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Yankee Fans Should Trust Brian Cashman

What should have been a rather minor free agent acquisition turned into a coup de grâce for many Yankee fans.

Brian Cashman signed former San Francisco outfielder Randy Winn to a small, one-year contract the other day and all hell broke loose in Yankeeland.

Budgetary restraints? Certainly not for the mighty Yankees, for whom money has never been a prohibitive issue. Certainly not for Brian Cashman who doled out $423.5 million last year for three players alone. Heaven forbid the ninth spot in the Yankee lineup be someone who is not a perennial All-Star.

Before we look at Randy Winn’s addition to this team, let’s take a moment and go back to about the same time last year, when Brian Cashman brought in a player coming off a down year, but had a track record of being a pretty good ballplayer.

Nick Swisher didn’t have a particularly great 2008 campaign. In his first year with Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox, he hit .219/.332/.410 while being shuffled all over the lineup and the ball field. It was Swisher’s first season being a below average (92 OPS+) offensive player.

Brian Cashman, in need of a first baseman following the departure of Jason Giambi, swapped a handful of spare parts for Swisher and penciled him into the everyday lineup as the starting first baseman.

The signing of Mark Teixeira pushed Swisher into a backup outfielder’s role until Xavier Nady was lost for the season early in the year. After that, Swisher proceeded to put up impressive numbers and acclimated himself almost seamlessly to New York.

Swisher hit .249/.371/.498 and had his best season to date. Brian Cashman bought low, and took the risk that 2008 was an outlier rather than the beginning of a trend.

Fast forward to now, when Randy Winn is the player with a track record of success coming off a down offensive season. True, Swisher was entering the prime of his career when Cashman bet on a rebound and Winn is decidedly exiting his, but the train remains similar.

Randy Winn hit a pedestrian .262/.318/.353 last season in the moribund San Francisco offense, but hit .303/.358/.435 in the two year stretch prior to 2008. In six of the past eight seasons, Winn has posted an above average OPS+.

So maybe his low BABIP numbers played into his down year as Swisher’s did in his. But even if Winn repeats last year’s offense, his defense and ability on the basepaths helps this Yankee team.

Many Yankee fans screamed for Johnny Damon to return, but Cashman, operating under a budget, couldn’t offer anything close enough to Damon’s liking. Whether or not someone else will is yet to be seen.

Even if they accepted Damon was not going to come back for pennies on the dollar, they continued to throw names out there that they thought would be a better fit for the Yankees than Winn.

Reed Johnson! Rocco Baldelli! Jonny Gomes!

Randy Winn does two things at an elite level—run the bases and defend. The other names floated out there don’t do anything at an elite level. Maybe Jonny Gomes runs into a fastball every once and a while. Maybe Reed Johnson makes Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays one a month.

But that’s not what the Yankees need.

The Yankees need flexibility, both financially and on the field. Randy Winn gives them both.

The Yankees’ general manager is coming off a year in which his team won a championship. I trust he knows what’s best for his team better than I do.

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Did Brian Cashman Fix The Yankees

Back in October, when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since before the strike, I offered my solution on How To Fix The Yankees. I took a look at who was leaving, who was staying, what everyone was being paid, and how I would fill out the roster without increasing the payroll. Here’s the roster and payroll I suggested:

C – Jorge Posada – $13.1MM
C – Jose Molina – $2MM
1B – Mark Teixeira – $22.5MM
2B – Robinson Cano – $6MM
SS – Derek Jeter – $20MM
3B – Alex Rodriguez – $32MM
IF – Wilson Betemit – $1.165MM+
[Nick Swisher – $5.3MM]
IF – Cody Ransom – $400K
LF – Johnny Damon – $13MM
CF – Brett Gardner – $400K
RF – Xavier Nady – $6.5MM+
OF – Melky Cabrera – $1.4MM
DH – Hideki Matsui – $13MM

SP – CC Sabathia – $14MM
SP – Chien-Ming Wang – $5MM
SP – Mike Mussina- $12MM
[AJ Burnett – $16.5MM]
SP – Andy Pettitte – $5MM
SP – Joba Chamberlain – $400K

RP – Mariano Rivera – $15MM
RP – Damaso Marte – $4MM
RP – Brian Bruney – $1.25MM
RP – Jose Veras – $400K
RP – Edwar Ramirez – $400K
RP – Phil Coke – $400K
[Al Aceves – $400K]
RP – Mark Melancon – $400K
[Jonathan Albaladejo – $400K]

I said I’d rather see two pitchers and Teixeira than three new pitchers and that’s exactly what Cashman went out and did. There are some things that I know now that I didn’t know then.

