Brian Cashman’s Contingency Plan Needs a Contingency Plan

This wasn’t how things were supposed to be for the New York Yankees. The All-Star cavalry was supposed to return to buoy what is an otherwise uninspiring roster of 30-something misfits. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira were supposed to return to spell the likes of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay in a spirited 2nd half sprint to the playoffs. But that’s not exactly how things have worked out in the Bronx. Teixeira’s now done for the year thanks to surgery, Granderson played in 8 whole games before hitting the DL again, and the entire left side of the infield has fewer at-bats than All-Star appearances.

I mean, how long can you really expect Vernon Wells to hit .300 with fantastic power, as was the case this April? How many at-bats can you hand out to Jayson Nix before he becomes overexposed? Great pitching can only carry a team so far. At some point you have to score some runs or those 3-2 victories will start turning into defeats. Just take a look at what the Yankees offense has done this June. Be warned, these numbers aren’t for the weak of heart.

– 3.31 runs per game (29th in baseball)

– .221 average (29th)

– .613 OPS (30th)

– 17 homers (28th)

– 267 total bases (30th)

This complete lack of production has led to a 11-15 month and it’s brought the Yankees’ run differential into the negative, which is never a good sign for a team with playoff aspirations. Manager Joe Girardi appears to be so fed up with his lack of offensive options that he’s reached the point of throwing anyone out there, just to see who sticks. Girardi and Cashman have already used 23 different position players, trying 6 different players at 1st, 4 at shortstop, and 8 different corner outfielders. So, aside from pulling his hair out, what can Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman actually do?

1.  DFA Vernon Wells, or at least banish him to the bench for an eternity

During the mid-2000’s Vernon Wells was actually a fairly productive player. From 2003 to 2008 he was a .285 hitter who average 25 homers per year for the Blue Jays while picking up a couple of Gold Gloves in the process. Granted, those Blue Jays teams were unable to accomplish much in the win column, but that’s not the point. Wells was still an asset for a ball club to have, one that was good for 3-4 wins above replacement per year.

But the last few years haven’t been so kind to Vernon. He’s spent the majority of his time bouncing around from team to team, taking shots like a human pinata almost every where he goes. That’s why April had to feel so phenomenal to the left fielder. He was able to overcome all the negative stigma to post a productive April that included 6 homers, 13 RBI, and a great strikeout to walk ratio. However, since the calendar turned to May the Vernon Wells train has come completely off the tracks.

The Yankees nominal left fielder has hit .181/.207/.277 in 179 plate appearances since May 1st, while piling up 31 strikeouts to just 5 walks. Hell, that’s worse than the .205 average Jeff Francoeur just got sent home for. New York can’t continue to throw away at-bats on Wells and if that means cutting him with a year and a half left on his deal, so be it.

2.  Find another 3rd baseman/shortstop type

Shortstop was always going to be a bit of a rough spot for the Yankees, especially with Derek Jeter suffering a setback that will keep him out through the All-Star break. After all, it’s not easy replacing a legend who’s racked up 3304 hits in his career. Even with that in mind, I don’t think the biggest pessimist would have predicted struggles on this level.

Other than the Seattle Mariners, no team in baseball has gotten less offensive production out of the shortstop position than the Yankees. Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, and a handful of other players have combined to post a .536 OPS, which is more than 250 points lower than the .791 OPS Jeter put up a year ago at age-38. Nix has at least been able to hold his own with the glove, but it’s still hard to swallow so many easy outs and so many bad at bats.

The rest of the left side of the Yankee infield hasn’t been much better either. Thanks to injuries to Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees have spent a grand total of $40 million dollars on the position this season and they’ve gotten precisely 118 plate appearances, a .219 average, and 2 homers to show for it. That’s left the Yankees with David Adams starting at 3rd, and boy has that been an awful adventure. Adams is hitting .186 with 4 walks and 28 strikeouts in a little over 100 plate appearances and he’s looked woefully over-matched against Major League caliber pitching.

With A-Rod and Jeter scheduled to miss at least another month apiece, the Yankees would be wise to pursue some sort of infield option. Aramis Ramirez of the Brewers would be an ideal target thanks to his power and his ability to play both corner infield positions. Which brings me to my next point…

3.  Leverage some of your pitching depth into offense

There are only 1 or 2 other franchises in baseball that have the type of pitching depth that currently resides within the Yankee organization. Hard-thrower Michael Pineda is scheduled to make his Yankee debut before the month of July is out, and he’s been throwing gas at both of his rehab stops thus far. That spells trouble for one current member of the Yankees rotation and it could also provide a unique opportunity to Brian Cashman. With Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova both struggling to remain consistent, one or the other, could be sent away as part of a package deal to bring back a bat. There are always potential suitors lining up around the block for proven inning eaters in their 20’s. Milwaukee, Chicago, Houston, could all use another young pitcher in their rotation, and all three should be looking to move anything that isn’t nailed down at the deadline. Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Pena, Nate Schierholtz, and Cody Ransom, among others, should all be made available by their respective teams.


