The Case to Fire Cashman over Boone
Broader Than Just a Manager
August 12, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
We have some reporting that Hal Steinbrenner has already decided to not fire Brian Cashman, but might consider firing Aaron Boone.
I think Steinbrenner has the problem reversed. The problems of the 2023 Yankees, and frankly the team’s deficiencies since at least 2021, are squarely on the general manager’s shoulder. The case for firing Brian Cashman focuses on at least these four issues, all of which involves wasting Steinbrenner cash:
Bad Trades The trade where the Yankees acquired Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt is going to go down as an all-time flop. The Yankees paid Josh Donaldson $44 million to produce 2.3 bWAR in 2022 and -0.1 bWAR in 2023 and IKF $11 million to produce 3.0 bWAR (Way worse if you don’t believe the defensive metrics on IKF in 2022) and 0.4 bWAR. The Twins paid Urshela $6 million to produce 3.5 bWAR in 2023 and Sanchez $9 million to produce 1.0 bWAR before both became free agents. It’s a disaster of a trade. I still don’t understand why the Yankees tendered Kiner-Falefa a contract this offseason. We’ll see where Rortvedt goes.
But the Donaldson trade won’t go down as the worst in Yankee history. In hindsight, the Giancarlo Stanton trade is far, far worse. The Marlins couldn’t wait to get out of Stanton’s huge contract, even after he almost hit 60 home runs. When all is said and done, the Yankees will have paid Stanton north of $200 million for less than 2.0 bWAR/year and they still have four long years left. Beyond the money, Stanton immediately became a pumpkin in the field and on the bases. The Yankees have struggled to build a roster with a giant hole at designated hitter.
There are other trades that got us here, but those are two big ones. Cashman’s success trades are mostly picking up successful minor leaguers. Even the moderately successful ones like acquiring Anthony Rizzo and Harrison Bader have been mixed successes at best. The only real big success that Cashman has over the last decade is probably the Aroldis Chapman trade that brought in Gleyber Torres in 2016. When you add up all his trades, Cashman has net hurt the team.
Bad Signings I should acknowledge a few good signings to start off. The original LeMahieu deal was a coup. Gerrit Cole has mostly been worth his enormous salary. The jury is out on the Judge deal, but I won’t bet against him.
But man, Cashman has a lot of bad signings under his belt. The Hicks and LeMahieu deals looked like smart low AAV, long-term deals at the time, but Hicks was released and LeMahieu’s deal is looking real bad right now. However, it’s easy to forget about the Severino extension, who has pitched only 181 innings with a 4.51 ERA since signing his $52 million extension in 2019. The Rodon contract isn’t looking great either (more on Rodon below). I don’t expect any general manager to bat 1.000 on free agent contracts, but Cashman has more failures than successes, especially recently. I think his key weakness is that he is penny-wise, dollar foolish. Cashman would rather give a long-term contract to a player he sees as a good value like Hicks or LeMahieu than pay full price for a Machado or Harper or Seager. The problem is that cheap players are cheap for a reason.
Bad Roster Construction Every season, it seems like the Yankees just forgot to fill one position. In 2023, it was left field. Cashman said in his press conference after the 2022 playoffs that he needed to fill left field. Then… he signed Carlos Rodon. Why? The Yankees had pitching depth. Rodon was a nice to have. You have to play *someone* in left field. In 2022, they had the same problem at shortstop and centerfield, settling for mediocre Plan As and no Plan B. The 2017-2019 Yankees didn’t have a first baseman.
Others have pointed out that the Yankees pretty much abandoned any attempt to create a left-handed lineup. Anthony Rizzo, Joey Gallo and Aaron Hicks have been the only left-handed or switch hitters brought in outside of Quad-A gambles. The Yankees have built their lineups for way too long around right-handed hitters.
I think that the roster construction problems would look even worse had Cashman not scored so big on Gio Urshela, Luke Voit and Jose Trevino. All three came out of nowhere to save the Yankees’ bacon before eventually outliving their usefulness. Some of that is to Cashman’s credit, but we also have to acknowledge that he got really lucky.
Awful, Terrible, League-Worst Hitter Development If there has been one theme throughout Brian Cashman’s tenure as a general manager, it is complete ineptitude at developing major league hitters. Since the 2009 World Series, the Yankees have brought a grand total of three (!) major league hitters up through their farm system to become above average MLB regulars: Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres. Maybe we can add Volpe to that mix, but Torres only played half a season in the Yankee farm system after the trade.
If Cashman were asked about his player development failures, he might comment that they haven’t had a high first round pick in a generation. But other perpetual winners like the Astros and Dodgers don’t have that problem. Each has brought well over a dozen hitters to the minors during the same period. Even not-so-great teams like the Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays and Reds all regularly debut average or better major league hitters.
Cashman Needs to Go Everyone loses their fastball eventually. Brian Cashman has a long record of success as a major league general manager. But that’s all in the past. The New York Yankees should strive to find the best general manager in the league, and I don’t think Brian Cashman is even in the top 10. He used to be, but not anymore. Maybe Aaron Boone should also go, but at least as much of 2023’s problems should be credited to the failures of the front office.