1. Phil Coke will be working as a starter in Spring Training. As well he should. Pitchers are far more valuable in the rotation and should be given every opportunity to be developed as such until they prove they can’t handle it. So he’s out of my bullpen, replaced with a longman, Al Aceves. Dan Giese is another option if the Yankees choose to get Aceves regular starts at AAA.

2. Mike Mussina was dead set on retiring. So he’s out of the rotation, replaced with AJ Burnett, who will make more this season than Sabathia. Burnett has devastating stuff in regards to his pitch repertoire, but delicate stuff in regards to his elbow and shoulder. Andy Pettitte also signed for much lower than anticipated or originally offered. Incentives could escalate his salary to $12MM.

3. I’m getting the feeling that Mark Melancon will begin the year in the minors barring an incredible spring. So he’s out of my bullpen for now to, replaced with Jonathan Albaladejo for now. Albaladejo had a solid showing in winter ball and fared decently with the Yankees briefly in 2008 before getting injured.

4. The Yankees traded for Nick Swisher. He becomes part of what I’d use as a rotation of him, Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui through left field, right field and DH. There’s been talk of trading Xavier Nady or spinning Swisher off somewhere before he even plays for the Yankees. But I’d hold on to both of them unless someone (Braves?) is desperate enough to pony up a top prospect for either of them. Matsui’s been through two knee surgeries in the past year and Swisher’s the only one of the four signed beyond 2009.

My base roster payroll comes out to $198.35MM, if every incentive is hit by every player with incentives, it comes out to just a shade over $208 million, exactly in line with last year’s payroll. The Yankees have only a few questions heading into the 2009 season.

I. Will Jorge Posada be healthy enough to catch 120+ games?
The Yankees really need Posada to return to his career averages and stay healthy because the alternatives are brutal. Jose Molina will hold his own behind the dish, but is outmatched by Major League pitching. Ditto Kevin Cash. New York has some stud catching prospects, but they’re all still several years away from being seriously considered Posada’s replacement. So Hip-Hip needs to remain effective for a couple more seasons.

II. How does the centerfield situation play out?
Right now, it looks like it’s between the constantly regressing Melky Cabrera and the good-field, no-hit, all-hustle Brett Gardner. The addition of Mark Teixeira to the lineup affords the Yankees the luxury of running one of these guys out there everyday and hitting them ninth to see what they’ve got. Personally, I’d stick Brett Gardner out there and let him play. During limited playing time late last season, Gardner showed terrific defensive value and if he can get on base with any regularity, steal some bases and go first to third, he should help the Yankees lineup by giving them some much-needed speed.

III. How does Alex Rodriguez handle all the new allegations?
Regardless of the Players Union’s definition of “confidential and anonymous” is, A-Rod will remain the center of attention of jealous, ex-jock journalists. His talent is undeniable, but his ability to deal with negative reports is questionable at best. He’s the best hitter the Yankees have and will need his bat to be raking in order to rebound from a down offensive output.

New Yankee Rotation

While not yet official, ’tis the season of letter in the Bronx. CC and AJ will join the 2009 Yankee rotation, for better or worse.

I think they seriously overpaid for both pitchers, but they added two guys who seriously miss bats. The first four starters for the Yankees line up as such:

CC Sabathia
Chien-Ming Wang
AJ Burnett
Joba Chamberlain

For the fifth spot, they’ll probably try and convince Andy Pettitte to come back around ten or twelve million. If that doesn’t work, I assume they’ll fill the fifth spot by an internal competition between the likes of Phil Hughes, Al Aceves, Ian Kennedy and the like. I don’t think they’ll feel comfortable handing a four or five year deal to Derek Lowe or $13 million for another injury risk, Ben Sheets.

I was extremely wary of AJ Burnett, as he certainly isn’t the poster boy for consistency. But he might just be that guy for the “filthy stuff” fraternity. The one thing that makes me a little more comfortable with Burnett’s signing is the fact that the Braves were willing to match the Yankees offer.

If there’s a team that’s better at evaluating pitching talent than the Braves, I’m all ears. Any pitcher Atlanta’s braintrust is confident in, I’ll go along with.

If the Yankees can bring Angy Pettitte back, that will allow Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to get some much-needed Triple-A innings and Joba Chamberlain to get a start off every now and then to control his innings.

Five years from now we may be asking Brian Cashman what the hell he was thinking, or, we may be praising his genius. Here’s to hoping it’s the latter.