Brian Cashman has been used to dispensing big money contracts as general manager of the Yankees, but lately, the only thing he has been dishing out are excuses. As front man for the organization’s new policy of thrift, Cashman has been forced to rationalize the team’s frugality. Following the recent departure of Russell Martin, however, the spin may be getting a little out of hand.
In response to Martin’s decision to jump ship to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cashman made several comments that should have Yankee fans at least a little concerned about the team’s plans for the future. Listed below are a few statements from Cashman (courtesy of Bryan Hoch’s Bombers Beat) that seem to belie the current state of the roster as well as disguise the team’s intentions for the future.
Listen, without a doubt, in terms of catching and throwing and running games, I’d line those guys up with some of the best catchers in the game on the defensive side, game planning and handling a pitching staff.”
The Yankees currently have three catchers on the roster, Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine, as well as Eli Whiteside, who was recently designated for assignment, but is expected to clear waivers. None of them are remotely considered to be among the best defensive catchers in the game. Stewart and Whiteside have decent reputations, but neither 30-something backstop has come close to catching a full season’s worth of innings. Romine is regarded as a defensive prospect, but it takes time for rookie backstops to develop. In the meantime, Romine, who missed most of 2012 with back inflammation, first needs to prove he can stay healthy enough to be a starter before the Yankees depend on him as a frontline catcher. Finally, Cervelli has struggled significantly on defense during his time in the big leagues, so much so the Yankees had to acquire Stewart just before the start of last season. Unless Cervelli has been taking a crash course from Johnny Bench, there’s no reason to believe his defense has improved to the point that he is now capable of being a starter.
Listen, when Girardi was catching for us, he was a defense oriented catcher. We played him at the time ahead of a young Posada and an older Leyritz. They were more offensive oriented at those times, so it’s not like we haven’t gone with defensive oriented first situation.”
The history lesson is accurate, but Joe Girardi was the Yankees’ starting catcher 15 years ago. A roster decision then has no relevance to the team’s plan for 2013. What’s more, Martin was also a defensive-oriented catcher, so it’s not as if the Yankees need to justify a change in priority behind the plate. Rather, the impetus for Martin leaving is money, and back in the late-1990s, the Yankees wouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Cashman needs to be careful appealing to the past because he, on behalf of Hal Steinbrenner, is advocating a turn from it.
The market for Russell was aggressive, as it should have been, and again our focus has been our pitching. After that, I’ve got a lot of different holes to fill. We need to be careful how we allocate our remaining funds to make sure that we can fill all the holes.”
This statement is somewhat disingenuous when you consider the Yankees focus on pitching has consisted of signing three veterans to one-year extensions. Granted, bringing back Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera were very important priorities this off season, but their returns were basically a fait accompli. More importantly, because all were signed to one-year deals, the team’s goal of reducing payroll in 2014 was unaffected. In other words, the Yankees pursuit of pitching needn’t have distracted the team from focusing on other areas of concern, such as re-signing Martin.
Maybe the Yankees didn’t think Martin was that good behind the plate? If so, it would serve no purpose to slam the door on his way out. Also, pumping up the subpar options at catcher makes sense from a bargaining standpoint (although it’s hard to believe anyone else who believe the bravado). Just ask Bubba Crosby. However, exaggerating the team’s position is insulting to the fan base, especially considering the glowing indications that the organization is, in fact, preparing to cut payroll drastically.
The Yankees’ refusal to even make an offer to Martin isn’t about the catcher at all. Although his defensive and power will be missed, his loss is not insurmountable. The real issue is more pervasive. As currently constituted, the Yankees have several significant holes, and, if the team’s main motivation is saving money, it won’t be able to fill them. Things can change quickly in the off season, as the Yankees have proven on several occasions. Maybe that’s what Cashman meant when further stated, “good things come to those who wait.” Because of his track record, the GM deserves the benefit of the doubt, but sooner or later, he will have to deliver more than just excuses. Otherwise, the fans, like the team, may decide to save their money too.