Where Cashman Went Wrong
by Cary Greene
August 13, 2023
Before last offseason even began and with the Yankees suffocated by the Astros yet again, snuffing out Hal Steinbrenner’s and Brian Cashman’s attempt to win a World Series for the umpteenth time, I began a series of articles focusing on the Yankees roster and how Aaron Judge’s free agency might influence what Brian Cashman would be able to do, in order to fill in the cracks if what I called, “Plan-A, Life with Judge” became a reality.
Cluttering the 2022-23 offseason, I believed, would be Aaron Judge rumors and speculation. Everyone knew that each step of his free agency would be micro analyzed and dissected. Most Yankees fans believed all the posturing and swirling rumors shouldn’t stop the Yankees from attempting to sign Judge but, the reality was that if a huge 10-year deal from another suitor made him the game’s highest paid player, the Yankees might have been forced to move on.
There was no telling how the Judge sweepstakes would work out, but many thought the Yankees would be very wise to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Thankfully Judge himself preferred to be a Yankee and as it were, Plan-A unfolded.
I did a piece recently here on SSTN entitled, The Moves the Yankees Will Make that determined the Yankees would have between $38 and $43-million left in the pot after signing Judge. The 2023 Luxury Tax Threshold was/is set at $233-million and the simple math was, the Yankees currently had an Active Payroll of about $151-million prior to signing Judge.
Bloggers everywhere speculated as to what Judge’s AAV would be, I myself felt he’d get $37+ million and 10-years and he wound up getting basically that, as he ultimately signed for $40-million over 9-years. Signing Judge brought the Yankees budget into focus, but Stienbrenner kind of surprised me and I say that now in retrospect because I think that Judge’s signing meant that Plan-A was executed exactly as Cashman drew it up in what was undoubtedly what he perceived as a best case scenario.
Then I did another piece questioning What is the 2023 Yankees Budget, in which I looked at whether or not Hal Steinbrenner would be willing to exceed the Threshold - and if so, by how much? I believd Steinbrenner likely would approve a budget that exceeds the Threshold but lands somewhere in the First-Tier and carries a 32-percent tax for the Yankees, which includes a 12-percent “previous offender” penalty. I believed the Yankees would likely spend up to $253-million in 2023.
Going beyond $253-million, I reasoned, would bloat the Yankees payroll into the Second-Tier and cause the tax to increase to 44% and I doubted that Steinbrenner would be willing to go there with his payroll because if he did, the budget would increase “up to” $273-million. I doubted Steinbrenner would sign off on that. Turns out I was wrong on this, as Stenbrenner allowed Cashman to throttle up the “spendometer” and make the fateful decision to sign not just Anthony Rizzo and Judge, but to also ink Carlos Rodon.
Now that the Yankees are floundering in last place in the AL East and Yankees fans are scratching their heads, wondering how the pinstriped train could have went off the tracks so badly, a singular point needs to be brought into focus. Its true that Steinbrenner mandated a hard stop at $273 million, not because of the extra 12% tax but more so, because the Yankees are charged, as second time Threshold offenders, an extra 30% penalty on top of the 12 percent.
Added up, where the Yankees are currently positioned causes a total surcharge of 42% to be levied for this floundering 2023 edition of what is supposed to be the New York Yankees. Some quick math reveals that the 2023 Yankees payroll is on the hook with a Threshold violation of $40 million, which will trigger a penalty of $16.8 million dollars.
If Steinbrenner had allowed Cashman to speed past the “hard stop” Threshold of $273 million, the 12 percent standard penalty for being $20 to $40 million over the Threshold would go away and a $42.5% surcharge would be added to the second time offender 30% penalty, so organization would have to pay a 72.5 percent penalty instead of the 42% penalty they are currently going to have to pony up. That’s at least an extra $12-million to $20 million depending on what players would have been signed. I wanted to attach a dollar amount to the conversations so our sophisticated readers could quantify why Steinbrenner capped the payroll.
