Cashman Has Been Slow To React All Season
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
There have been a lot of opportunities over the years to level fair criticism at Mets general manager Omar Minaya for some of the moves he’s made, but you have to admire the fellow’s audacity. When Billy Wagner went down, he acquired Luis Ayala from the Washington Nationals, and together he and Jerry Manuel proclaimed him the team’s closer. This was jaw-dropping wishful thinking given Ayala’s track record in D.C., but it has somehow worked out, at least so far, and if it keeps working out Minaya may just have wished the Mets into the postseason.
Compare this to Brian Cashman’s reaction when Jorge Posada proved unable to catch regularly, a problem right from opening day. The potential loss of Posada’s bat should have been viewed as an existential threat to the Yankees’ chances, but other than the token importation of veteran third-string backstop Chad Moeller the Yankees did not make a move. Moeller is almost certainly a better hitter than incumbent reserve Jose Molina — who isn’t — but he did not play. By accepting Molina’s weak bat, the Yankees made the loss of Posada even more damaging than it had to be.
Posada, hitting well at the time, but lacking his customary power, was put on the disabled list in late April in what proved to be a futile attempt to rehabilitate the shoulder. His return in early June commenced a period in which the Yankees had to both hamstring their roster with three catchers and continue to play Molina far more often than was helpful.
Posada finally gave up for the year after the game of July 19. On that day, the Yankees were 5.5 games behind Tampa in the AL East and four games behind Boston in the wild card race. No move was made. It was not until the end of the month that the Yankees acquired Ivan Rodriguez from the Tigers, a move that Cashman freely admitted was instigated by Detroit. Rodriguez hasn’t hit well as a Yankee, which is unsurprising given that he hasn’t been an impact player since 2004, but he should have been able to easily out-produce Molina, a hitter who is, on a per at-bat basis, one of baseball’s 10 most futile hitters. Perhaps Rodriguez’s extended pinstriped slump has just been a case of hitting bad luck — his offensive approach is now overly dependent on grounders finding holes — or maybe he reached the end of the line just as the Yankees picked him up. However, it is also possible that the Joe Girardi/Cashman decision to never give Rodriguez more than two consecutive starts — the score since he arrived is Rodriguez 21, Molina 16 — may have undermined the future Hall of Famer’s swing.
Regardless, if not for Detroit’s intervention, the Yankees were prepared to live with the loss of Posada, an injury more significant to the Yankees than Wagner’s was to the Mets; the latter only feel Wagner’s loss some days, while the absence of Posada is felt every day. As late as the trading deadline, it should have been recognizable that the team’s historic advantage up the middle, the Posada-Derek Jeter-Chuck Knoblauch/Alfonso Soriano-Bernie Williams powerhouse that had propelled the team to postseason after postseason, had been irrevocably shattered. The catcher was gone, Jeter had continued the slowdown that was evident in the second half of 2007, Cano had decided to take the year off, and Cabrera was not going to revisit his tremendous April anywhere but in the minor leagues.
The Yankees were extremely slow to react to Cabrera’s struggles, which saw him hit .226/.274/.293 from April on. When they did finally move, their reaction was lacking. The one thing that Cabrera had been able to do was play a passable defensive center field. Brett Gardner, who also can play center, was given an attenuated three-game trial before the return of Hideki Matsui from the disabled list forced Johnny Damon, who is now a mediocre center fielder at best, back into center. This move may have propped up the offense to some degree, but it helped doom a struggling pitching staff. Given that the season was already over at that point, there was little value in the move except to allow the Yankees to pretend that the season was not over by pointing to their “A” batting order.
There are teams that stuck more stubbornly with players as poor as Cabrera. Michael Bourn is still playing for the Astros. Corey Patterson still manages to steal some time with the Reds, Daric Barton is still chewing up outs at first base for the A’s, and Ross Gload has had consistent playing time from the Royals all year. These teams have one thing in common: They’re not going to the playoffs. Neither are the Yankees. Minaya-style try-anything wishful thinking may not be a plan, but it sure beats complacency.
Mr. Goldman writes the Pinstriped Bible for yesnetwork.com and is the author of “Forging Genius,” a biography of Casey Stengel.