If the Yankees really fashion themselves as contenders they absolutely must take advantage of an easy upcoming schedule (11 of their next 15 are against the Twins and Royals). If the Bronx Bombers can’t come up with 9 or 10 wins in that stretch, Cashman may want to go into sell mode. Even if a lineup that includes Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter will score quite a bit more than one that includes the likes of Jayson Nix and Vernon Wells, it’s worth wondering whether or not those players can come back and immediately contribute. Granderson struggled mightily over the last 2 months of the 2012 season, Jeter is 39 and still playing shortstop, and everybody on earth already knows the circus comes to town anytime Rodriguez is around. No matter what happens, the next couple weeks are going to be crucial in New York.

27 thoughts on “Brian Cashman’s Contingency Plan Needs a Contingency Plan

  1. 1
  2. 2
    Ed says:

    I think it’s over for the Yankees. Which isn’t saying that they’re going to start losing 100 games a year. But I think they’re going to face a stretch where they’ll be winning 70-90 games a year. Of course, if Cashman and the Yankees front office doesn’t realize that and want to trade away younger players for washed up veterans, that’s fine by me.

    Looking at the big picture, the challenges the Yankees face include:

    1) Middle of the road farm system
    2) A fairly barren free agency market for several years.
    3) Two albatross contracts (Rodriguez and Teixeira) from players whose future is uncertain and may give them close to nothing for the rest of their contracts.
    4) Impeding retirements from Rivera, Pettitte (likely retiring after this year), Jeter and Kuroda (also a possibility to retire at the end of the year).

    I don’t really see a good path forward for the Yankees. Sabathia remains an above average pitcher but is no longer an ace. Cano’s still one of the best players in the league but who knows what happens with him in free agency. Do the Yankees overpay him just to keep him or do they let him walk? Pineda? Yeah he’s looked good in his rehab starts but 14.1 innings against A and AA hitters? Can he do it against MLB hitters? And more importantly, can he stay healthy?

    What else do the Yankees have? Not much from what I can see. Nova, Hughes and Phelps are 4-5 starters at best. Gardner’s had a nice bounce back season but CFers are notoriously injury prone so who knows what his future holds.

    The Yankees have had a remarkable run over the past 15+ years. But I definitely see a bumpy stretch ahead for them.

  3. 3
    John Autin says:

    The next few years do look challenging for the Yanks. But the restraining bolt comes off Cashman’s wallet next year, and he might be able to pull off a quick fix.

    As for this year, I’m not quite ready to drive the stake in yet. Two reasons:

    1) The rotation, which has been part of the problem this month, arguably has been unlucky this year:
    – Sabathia, 4.15 ERA, 3.51 xFIP
    – Pettitte, 4.22 ERA, 3.73 xFIP
    – Phelps, 4.95 ERA, 4.08 xFIP
    – Hughes, 4.82 ERA, 4.43 xFIP
    – Nova, 4.63 ERA, 3.57 xFIP

    Kuroda’s on the other side of that — 2.77 ERA, 3.86 xFIP — but over all, there seems to be some hope of improvement just from normal luck.

    2) It’s perfectly logical to have modest expectations for Jeter, Granderson and A-Rod, whenever they do come back. But sometimes events do surprise the cynic. Earlier this month, I completely wrote off Hanley Ramirez for the year when his 2nd DL return lasted 2 games in the lineup, followed by a week on the bench. But for the last 2 weeks, he’s started almost every day and carried that offense.

    I’m not a big believer in one or two hitters “making the rest of the lineup better,” but in this case I can imagine that, if one or two of those “big 3” missing pieces comes back hot, it could give the whole group a confidence boost much as happened with the hot starts of the fill-ins. And a Yankee team with confidence, even unreasonable confidence, can be dangerous.

    • 4
      Ed says:

      John – In what way does the “restraining bolt” come off Cashman’s wallet next year? At least publicly the Yankees are still talking about having a budget of $189 million next year though some people doubt they’ll stick to that. There’s also the question of who they can spend money on. There’s not much available in free agency. Cano is obviously the best player available. After that??? Maybe Choo??? But is Choo really the type of player you want to give a big 4-6 year contract to? I have my doubts.

