what Nova did in terms of taking a gigantic leap from what he did in 2010 to 2011? It's possible. Is it something you want to count on and expect? I think that's a dangerous thing to do."

And yet, Cashman and the Yankees clearly think it is preferable to committing five years and $100 million to Wilson, which is the expected going rate.

Conversations I have had with people inside the organization and out indicate the Yankees have a lot of reservations about Wilson, and not only because of his poor performance this postseason.

They are concerned about his outspoken personality ("He's a back page waiting to happen every day," said one insider, and not in a positive way) and his stuff, which they consider good, but not $20 million a year good.

In fact, one baseball insider familiar with the team's thinking on this issue put the chances of Wilson wearing a Yankee uniform at "one in a hundred."

I have already reported that the Yankees have serious concerns about Oswalt's recurrent back problems, and Jackson has another problem -- his agent, Scott Boras, who is guaranteed to demand a lot more than a .500 pitcher (60-60, 4.46 ERA in 11 seasons) is worth.

There is always the Japanese sensation Yu Darvish -- who the Yankees are understandably gun-shy about considering their unhappy history with pitchers from Japan -- but he hasn't even entered the posting process yet.

The best fit might turn out to be Buehrle, a steady if unspectacular left-hander who has a god winning percentage (161-119) and ERA (3.83) and has thrown at least 200 innings in every one of his 11 full big league seasons.

"Too early to tell," Cashman said when asked if he had identified a front-runner in the field. "I haven't talked to every team and I haven't talked to every agent yet, and I certainly haven't had one agent tell me what they want financially. No one's made me an offer, so I don't know what these current free agents are looking for yet in terms of years or dollars."

And when asked if there was an obvious choice out there who would immediately solidify his pitching staff, Cashman said, "In this market, there are guys who are more feel-good compared to the rest of them."

Hardly a ringing endorsement for any of them.

"There's different ways to climb this mountain," Cashman said. "The best way is to get a definitive, absolute, slam dunk that everybody feels gives you a big safety net and comfort. Then there's the other way to go, the 'I-don't-know-what-I'm-getting-here-but-I'll-take-a-chance' guys. That way worked out pretty good for us last year. I just think that the price tags associated will determine how all this plays out."

Translation: If you need a coat, Brian Cashman will give you his. Just don't try to pick his pocket.

• • •

Other topics addressed by the GM:

Jorge Posada: "I wouldn't comment. He's a free agent right now. I have not talked to Seth or Sam Levinson, who both represent Jorgie. Obviously, decisions have to be made but I'm not prepared to talk about that at this point. He's been an unbelievable Yankee but there's not much more I can say about it."

Eric Chavez, who could possibly retire: "I have no idea what his intentions are."

Joba Chamberlain, coming off Tommy John surgery: "He's working his tail off. He's going to try to do everything he possibly can to be ready as soon as he possibly can, and ahead of schedule, that's where we have to make sure we work with rehab personnel that he takes his time. The one thing on Joba that we probably have to be careful about, he wants it yesterday."

Cashman also refuted a recent story that the Yankees were "disappointed" that the San Francisco Giants traded left-handed starter Jonathan Sanchez to the Kansas City Royals: "We knew he was available, but we didn't have any trade discussions on him. We were aware, but I wouldn't say disappointed."

Cashman also sidestepped a question about whether the Yankees had held a private workout with Cuban defector Yoennis Cespedes, a power-hitting outfielder. "Every team in baseball was there," he said. "And there were a lot of players to scout, not just him."

Asked if the Yankees had worked Cespedes out on their own, Cashman said, "I wouldn't say."

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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