When the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS, I was exhausted. The Yankees had consumed every waking hour of my life for the past 23 days, and with late start times, long games and crowded train rides home, nearly every hour of those 23 days was a waking hour.
In that ALCS, the Yankees had an opportunity to win one of two games in Houston to advance to the World Series, and they didn’t. Five seasons and five calendar years later, that’s the closest these Yankees have come to getting the franchise back to the World Series, let alone winning the World Series. Or so I thought.
A week before Opening Day 2022, Brian Cashman spoke with The Athletic at spring training as part of a disturbing interview that was his lowest moment as Yankees general manager.
“The only thing that stopped [us] was something that was so illegal and horrific,” Cashman told The Athletic. “So I get offended when I start hearing we haven’t been to the World Series since ’09. Because I’m like, ‘Well, I think we actually did it the right way.’ Pulled it down, brought it back up. Drafted well, traded well, developed well, signed well. The only thing that derailed us was a cheating circumstance that threw us off.”
Spoken like a true loser, Cashman tried to make claim to the 2017 championship, as if the Yankees scoring three runs total in the four games in Houston in the ALCS had nothing to do with it, acting as if his Yankees would have just walked all over the Dodgers in the World Series.
“It does bother me when people say we haven’t been to the World Series since ’09,” Cashman said. “We did it all right, by building it to a certain level that could have gotten us to a World Series — if not for something else. But hey! We’re back at it. Every year, we’re still back at it. We’ve been qualifying for the postseason, and we’re going to take this team as far as we can get it, and hopefully we can push through.”
How dare anyone criticize the Yankees’ lack of championships since 2000! They have qualified for the postseason! They’re taking this team as a far it can go (which is a humiliating ALDS loss to the Red Sox, a second ALCS loss to the Astros, an ALDS loss to the 28th-highest payroll Rays, a degrading wild-card game loss to the Red Sox and now a third ALCS loss and sweep at the hands of the Astros, who thoroughly and utterly embarrassed the Yankees last month)! But hey! They’re back at it. Every year, they’re still back at it!
And “it” is the postseason. In a time when 40 percent of the league reaches the postseason and teams hovering around .500 are involved in the postseason race until the final weeks of the season, reaching the playoffs is considered championship-like for the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees.
“People are like ‘Oh, we haven’t been to a World Series … and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think that’s as true a statement as it could be,’” Cashman said. “We had a World Series team. And either you get it done or you don’t. People don’t want to hear that. I get it. But that’s real to me. I think it’s real to all of us.”
If “having a World Series team” is good enough for Cashman and not actually needing to win the World Series then it explains the team’s decisions post-2017. Since losing Games 6 and 7 in Houston and coming within one win of the World Series with a young, inexpensive core, the Yankees moved on from Joe Girardi for the inexperienced and idiotic Aaron Boone, cut payroll by more than $30 million for the following season, and for the last five offseasons have passed on every single star position player available on the free-agent market. All while boasting nearly the same payroll over the last 17 years, despite exponential growth in revenues during that 17-year period.
“The fans, they’re fanatics for a reason,” Cashman said. “They don’t really care about how it all adds up. They just want to be the last team standing. As do we. But my job, and our front office’s job, is to find a way within the current restrictions that we have, and the options that are available: ‘OK, what can we come up with that solves these problems, as fast as possible?’”
There should be no “restrictions” when it comes to the Yankees. They’re the Yankees! In October 2021, after the Yankees’ postseason lasted nine innings (though really not even a full inning with Xander Bogaerts’ two-run, first inning home run), Cashman spoke about how the 2021 Yankees were “unwatchable” and needed “upgrades” and how there were many “legitimate options” to add to the roster. He added zero “legitimate options” to the roster.
“We believe if we get there, we’re good enough to run the table,” Cashman said. “The Braves showed it last year. All due respect. They’re world champs. But were they the odds-on favorite? Or the second? Or the third? Or whatever, entering that process. And the answer was ‘No.’”
In 2021, the Yankees were the odds-on favorite to win the AL and finally get back to the World Series. As the odds-on favorite, they finished fifth in the AL and third in their own division. The Yankees’ financial position allows them to be able to put together the best possible roster to win a championship each season. They shouldn’t have to settle for “getting hot” in October or having a miraculous month like the Braves did.
That Cashman quote is why I rooted for the Astros over the Phillies this season. (Yeah, I said it. I rooted for the Astros.) The Phillies were an 87-win team, the 6-seed in the NL, and including the AL, they were the last seed in the entire postseason field. Had they been able to upset the Astros, it would have only given more credence to Cashman and the Yankees’ belief that the postseason is a crapshoot and a month of random luck. Except it’s not. If it were, the Astros wouldn’t have just played in their second straight World Series and fourth in six years after having a six straight ALCS appearances. If it were, then the Yankees teams that have allowed Cashman to maintain his position within the organization for a quarter of a century weren’t in fact good, but just the luckiest collection of baseball players on the planet in the late 90s and early 2000s.