      As for FIP, Bstar has been quite critical of the metric and I’m starting to see his way of thinking. For example, Phelps, Pettitte and Hughes all have high rates of doubles allowed relative to innings pitched (CC somewhat too). And yet FIP completely ignores those doubles and pretends that they just magically happen without the pitcher’s involvement. This seems especially absurd given that the Yankees three main outfielders – Wells, Suzuki and Gardner – all grade out as plus defenders.

      • 6
        John Autin says:

        Ed, the 2014 budget you cited is news to me, but I admit I haven’t kept up with their statements during this season. Maybe I misunderstood the timing, but I thought that this year’s payroll was a conscious austerity budget to get under the luxury tax, because under the new rules, if they’re under it one year, they’re immune for three years.

        As for the FA market, I don’t dispute your general take, but I think that even in a down year, there’s always room for a free-spender to improve. And while Choo might not be the best value investment, his excellent OBP would help address the team’s biggest weakness.

        I’m not really an FIP proponent, either. I just thought it was worth putting out there in a devil’s-advocate sense. My overall view might be just a conditioned reflex from years of hoping for their decline and then getting disappointed.

    • 22
      BSK says:

      Hey JA,

      Long time, no talk!

      Anyway, when a whole team has an ERA out of line with their FIP, wouldn’t that indicate a below average defense? Perhaps the pitchers are tossing better than their ERA indicates, but their team run prevention is what it is, no?

      • 24
        John Autin says:

        BSK, welcome back to the room! I am no expert on xFIP, nor the advanced defensive metrics. But I see the Yanks rank (a) about average in defensive efficiency, (b) solid negative in Total Zone rating, and (c) solid positive in Defensive Runs Saved. And while I don’t put much stock in what I see with my own eyes, they don’t strike me as a bad defensive team.

        I don’t want to put up a big resistance on the xFIP debate, but — we know that one SP can have an unlucky year or two, so why couldn’t 4/5 of a rotation have an unlucky half-season?

  4. 5
    Voomo Zanzibar says:

    11-15 with the worst offense in baseball?
    Not a bad month, really.
    Remarkable that they’re in the hunt at all.
    Great pitching, rookies getting a shot. I’m actually excited as a Yankees fan, for the first time in a long time.

    • 9
      Ed says:

      Voomo – But they also closed out May 1-5, so that makes them 12-20 in their last 32 games. As for rookies, I don’t see much to get excited about. Obviously I could be wrong but I don’t see guys like Adams, Romine, Almonte, Warren, Claiborne, etc. sticking in the majors for more than a few years. Maybe some of their better prospects will get some playing time later in the year?

      • 17
        Voomo Zanzibar says:

        Ed we don’t know what will become of any of the young players, that’s why it is exciting.
        It is rare that you get a Puig/Harper/Trout – someone who is obviously a star.

        In Bernie Williams’ first three years:

        1295 PA
        20 HR
        100 ops+
        .262 .339 .388 .726

        • 18
          Ed says:

          Voomo – Bernie was several years younger than the current Yankees rookies and was considered one of the top prospects in baseball. It was hardly a surprise when he became a star. The current rookies are simply nowhere near his level.

          But you’re right, sometimes players surprise. My money says that none of the 5 guys I mentioned ends up with more than 5-10 career WAR. But I’ve been wrong plenty of times in the past and I could certainly be wrong again.

  5. 7
    Luis Gomez says:

    In other words… the Yankees are done.

  6. 10
    Doug says:

    Given that both Wells and Overbay were last-minute pick-ups thrust immediatley into the starting lineup, the Yankees are VERY fortunate that both played over their heads for a while, and allowed New York to get off to a good start.

    Wells, though, has had just one season of the last six over 2.0 WAR, while Overbay has been released by 3 of his last 4 teams, in a span of less than two years. So, its hardly surprising both have regressed towards their very modest means.

    Also not surprising are the extended recovery times for the Yankee vets. That reality and the higher likelihood of getting injured in the first place are the rule, not the exception, for players in their late 30s. This is an old team that will need to get young in a hurry to have any chance to contend in the near term.

  7. 11
    Mike L says:

    This has been some time in coming, but realistically, the Yankees are out of options. You could second guess their entire off-season, but there were rational reasons for just about everything Cashman did. At this point, if I were Cashman, I’d be an opportunistic seller on virtually everyone on the roster, if there are reasonable offers out there. Obviously, you aren’t trading Rivera and Jeter, but other than that, let it fly. And if there are no buyers, the Yankees had a nice draft, they can let the old guys retire after this year, and with their substantial resources rebuild three years out. I wouldn’t re-sign Cano unless he came far cheaper and shorter term than expected. We had a fabulous run, and now there will be harder period. But it will be OK.
    And now, let me find a beer.