Brian Cashman was not allowed to cause Steinbrenner to flush $29 million down the drain in CBT surcharges. Steinbrenner amazingly agreed to cough up $16.8 million, but escalating to $29 million wasn’t something he could get behind.
As Steve Cohen’s Mets have proved this season, spending big doesn’t necessarily make a team champions. There’s this little problem of actually having to win games during the regular season that has to also happen <chuckling>.
My 2023 Yankees offseason “Plan-A,” with Judge’s contract factored in, foretold that the Yankees would be left with around $60-million to spend on other areas of need. After Rizzo and Tommy Kahnle were signed, Cashman opted to go for pitching and Rodon was brought in. That hasn’t turned out well at all and if one wanted to pinpoint exactly where Cashman did a poor job this offseason, it’s clearly this decision that was his biggest miss.
Injuries have again hurt the Yankees badly and Cashman has at this point cemented his inability to field a healthy roster, so it’s fair to say that Steinbrenner continues to not get what he’s paying for. That’s on Cashman and it’s why I repeatedly write and have been writing, that Cashman’s process, which he believes is sound, is not a good one.
With that in mind, let’s look at what the Yankees outfield looked like after Judge was signed. Who was available internally and externally at that juncture and did Brian Cashman make a fateful miscalculation by not shoring up the said outfield and choosing instead to sign Rodon.
The faithful here at SSTN know the Yankees are extremely weak at evaluating their own internal talent. No offense to other blogs, but much of the content available out there was varying degrees of delusional in their honest evaluations of Brian Cashman. Most writers here on SSTN and most posters alike have known for a long time Cashman is usually very “iffy” when it comes to signing the right free agents and his trade history has been a series of lofty, fluffy snow covered peaks and deep, dark, icy crags that are better off forgotten. Not everyone agrees with what I just wrote as opinions do vary, but in general terms, the majority of folks here are likely a lot sharper than the types you find in other Yankees blogs.
I’ve always believed that Yankees fans were possibly the sharpest of all baseball markets and I’ll go to my grave believing this to be true. Perhaps our Editor in Chief, Dr. Paul Semendinger is responsible for attracting more sophisticated Yankees fans, because I’ve never seen a blog where every poster seems to be smarter than I am - and I say that genuinely. It’s really a pleasure to be here and to contribute.
I’m also not a Cashman apologist. Though I give him credit where credit is due, I thought last offseason that he should have been asked by Steinbrenner to take a step back, or forward, to perhaps either move on entirely or guide the team as Randy Levine’s replacement. Last offseason I wrote that it didn’t appear either of these eventualities would happen.
I also prophetically wrote that Hal Steinbrenner appears quite content to remain a glutton for punishment, as he’ll likely maintain the status quo. That decision, I wrote, was on Hal, as he was in the midst of writing his legacy. I said that Steinbrenner may go down as the worst leader in Yankees history. Time shall etch the story, but wow, is he ever right on track for etching that narrative.
There have been two camps these past several seasons. In one camp, there are the many Giancarlo Stanton detractors. He’s always injured, he can’t play the field, he strikes out too much, he’s overpaid..etc. The other camp harkens back to the 2020 playoffs and says, “When healthy, Stanton is a monster.” I’m somehow a fan of Stanton, but this year has really shut me up. The truth is, he’s become a central figure in the bottoming out of the Yankees.
The Yankees Biggest Problem is the DH Position
Regarding 33-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, he put up a measly 1.2 f-WAR last season, a body of work that Fangraphs graded Stanton a 4.8 for Offense and a -8.2 for Defense. Stanton’s offensive numbers make it almost pointless to DH him. Though his career numbers suggest he’s only a small bit worse as a DH than he is when playing the field, he’s really proven he can’t be counted on to avoid injuries.
