The State of Brian Cashman: January Edition

Brian Cashman

It’s Day 19 of the 60-Day Gauntlet, which is what I refer to as the 60 days in January and February. (Well, 60 this year.) With the Giants’ season not reaching the playoffs for the fourth straight year and the Rangers having last won back-to-back games on Nov. 21 and 23 and the first real snowstorm of the season expected this Saturday, the Gauntlet is in full effect. The hope for March and spring training and Yankees baseball and eventually Opening Day and spring feels like a lost cause when the temperature is single digits outside, while my other sports teams fail to pick up the slack.

Luckily, Brian Cashman was a guest on YES’ Hot Stove show this week to talk about the Yankees to give Yankees fans their winter fix. As usual, when Brian Cashmans talks, I listen and then react to answers, and I did once again following his most recent comments on the state of the Yankees.

(Thanks to Yankees beat writer Chad Jennings of The Journal News and the LoHud Yankees Blog and guest of the Keefe To The City Podcast for transcribing and posting Cashman’s quotes.)

On Starlin Castro backing up third base.

“That would be ideal. One of the exciting upsides to the Castro acquisition would be that he played shortstop. He was athletic enough to play shortstop. That’s the left side of the infield. He’s got the arm, he’s got the athleticism, that a transition to third should be in the cards. It doesn’t guarantee it, but we saw him play second and play second so well down the stretch there with the Cubs, and we will definitely take a look at him at third.”

Unfortunately, Chase Headley is going to be a Yankee this year … and next year … and the year after that. If Castro could be a full-time third baseman, I would be all for putting Castro at third and Rob Refsnyder at second and not having an automatic out in the lineup. There’s no reason Castro couldn’t be a full-time third baseman either. He was a shortstop and seamlessly transitioned to second, so he clearly has the athleticism needed to play third. He might not have the stereotypical power that the Yankees are used to at third, but neither does Headley. The only hope here is that Headley hits this year and doesn’t make an error per series. That would be nice for a $13 million player.

“If Castro can do that, it gives us so much more flexibility with that 25th man on the roster. (At times) the 25th man could very well be a 13th pitcher. As we all know, our starting rotation isn’t seven, eight, nine-inning pitchers on a consistent basis, so having maybe the access to that 13th up-and-down guy or maybe an extra position player that you can utilize in a different way. I think that’s vitally important to the weekly basis of how we can align based on the circumstances at the time.”

To say the starting rotation isn’t seven- or eight- or nine-inning pitchers on a consistent basis is the biggest understatement of all time. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia each has one complete game last year. Nathan Eovaldi has never pitched a complete game in his 106 career starts and Luis Severino has pitched seven innings in the majors once. This is why Cashman traded for Aroldis Chapman and why it would be a mistake to trade Andrew Miller. There’s a very real possibility the trio of Dellin Betances, Miller and Chapman could get the Yankees 12 outs in crucial games, which would mean the rotation would need to go just five innings. Six strong innings with this bullpen would be the perfect formula for the 2016 Yankees.

On the 25th roster spot serving as the Scranton Express for a different reliever nearly every day, let’s hope Joe Girardi doesn’t decide to use the 25th man to face Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the eighth inning of a tie game.

On the plan for Greg Bird.

“I think more likely he’ll start at Scranton. But as we experienced last year, there’s a lot of injuries that come our way and it’s nice to have Greg Bird waiting in the wings. … If that situation with roster occurs where Castro can swing over (to be the backup at third base and shortstop), it gives us the opportunity if we’re facing a scenario (against some right-handed pitchers) where we can have (Bird) up to spell Tex for a day.”

The idea that the last year of Mark Teixeira’s disastrous contract is stunting the growth of Greg Bird as an everyday player in the majors is incredible. Bird hit .261/.343/.529 in 46 games with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 178 plate appearances and is more than ready to be the Yankees’ first baseman, but as long as Teixeira is healthy, Bird is going to be in Triple-A. While I’m upset about this, I’m not that upset because there’s a 100 percent chance Teixeira gets hurt this season. Whether it’s his wrist or leg or pinky or hamstring or getting light-headed or having tired legs, Teixeira is going to miss games and end up on the disabled list at least once. I’ve looked, but Las Vegas doesn’t even have odds on Teixeira getting hurt the same way they don’t post a money line for Duke vs. Central Connecticut in basketball. In the last four seasons, Teixeira has played 123 games (2012), 15 games (2013), 123 games (2014) and 111 games (2015). It’s not a matter of if Teixeira and if Bird will get his chance this season, it’s a matter of when.

“Tex is significantly younger than Alex. I fully expect Tex to be the same (as last season). Alex, at this stage in his career, you just don’t know (what to expect).”

Mark Teixeira will be 36 on April 11. A-Rod will be 41 on July 27. That is significantly younger, especially in baseball years, but with A-Rod coming off a full season, having been able to rest for the entire 2014 season and now being a full-time DH, I actually think A-Rod plays younger than Teixeira. The idea that Cashman believes more in Teixeira to have the same season when his health is constantly in question over A-Rod, who only needs to worry about hitting, is weird. I fully expect A-Rod to be the same as last season. Teixeira, at this stage in his career, you just don’t know.

On last year’s second-half decline of Jacoby Ellsbury.