    • 12
      John Autin says:

      Mike L, I’m interested in your view on Cano. What do you think it will take to sign him, and where would you draw the line if you were in Cashman’s seat? I don’t know what the market will be, but it would be unusual for them not to pay the going rate for a player of his caliber, from their own system.

      • 13
        Mike L says:

        John A, I’m probably a contrarian on this. Cano has always been a wonderful talent. You could see it when they called him up and he was still very rough. He would be very impossible to replace. And the Yankees will make a run at him. But I think, in the end, they won’t sign him. I’m going to go a little off the rails here to explain my thinking. First, I don’t think A-Rod’s contract is going to play on their mind. I think Albert’s does. A-Rod was a wild shot in the dark for a player that was considered possibly the best ever, and he was a marketing opportunity. Cano has never approached ARod’s peak performance. That means that 275/10 is out of the question. Albert’s performance demonstrates to the Yankees that no matter how good a player is, age is age, and age can come very quickly. Cashman knows he needs at least two, and maybe three years to retool, by which time Cano will be 32-33. And, as for marketing, the Yankee ratings and ticket sales are down this year. People don’t go to the ballpark to see Cano (at least not when he’s completing a double play with Nix and Overbay). So, if Cashman brings back Cano, he’s not getting much upfront value from the signing. Cashman needs the one thing he can’t have right now–to have the people he is paying all that money to: come off the DL and play to their paychecks, and I think that ship has sailed, not just for this year, but also for the next two-three years. So, why pay Cano? That being said, I think Cano will end up 25-27M for seven years and a vesting option for the eighth year. And, as much as I like the guy, I think it will be a very bad contract

        • 14
          John Autin says:

          Mike L, that seems like sound thinking. I think if they can get Cano for 6 years/$150mm guaranteed, with maybe an option or two, they should and will do it.

          I think — although I am always guilty of giving the market too much credit for good sense — that Cano will not be able to command anything close to an Albert/A-Rod deal. For one thing, his value just isn’t as “sexy” as theirs. For another, it’s surely understood that a big part of Cano’s value lies in what he’s able to hit *while* also playing a solid second base. But he’s not especially quick, and I think he’ll be dicey at 2B by age 35. With Albert (and somewhat with A-Rod), their value was gauged with them already at the left end of the defensive spectrum.

        • 15
          mosc says:

          You say that like there is some surprise that Cano will be overpaid. I mean, the guy has every hallmark of a guy who will get overpaid. He plays second and has put up big numbers in no small part to playing virtually every game. That’s unsustainable at the keystone. It’s probably second only to catcher in career abuse. Teams all know this going in, they’ll overpay Cano ANYWAY because second basemen who don’t make outs, hit for power, and field/throw half as well don’t grow on trees.

          The Yankees need to decide how much legacy means to them. I think it means a lot. Cano if he gets re-signed will go down as the all time second basemen pairing up the middle with Jeter on those wonderful Yankee lists that get thrown around. Does that mean they are willing to overpay for the second half of his career and waste some good numbers on teams that are likely under-equipped to compete?

          $189 is not a lot of money in the league anymore. It’s a qualifying offer to less than half your team even if you intend to pay the others pre-arb dollars. The yankees cannot buy Kevin Youkilis types every year on one year deals. There was some recognition of this in the Ichiro and Vernon wells moves going into 2014. You’d rather keep Swisher but you can’t spend like that on every position.

          Cano will get re-signed for upwards of $25m a year because there’s nothing else out there to spend money on that makes any sense anyway.

          • 16
            Ed says:

            The three recent HOF second basemen – Morgan, Sandberg and Alomar – all suffered dropoffs from age 33-34.

            Sandberg was coming off 4 straight years of OPS+ between 134-145 when he dropped to 109 at age 33 and never recovered.

            Morgan followed up his two MVP seasons with a 138 OPS+ and then dropped to 105 at age 34. He maintained a decent OPS+ for several years and did put up a 136 OPS+ at age 38. But his later years were nowhere near his age 28-32 peak.

            Alomar had an amazing at 33 season but was dreadful for the Mets at age 34 and never recovered.

            Can Cano reverse that trend? Maybe but I wouldn’t want to bet my dollars on it.

