Rafael Soriano may not be asked to save many games for the Yankees, but at the press conference announcing his signing, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman was forced to save face.
The biggest news from yesterday’s media gathering was not the player being introduced, but the back story behind his acquisition. As has now been widely reported, Brian Cashman was not on board with the decision to sign Soriano because he wanted to protect that first round pick that was ultimately forfeited to the Tampa Bay Rays as compensation. So, it was with great anticipation that media members gathered at the press conference to grill Cashman, and not the Yankees’ new reliever.
Let me put it this way, I think 29 GMs would love their owner to force Rafael Soriano down their throat. I don’t think that’s something that anyone would want to complain about. I took a stance and I’m not running from that stance. It doesn’t mean I was right, or that it’s the best approach, but that’s who I am and still am. But we are better in 2011 for this, there’s no doubt about it.” – Brian Cashman, quoted in the New York Daily News, January 20, 2011
Despite his frankness, yesterday’s media event couldn’t have been very comfortable for Cashman. After all, it’s not easy to listen as your authority and autonomy are called into question. Although he seemed at ease with the decision, the now public split could put both Cashman and the organization in line for more uncomfortable questions as the general manager enters the final year of his three-year contract.
For Soriano, the introduction must have been a little surreal. Not only was he forced to play second fiddle at his own press conference, but then he had to sit by as the team’s general manager talked about having him forced down his throat. Hopefully, the Yankees instructed the interpreter (Soriano answered all questions in Spanish) to not use a literal translation. If he is even the least bit sensitive, a comment like that could make Soriano’s transition to the team a little more uncomfortable.
Perhaps anticipating some of the potential awkwardness, the Yankees decided not to air the press conference on YES. Of course, that did little to quell the stories about the latest bizarre happening in what has been a very unorthodox offseason for Cashman and the Yankees.
Immediately after the signing was announced, I noted the potential negative ramifications that could result from the emergence of a split in the Yankees’ baseball operations. As Craig Calcaterra of NBC’s HardBall Talk replied, however, the decision by Hal Steinbrenner to override Cashman’s recommendation really wasn’t unprecedented. Both before and since Cashman demanded more autonomy from the Boss, the Yankees utilized a committee approach to making decisions. As evidenced by the Joe Torre situation, Cashman has not always gotten his way, even on matters as significant as hiring a manager. Viewed in that light, the Soriano signing really shouldn’t be considered so ominous. As he noted at the press conference, Cashman was fully aware of the negotiations, despite not being in favor of the transaction. In other words, he was not bypassed in the process, as had been the case during the days of Billy Connors and the Tampa faction (not to mention signings like Gary Sheffield and David Wells that were almost exclusively transacted by the Boss). As long as the Yankees maintain a chain of command in which Cashman presides over all baseball recommendations, it shouldn’t be an issue when the owners of the team decide to go in a different direction.
Finally, because of the uniqueness of the situation, it’s easy to see why Cashman and the Yankees have been held to more scrutiny on the matter, but the reality is every single ownership group plays a role in baseball personnel decisions. The only difference is that with 29 other teams, ownership’s constraint revolves around saving money, not spending it. As Cashman noted, it really isn’t a negative when your owner is willing to spend beyond your recommendations. If the Yankees had given Cashman a mandate to cut spending, no one would view it as a blow to his autonomy, so the same inference shouldn’t be made because the Yankees collectively decided that signing Soriano was an affordable cost of doing business.
If Cashman had expressed concerns about Soriano’s ability or his clubhouse presence, then there might be reason to worry about the Yankees’ decision making process. However, when the owner overrules the general manager on what essentially amounts to a financial decision (and does so in order to spend, not save, money), the organization and fans alike should be grateful. After all, there’s nothing wrong with having your cake and eating it too…even when it’s forced down your throat.