For a general manager that hasn’t produced a single World Series appearance in 13 seasons and just one in the last 19 seasons, who once traded Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver, who traded Tyler Clippard for Jonathan Albaladejo, who signed Kei Igawa, who chose Nick Johnson over Hideki Matsui, who traded for Javier Vazquez twice, who let his belief in Eduardo Nunez prevent him from acquiring Cliff Lee, who gave Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million, who hired Boone and extended Boone, who took on $50 million owed to Josh Donaldson simply to acquire Isiah Kiner-Falefa, that interview was the lowest moment of his tenure as Yankees general manager. That is, until last week.
The moment Gleyber Torres caught the final out of the 2022 ALDS against the Guardians, I knew Cashman and Boone would be back. As I walked out of Yankee Stadium that Tuesday evening, I knew the tandem would return no matter what happened in the ALCS. What I should have truly realized was that it didn’t matter what happened in the ALDS against the Guardians. The moment the Yankees clinched a postseason berth, the tandem would return.
I don’t know that not reaching the postseason would have been enough to move on from them either. I don’t know that blowing the single-largest game lead in baseball history would have led to organizational change for the Yankees. When the Yankees’ once-15 1/2-game lead was down to one game and Boone was slapping tables in postgame press conferences and stunningly telling the media they would “have a hell of story to write if the Yankees blow this thing,” I know it didn’t matter to Cashman, and I’m quite sure it didn’t matter to ownership either. But if it did, that was the Yankees fans’ chance at change. Endure the worst regular-season embarrassment in baseball history to go along with the team’s ownership of the worst postseason embarrassment in the game’s history, and maybe, just maybe it would result in the kind of organizational change I wrote was needed after the 2021 season.
Once the Yankees reached the postseason, once they barely survived the inferior Guardians who took them to a winner-take-all Game 5 and had the tying run at the plate in the ninth inning of that Game 5, and once they reached the ALCS, nothing mattered. The Yankees couldn’t have been less of a challenge for the Astros, and it didn’t matter.
“I think I’m living proof and our ownership is living proof of the fact that people don’t get let go because of results,” Cashman said in what was his new low moment as Yankees general manager, a moment that will likely never be topped.
The New York Yankees: Where people don’t get let go because of results.
Because of that admission from Cashman, nothing mattered from a win-loss perspective for the 2022 Yankees. It didn’t matter that the Yankees were swept by the Astros. It didn’t matter that in the two home games in the series, they were shut out in one and blew a three-run lead in the other. It didn’t matter that they struck out 50 times in the series. It didn’t matter that they became the first team in Major League Baseball postseason history to have a three-game span with 12 hits or fewer, 40-plus strikeouts and three losses. It didn’t matter that they set the MLB record for most consecutive games in postseason history with six hits or fewer at 10 straight games. It didn’t matter that they recorded the lowest team batting average through eight postseason games in MLB history. It didn’t matter that they used three different starting shortstops in the four-game ALCS and changed their leadoff hitter and left fielder each game in the series. None of it mattered because like Cashman told the media on three different occasions in his annual end-of-the-season press conference (while the baseball season is still going), the reason the Yankees lost to the Astros was injuries.
On Opening Day, the Yankees shared their slogan for 2023:
“No moral victories. No excuses. No storylines. No narratives. Talk is cheap.”
If you’re a fan of the Red Sox, Astros or Mets, or simply a baseball fan who hates the Yankees, the Yankees’ decision to make that the 2023 team motto was too perfect. There was a 100 percent chance it would come back to haunt the Yankees, just like the decision by Boone and the team’s mental conditioning coach to use the franchise’s collapse in the 2004 ALCS as motivation prior to Game 4 of this past ALCS.
Excuses have become the foundation for which these Yankees are built on. That’s because the man hired by Cashman to manage the team has an endless list of them. His Yankees always seem to run into a hot lineup, a starting pitcher having his best day who kept his offense off balance and a shutdown bullpen that was a tough matchup. His starting pitcher always seems to have “good stuff,” but made just one or two “mistakes.” His bats are always just about to come around based on their recent quality of at-bats. And his bullpen seems to always be on the brink of straightening things out.
After Boone played for tomorrow in Game 1 of the ALCS and gave away a tie game against Justin Verlander in the sixth inning in Houston, the Yankees had to have Game 2. When the Yankees lost Game 2, the team spent their postgame session with the media saying how they should have won if not for the wind, the same way their general manager told the media the team should have won the 2017 World Series. The same way their manager “Annie” Boone talks about “tomorrow” the way the Broadway character sang about it, the players have followed the act their management has led them on. So when Boone spends every October talking about how “close” these Yankees are to winning a championship (like he did again this year, even though they have never been as close as they were the season before he took over), the players believe it. They don’t believe it’s their fault when they don’t win in October. It’s never on the roster or the person who constructed the roster or the person who manages the roster. It’s always on something else: sign stealing, start times, the wind, the weather, a roof being open, bad luck, a small sample size or an unlucky bounce.
