(The following was originally published at SB*Nation’s Pinstriped Bible)
On Thursday, Hal Steinbrenner opened up a bit about the Yankees’ new austerity program, but most of his comments spawned more questions than answers. Considering the hasty manner in which the team’s plan to dip below the $189 million payroll threshold has been devised, even Steinbrenner may not have a complete handle on it just yet. And, if that’s true, the lines of communication within the organization run the risk of breaking down.
One week earlier, Brian Cashman had some curious comments of his own. Speaking to reporters, the Yankees’ GM struck an almost defiant tone, stating, “I know a lot of people have told me they think home runs are bad. I’m not one of them. Well, those people are going to get a chance to see what it looks like.” Cashman then opened up about the Yankees’ significant power drain, concluding, “I do believe power is big in an offense and we lost a lot of home runs.”
Cashman’s remarks could have been delivered by any Yankee fan, which is what made them seem so out of place. After all, as general manager, Cashman is the architect of the team’s roster, so if he perceives a significant deficiency, why hasn’t he done anything about it? Also, to whom was Cashman referring when he stated “a lot of people”? The media? Fans? Or, others within the organization?
It’s easy to get tripped up reading between the lines, but Cashman’s recent posture suggests he may not be a big fan of the team’s aggressive cost cutting. And, who could blame him? With $100 million potentially tied up in only four players next year, Cashman’s hands haven’t been tied…they’ve been handcuffed to exorbitant contracts, many of which were negotiated at the ownership level. Although some have speculated that Cashman would relish the chance to prove his GM chops by building a winner on a budget, with so much of it already allocated, he could find himself working on a shoe string.
The Yankees have never been a traditional organization when it comes to making baseball decisions. Ever since George Steinbrenner purchased the team, power has not been centralized in the GM’s office. Even though Cashman has reportedly had greater autonomy of late, the committee approach remains evident. Rafael Soriano is a case in point. However, it’s one thing to have ownership purchase a luxury the GM doesn’t think he needs, and another to have a cost cutting mandate imposed upon him.
There’s one more potential bone of contention to consider. When questioned about his commitment to trimming the payroll below $189 million, Steinbrenner stated, “Is our goal 189 next year? Yes. But only if I’m convinced that the team I see we put together is a championship-caliber team.” That statement seems reasonable enough, but shouldn’t Brian Cashman be the one to decide if the 2014 roster makes the Yankees a championship-caliber team? Will Steinbrenner open his wallet if Cashman believes the team needs reinforcement, or will he rely on his own assessment? Maybe the owner was speaking on behalf of the entire organization, but these questions are more than a matter of semantics. After all, if Cashman doesn’t have the authority to pass judgment on his own team, nor the flexibility to make improvements when needed, is he really the general manager?
It’s easy to jump to conclusions, so, it should be noted that aside from a few curious remarks, Brian Cashman hasn’t given any indication he is disillusioned with either the Yankees’ new fiscal policy or any limitations it may be placing on his authority. Presumably, when he signed his new contract in 2011, Cashman was aware of the team’s looming financial restraints. If so, there’s no reason to expect a rift within the organization. Of course, that assumes Hal Steinbrenner communicated this plan at that time. And, as noted above, there is good reason to suspect the team’s cost cutting approach was hastily arranged in response to the new CBA, which was approved about three weeks after Cashman signed his extension. This timeline is far from a smoking gun, but it does suggest the possibility of potential discord.
Implementing a drastic payroll reduction will be difficult with everyone working on the same page. Adding any level of dysfunction to the process will only make the task harder. Change is never easy, which is why the Yankees’ front office deserves to be under increased scrutiny. After all, the interaction between Cashman, Steinbrenner, and the other key members of the brain trust could say more about the team’s future than how much money it spends.