“I think when (Ellsbury) came back, the best explanation that makes sense from all parties involved was that, although the knee physically got healed, he developed bad mechanics and mentally not necessarily trusting 100 percent and so never got back in rhythm.”

Ah, my favorite topic: Jacoby Ellsbury. The Thief and the fraud of all frauds. It was nice of Ellsbury to tweet a video of him working out last week as a way to plant the idea in Yankees fans’ minds that he is going to be stronger and healthier this season. To refresh your memory: Ellsbury is owed $21.1 million this year … and next year … and the year after that … and the year after that … and the year after that … and there’s a $21 million club option with a $5 million buyout on him for 2021. (That $5 million is now a guarantee.) It’s nice that Ellsbury has Cashman to make excuses for him since I’m still waiting to hear his excuse for giving Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million deal when they didn’t need him and didn’t need to outbid themselves for him on a market that hadn’t even developed.

In two years, Ellsbury has played 260 games and hit .265/.324./.387 with 23 home runs and 103 RBIs, which is what many thought he would do in one season playing his home games in Yankee Stadium with his swing. He went 0-for-1 in his only postseason at-bat in the Wild-Card Game after starting the game on the bench. Ellsbury has been the worst contract in the history of the Yankees through two seasons and the only way that’s going to change is if Cashman’s analysis is right and Ellsbury couldn’t return to being the same player he was before he went on the disabled list. I’m not holding my breath.

On last year’s second-half decline of Brett Gardner.

“… (Gardner) is a lot like Derek Jeter. He does not tell you if anything’s bothering him at all. He makes us a little bit like veterinarians at times, trying to have to guess what’s going on. … The only thing we have to probably learn more so than not (with Gardner) is just to kind of trust what we’re seeing on the field. And if it’s not the normal performance, back off.”

When my dog won’t eat, I know he either doesn’t feel good or needs to go to the bathroom. If he won’t eat a treat, same thing. If he won’t play, same thing. It’s pretty easy. When Brett Gardner hits .258 over 1,292 plate appearances and steals 67 bases over his last 460 games over four seasons, it’s not because of some mysterious injury and it certainly doesn’t take a veterinarian-like approach to figure out what’s wrong. The diagnosis is that Brett Gardner just isn’t very good and certainly isn’t as good as the Yankees think he is.

I will never understand why the Yankees gave Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million deal when they already had an identical player in Gardner on the team: a streaky left-handed hitter with speed, who relies on his legs to be successful. I have long said that Gardner is the streakiest hitter in Major League Baseball, but if he is No. 1 then Ellsbury is 1-A. There was never a need for the two of them on the same team and when their cold streaks happen at the same time, well you get the type of collapse the Yankees had in the AL East over the last two months of the season.

Gardner should have been traded this offseason, especially after the Yankees acquired Aaron Hicks, and maybe he still will be. There’s no need for Ellsbury and Gardner on the same roster and since no team is going to take on Ellsbury’s contract (though I’m holding out hope), Gardner should be the odd man out.

On the emergence of Gary Sanchez.

“I think a year ago, the light bulb went on where he really cares about the end result. He’s hungry for a big career, not just being a part of anything. … He’s always had the (offensive) thunder there, but the defense is coming along so much that it gave us the opportunity to move John Ryan Murphy.”

“He’s a middle-of-the-lineup caliber future bat potential with a tick below Pudge Rodriguez type arm and much improved framing. … He’s an interesting upside player, there’s no doubt about it.”

It seems like Cashman wanted to somehow touch on nearly all of his bad free-agent signings following the 2013 season. The Yankees never needed Brian McCann. At the time, catcher was their deepest position of strength with Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez. The trade for McCann eventually sent Cervelli to Pittsburgh where he hit .295/.370/.401 last season as the everyday catcher for the 98-win Pirates. McCann’s five-year deal has also now seen Murphy get traded to Minnesota and Gary Sanchez stuck as his back-up for at least the next three seasons. Sure, none of the Yankees’ internal options would have given the Yankees 49 home runs over the last two seasons, but it would have also saved them from a .232 average and .303 on-base percentage. Like Ellsbury, McCann isn’t going anywhere, so the Gary Sanchez era will have to wait until 2019 (unless like Teixeira an injury comes into play). If Sanchez is as good as Cashman claims he is, well that just sucks.

On the uncertain rotation.

“It did force us to entertain and float a lot of weather balloons on players that have significant interest to us, whether it was Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller.

“There’s definitely a lot of question marks. We certainly approached the winter trying to find ways to improve the rotation if possible. Nothing took place because nothing presented themselves as an opportunity to pull down. So, we move forward. That’s why the strengthening of the bullpen turned out to be so important for us with Aroldis Chapman’s addition.”

Trade Brett Gardner? Yes. Trade Andrew Miller? Absolutely not. The Yankees can afford to get rid of Gardner even if it gets them a middle-to-back-end rotation option. The Yankees can only afford to get rid of Miller if they somehow get a front-end starter in return, which a setup man/closer isn’t going to get you.

The Yankees’ current rotation is Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia with Ivan Nova and Bryan Mitchell as the next two in line should an injury present itself. It’s not the best rotation in baseball, but it doesn’t have to be with Betances, Miller and Chapman. Even as shaky as that lineup not only looks on paper, but also in real life, it’s still probably the best rotation in the AL East, which is all it has to be.