“I think Aaron did a great job,” Cashman said last week about his manager’s season, a season in which Boone publicly admitted to hearing “Fire Boone” chants during the team’s home games. And why wouldn’t he say that? Boone was handpicked by Cashman and sold to ownership as the right guy to oversee the Baby Bombers. Those Baby Bombers are no longer babies, and nearly all of them are no longer Bombers. Aaron Judge is a free agent. Gary Sanchez was traded. Greg Bird, Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier were let go for nothing. Torres’ career has fallen apart since the end of 2019 and the Yankees unsuccessfully tried to trade him this past July at the deadline. Luis Severino’s 2023 option was picked up earlier this week, and there’s a good chance he will be the only Baby Bomber left.
Yes, that would mean Judge is no longer a Yankee in 2023, and that’s not only a very real possibility, it’s the likely possibility. The Yankees are now one of 30 teams Judge can sign with.
“If you could wave a magic wand,” Cashman said at the general manager meetings earlier this week, “We would secure Aaron Judge and retain him and have him signed and happy in the fold as soon as possible.”
The Yankees didn’t need to possess a magic wand for Judge to be a Yankee, and it never needed to come to this. This being Judge being a free agent and this being the Yankees now having to overpay to re-sign him for what’s left of his prime and his entire decline. The Yankees could have extended Judge during or after his 2017 Rookie of the Year campaign. They could have done the same in 2018. Or 2019. Or 2020. Or 2021. Or 2022. They didn’t. So now their general manager is searching for a fictional piece of equipment to bring back the Yankees’ best player.
“As George Steinbrenner would say, ‘Fannies in the seats,'” Cashman said about Judge last week. “People want to go watch that guy play.”
You know what else George Steinbrenner said? “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”
Steinbrenner said that in 1998. The same year Cashman inherited a team and core that would win the World Series that season, again the next season, again the season after that, and reach the World Series in two of the next three seasons after that. Back then, the Yankees weren’t preaching that “process” is more important than “results.” They didn’t need to because the only result they knew was winning. They didn’t to have speak and act like losers. The same type of loser Derek Jeter referenced in his documentary this past summer: the kind of people who make excuses for their shortcomings. The last time the Yankees appeared in the World Series was with the core that Cashman inherited. You want to give him credit for being part of Gene Michael’s team that helped create that core? Fine. Then give him the same blame for the late-80s and early-90s Yankees teams that were the laughingstock of the AL because he was part of the organization then as well.
After these Yankees came within a game of the 2017 World Series, Cashman persuaded ownership to move on from Girardi, who had won big as both a player and manager for the Yankees. It took one interview for Cashman to sell ownership on the inexperienced Boone (who had never won coached or managed at any level and had never experienced winning either), and all other candidate interviews were canceled.
Since then, the Yankees have passed on every available free-agent position player. They said no to then-26-year-old Manny Machado because they had Andujar at third base and plans for Torres at shortstop. (Andujar was released this season and Torres was removed from shortstop last season.) They chose not to even meet with then-26-year-old Bryce Harper because Cashman told the media the generational superstar wasn’t “a fit” for the Yankees since the team’s outfield was crowded. That crowded outfield was Judge (who was never extended and is now a free agent), Stanton (who isn’t allowed to play the outfield), Aaron Hicks (who has had a season-ending injury in three of the four years since Harper was a free agent) and Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier (who were both released for nothing). This past offseason, Cashman chose not to sign any of the big-name free-agent shortstops, and instead willingly took on the $50 million owed to Josh Donaldson just to acquire the light-hitting, not-really-a-shortstop Isiah-Kiner Falefa, who ended up getting benched in the postseason. Asked about Kiner-Falefa’s miserable season last week, Cashman said, “Kiner-Falefa was kind of along the lines of what we expected.” He expected a .642 OPS from an everyday player and one of the worst defensive shortstops in the league who would lose his job in the postseason? Is that part of the “process” Cashman says leads the Yankees these days?
What exactly is the process? It should be to build a team from within and fill in areas of need through free agency with the franchise’s financial might. But it’s not. If the Yankees were at full strength in the postseason, and DJ LeMahieu, Andrew Benintendi and Matt Carpenter were all healthy and available, Judge would have been the only homegrown player in the lineup.
The Yankees don’t have a process, and if they believe they do, it’s not working and needs to be rebuilt. What the Yankees do have is a goal, and that goal is to be one of the six best teams in the AL and reach the postseason. If they happen to run into a championship along the way, great. And if they don’t, like Cashman’s favorite position player Hicks said this season when asked about no longer being an everyday player because of his performance, “so be it.”
Cashman didn’t need to be fired after this season. His contract was up, like Boone’s was last year. The Yankees could have had a clean break and moved on to someone else. But like Boone last year, Cashman is still part of the Yankees. He will be going on his 26th season as general manager and his 14th season in trying to produce a World Series team. He’s not going anywhere now and won’t go anywhere until he decides to step away on his own.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!