However, the Yankees badly needed Stanton to recapture his former glory as an outfielder this season and he didn’t deliver, missing 47 games this season already with a hamstring injury. Never mind that Stanton’s only batting .190 against right-handed pitching this season, the real problem is that in a season where the Yankees desperately needed him to play the outfield, he’s totally gone in the opposite direction. Stanton has only played 38 percent of his games (24) this year in the outfield. On a team with no left fielder, that’s not going to cut it!
Those who incessantly argue that Stanton isn’t an acceptable defensive fielder are of course dead wrong. He’s perfectly adequate defensively, but the point is he can’t stay healthy enough to play the outfield and that’s really been a divisive problem as he’s let the Yankees down in the worst way this season.
Past narratives were that Stanton was an above average right fielder with a pretty strong throwing arm. During his 2017 NL-MVP campaign, he had 11 DRS with an 8.2 UZR/150 but StatCast only rated him 1 OAA for that season. Fast-forward to 2022 and there actually hasn’t been that much of a decline, -4DRS, 5.8 UZR/150 and 0 OAA. We’re talking about a player who knows how to shag fly balls. This season, he has a 7.4 UZR/150 in right field and he’s -1 OAA, so this tells us there’s zero issues with his defensive ability (and there never have been any folks). Simply put, he can’t stay healthy enough for the Yankees to deploy him in a way that would best help the team.
Don’t get me wrong, if he was mashing at DH, I’d be writing about Cashman’s ill-advised decisions to trade for Josh Donaldson and pass on signing Corey Seager, but Stanton is batting .203 as a DH this season, with a .314 wOBA and a 100 wRC+. He has 18 home runs and 44 RBI’s and yes, his contact has produced worse results than StatCast thinks he should have as there is a disparity evident due to his .346 xwOBA, which suggests he might soon start performing better.
Stanton is a right handed, often injured behemoth who plays for the Yankees, a team that has a short porch in right field. He’s not the right fit on a team that badly needs left-handed power. If he could be counted on to play the outfield regularly, the Yankees could fill in the roster with a left-handed, power hitting DH and the middle of the lineup would be solidified, but that ship has sailed.
In 83.3 percent of Stanton’s at-bats this season, opposing managers have sent right-handed pitchers to break Stanton down at the plate. With the bulk of the Yankees lineup being right handed, the Yankees are simply too easy to game plan against and the recipe opposing managers use routinely to buzzsaw the sagging Yankees offense is to be careful with Judge and attack the middle of the order with right handed pitching. It’s a simple and effective strategy, one that forces the Yankees to play away from the short porch too, which has long been the key to the Yankees home field advantage.
With a team OPS of .697 against right-handed pitching, it’s clear that the easy formula to beat the Yankees with ease is to load up on right handed pitching. Cashman is causing opponents to exploit the very home field advantage that the short porch affords. He’s turned the Yankees home field advantage against them.
Cashman’s biggest blunder ever was trading for Stanton to begin with. He’s unfortunately been a bust. What’s illustrated here though is how out of touch Cashman is as a baseball decision maker.
Stanton was paid $32-million last season, yet he only managed to provide 11-Runs-Above-Replacement (RAR) and Fangraphs therefore evaluated that if Stanton were a free-agent, he’d only be worth a mere $9.3-million. That last stat is quantified with f-Dollars in case you’re wondering.
Season to date, if Stanton were a free agent, he’d be worth a contract of $1.1 million. Put that in your collective coffee cups for a moment and savor the aroma of a cup of joe made with only 1.1 beans! There’s almost no coffee in the cup, it’s just a cup of hot water.
That Stanton was only worth $9.3-million last season should have been a huge red-flag. The Yankees overspent by $22.7-million on Stanton in 2022. That’s pretty concerning. We’re talking about a player who has a massively negative -96.2 MTV, which means he’s utterly untradable.
Clearly, the Yankees have a huge problem here and they’ve got to solve it. I’d rate this single problem as the Yankees biggest offensive issue. In fact, until the problem gets fixed, the Yankees aren’t going anywhere.
