Cashman bears brunt of criticism
According to a person familiar with what's going on in the upper reaches of the New York Yankees' hierarchy, new boss Hank Steinbrenner currently "blames Brian Cashman for everything.''
The way things are going right now, that's a lot of things.
Cashman said he "wouldn't comment on our internal discussions,'' but said nothing to suggest Hank is anything but dissatisfied with what's going on so far.
"I'm OK with everything,'' Cashman told SI.com. "The Steinbrenners are custodians of the greatest franchise in sports history. When things don't go well, there's an uncomfortableness. And it's my job is to deal with it."
What Hank Steinbrenner's most recent complaints are largely about, according to people inside the organization, are the two young starting pitchers -- Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy -- that Cashman trumpeted and protected this winter when other teams were targeting them in trade talks. The pair have combined for zero wins so far this year, putting the target on Cashman's back.
Hank recently said in an outburst to the New York Post that the team isn't providing much bang for his family's bucks. But Hank's most pointed behind-the-scenes complaints are directed toward the big pitching decisions, and specifically the fact that Cashman -- with the backing of practically all the Yankees baseball people -- successfully argued to keep Hughes and Kennedy rather than trade them for Johan Santana, who pitches tonight for the New York Mets in the opener of a Subway Series that features the two struggling Big Apple teams. The Yankees are 20-22 and in last place in the AL East while the Mets aren't much better at 20-19, good only for third in the NL East.
Of Hank and the Santana deal, one Yankees insider said: "He won't give up on that one.''
And with each passing Hughes and Kennedy failure, it's getting no better. Kennedy is a candidate for a re-demotion after getting pasted by the Rays, 5-2, Thursday afternoon.
Cashman knows this terrain. He's been here before.
"The franchise is very fortunate to have the Steinbrenners directing it. The Steinbrenners inherited the need to win, and they commit to it financially, which is the biggest thing you could ask for,'' Cashman said. "All I care about is what's best for the franchise. If that includes me going forward, or doesn't include me, that's a decision to be made above me.''
It wasn't just Cashman, though, who stumped for Hughes (who's 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA) and Kennedy (0-3, 8.48), and Hank knows that. Of the Yankees' expansive baseball department, only ex-GM Gene Michael favored trading the kids for Santana (who is 4-2 with a 3.10 ERA), according to people familiar with their internal votes.
Cashman and his other underlings argued it would be better in the long run to save the highly regarded Hughes, keep outfielder Melky Cabrera and hold onto the loot it would take to sign Santana. And Hank eventually deferred to the baseball department. But Hank can't get it out of his head; he keeps wondering why Hughes and Kennedy were so highly regarded.
Shortly after Kennedy absorbed his latest defeat, Cashman said, "We're a work in progress in some aspects. Our young pitching is a work in progress. Some other parts of our club are affected by injuries or underperformance. ... We're a good team playing poorly. We're not a misjudged team.''
And Cashman continued, "I believe in our players. And I believe in our process. In the short term, I understand why people are upset. My job is to do what needs to be done for the short term and long term, and I understand everything that goes with it.''
To review, the Yankees were originally talking to the Twins about a deal that would have sent Hughes, Cabrera, pitching prospect Jeff Marquez and a fourth prospect, a player at Class A Charleston, to Minnesota for Santana. But after Andy Pettitte opted to return, Cashman convinced his higher-ups to pull Hughes from the deal. That's when the Twins requested that both Chien-Ming Wang and Kennedy be substituted to replace Hughes, whom they apparently loved.
Not surprisingly, Cashman said it's too early to judge the young pitchers.
"One of them has a broken rib and is on the disabled list [Hughes]. The other is experiencing some growing pains," Cashman said. "[But] if the season is made or broken on Ian Kennedy, then we weren't a team. ... Some aspects of our club will take more time than others. I've been around the block long enough to know that. Right now is our time to wear it, to deal with it, and to grind through it. That's not going to deter us from what we're doing.''
Right now, Cashman is wearing it, and he is dealing with it.
Meanwhile, Hank has been suggesting publicly that they aren't discussing an extension for Cashman, and that is technically true. But what Hank fails to mention is that Cashman, whose three-year, $5.4 million contract expires after this season, rebuffed the club's efforts to lock him up early in the winter. Cashman is in his 11th season as Yankees GM and tells people close to him that he enjoys the job and would love to continue in the right circumstances.
Cashman also must know he made the right call not to discuss an extension this winter, before both sides had the chance to spend a season together. Competing executives said Cashman has to be concerned by Hank Steinbrenner's penchant to speak publicly about his opinions and the team's strategies.
The subject of Cashman's future could actually turn into a family debate for the Steinbrenners, as the quiet, younger son Hal is said to be a big supporter of Cashman. Hal sided with the GM on the call not to surrender the farm for Santana, and is believed to generally support Cashman. Most people around the Yankees still believe that despite the team's dreadful beginning -- and the fireworks occurring behind the scenes -- Cashman and the Steinbrenners will eventually work it out, and that Cashman will stay.
"If I fit in or not is not a concern to me,'' Cashman said. "I don't worry about it. I don't fear it. What is a concern is to make the right decisions for the club that are positive for both the short term and the long term.''