  8. 19
    Mike L says:

    Ed (all over) I do think it’s a little early to plan on the Yankees demise for the forseeable future. Cashman, if he’s willing to take it, has a terrific opportunity to work with the roster, freed from the burden of having to worry about getting the Yankees into the playoffs this year. The Yankees could be sellers, they could be opportunistic buyers on a pure salary dump if the player came cheap (in talent), and they could be both. Cashman should have one focus; improve the roster longer term. I do think we wouldn’t be having these conversations if the injuries hadn’t ripped them apart (they would win 90, maybe make the playoffs), but while I agree injuries are a function of age, many of them (Granderson, Nova, Cervelli, Pineda, Nunez) have nothing to do with that.

    • 20
      Ed says:

      Mike L – I do agree that it’s an open question re: what the Yankees will do. But they’ve never been the type to go quietly into the night so I definitely expect them to be buyers again. We’ll know soon enough.

      • 21
        Mike L says:

        Ed @20, I’m often wrong, but I think this time is different. The tectonic forces (luxury tax, possibility of A-Rod suspension, even if he can return, Jeter’s condition, Tex and Youkilis, are simply too great to resist. Put Granderson back in the lineup for the second half, and maybe you pick up two wins. Put Youkilis and Jeter back, and maybe another two, in the aggregate. Best case. They are a sub-500 team right now, and I think Cashman knows it.

        • 23
          Ed says:

          Mike L – Question: Does Cashman have the power within the organization to blow the team up? I honestly have no idea. What’s your take?

          Beyond that, what do the Yankees have to trade away? Hughes, Granderson, and Chamberlain are all free agents at the end of the year and given recent performance probably won’t bring much back. No one’s giving up much for guys like Hafner or Overbay. And I can’t see how guys like Phelps or Nova bring back more than their future value to the Yankees. So what does that leave? Kuroda has value but he also has a no-trade clause and blocked trades by the Dodgers in 2011. Would the Yankees go so far as to trade CC or Cano????

          • 25
            Mike L says:

            Tragically (for me), the Yankees don’t consult me on internal discussions. I have no idea whether Cashman could blow it up, but I think that the drive to get below 189M was driven by the family, and maybe that changes the ground for them right now. If those players like Hughes and Granderson could be traded for real value, there would need to be a emergent need; a contender who lost a starter for the rest of the year. I’m not as down on Hughes as a lot of other people are, and I think he would do well in a large NL park. Granderson was a 4-WAR player last year, so the bigger question for the Yankees with him is situational-keep him and make the qualifying offer, or hope to trade him and get back more than that. I don’t think these things are necessarily likely, but they are no longer outside the realm of possibility.

  9. 26
    Lawrence Azrin says:

    As we all know, for many years the Yankees have frequently filled their positional shortcomings with expensive free agents. Well, the bill has come due, and this is the first year that they choose not to put it on their credit card, so to speak.

    Yes, that was a very convoluted analogy, as I am trying to refer to their decision this year not to exceed the luxury tax threshold. To be honest, besides Hamilton there were no big-ticket items, but it was still a shock to see the Yankees not wade into the free agency mark (except for Youkilis), even letting Nick Swisher go without a fight.

    Also, they’ve had just terrible luck with injuries to their expensive FA’s. While it is hardly surprising that older players well into their 30s would decline and/or get hurt, who would’ve predicted this:

    NAME….. AGE..PA..WAR…2013 salary
    TEX 33 63 -0.3 $22,500,000
    JETES 39 (none) $17,000,000
    A-ROD 37 (none) $28,000,000
    GRANDY-MAN 32 31 0.1 $15,000,000
    TOTAL: — 94 -0.2 $82,500,000

    You just don’t get as much for 82 mil as you used to…

    Even their short term free agent hasn’t worked out:
    YOUK 34 118 -0.2 $12,000,000

    Ordinarily, I’d say that they should bottom out the next few years; trade most of their assets that won’t help them when they get good again, don’t spend any money on expensive free agents, and build up their farm system in the meantime. BUT – much of the Yankees fan base is notoriously impatient,even in the best of times.

    So the Yankees future in the next year or two looks rather bleak. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I could not be more pleased. Of course, even if they do “bottom out”:
    – they probably won’t be as bad as most MLB teams bottoming out
    – they won’t be bad forever

  10. 27
    Timmy Pea says:

    Is anybody else routing against ARod? I find myself hoping he doesn’t get close enough to break Aaron’s record. He comes off as a very unlikable person. We know he used PED’s. He looks like he may be growing man breasts as a side effect of masking drugs. I don’t understand the details of his contract, but it looks like the Yankees could own him between $100 million and $220 million over the next 4 years.

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