If I were Cashman, I’d play Stanton full time in the outfield, mainly because there's little value to keeping him around as a DH. If he got injured, I’d just slap him on the 60-Day DL and let left handed mashers take over. But what do I know? The truth is though, if Stanton were to get injured shagging a fly ball, you could replace him with a league average DH and maintain the status quo.
Judge is athletically superior to Stanton and Judge is vastly better suited to cover ground and play left field in Yankee stadium, as he ages. Judge would play the position a lot like Brett Gardner did and that moves the needle. There are a lot more balls hit into the expansive real estate in left field and left center field than anywhere else in the Yankee stadium outfield. The Yankees badly wanted to use Judge more in left field, while playing Stanton in right field, but the plan hasn’t been viable as neither player can stay healthy.
Playing Judge in left field would in theory allow the Yankees to accommodate Stanton where he’s best and the team would receive much better overall results. With a regular center fielder in place, this plan works nicely and there’s always the flexibility to play Judge at any outfield position on a given day, or even DH him on occasion to give him partial rest.
What I’ve established today is that there’s no value in using Giancarlo Stanton as a DH. As we can see, there’s also a big difference between what would be best “in theory” and what the reality of the situation is.
There’s been a lot written about how the Yankees need to concede the postseason, cut several players who are on expiring contracts and then promote some of their minor league talent and start getting them some big league reps. The problem with that from the Yankees front office vantage point is of course that anyone who’s nearly ready to contribute still has badly elevated strikeout rates with in some cases, elevated chase rates as well. They may feel that, if exposed to Big League pitching, things wouldn’t go well.
My counter to arguments opposing bringing up some minor leaguers is simple. Does it matter? It’s becoming clear that the 2023 Yankees are a bust. Why not get ahead of the curves (pun intended) and let some of the rookies get a taste of what big league breaking balls look like?
Very clearly, the move to make is to promote Estevan Florial (.297/390/588 , 23 HR & 59 RBI’s with a .414 wOBA and a 146 wRC+) despite his 29.4% K-Rate. The Yankees should bank on his tools and give him a shot, it’s kind of a travesty that Cashman simply squanders him in Triple-A. His way above average 13.5% walk rate shows he’s making progress and taking his walks, so there’s a likelihood that even though he’d strike out even worse against MLB pitching, he’d do some damage when he does connect. He deserves a chance.
Another good move would be to also promote Everson Pereira (.324/.372/.559, 16 HR & 61 RBI’s with a .400 wOBA and a 127 wRC+)
and work him into the mix as well. Granted he does have a 26.4% K-Rate himself with only a 4.1 Walk-Rate, there’s a lot to like with what he’d been able to do this season across two levels.
Nothing can be done about the plethora of free agents that went unsigned by Cashman over the past several years who were good fits for the Yankees and same can be said about the players he failed to trade for. Presently the Yankees are mixing in Greg Allen, Billy McKinney, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, Jake Bauers and Oswaldo Cabrera to supplement Aaron Judge and Harrison Bader. It wouldn’t be too hard to move on from several of these players and the fact that Cashman hasn’t done this is further testament to his blatant incompetence.
Still, where Cashman went the most wrong of all was in his simple decision to trade for Giancarlo Stanton and now that decision is truly coming to the surface more than ever before - to the point where a former Stanton supporter like me even has to eat some crow.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. For the month of August, Stanton has put up a .242/ .306/ .636 slash line with 4 HR, 9RBI and a .942 OPS while playing the outfield 50% of the time, so there is hope that he could continue this for the remainder of what is looking like a lost season, with only 47 games left.
Rather than lament Cashman’s many mistakes of the past, the Yankees badly need to start developing prospects. They desperately need some traction in this area and the payroll relief alone might help them. The outfield has been a constant canker sore under Cashman’s leadership. It’s time to change that narrative.
The same can be said of the infield, but we’ll save that conversation for the comments section today! Hopefully, Cashman will put a sincere focus on balancing the Yankees lineup so it’s not a liability going forward. If Jasson Dominguez ever makes it to the big leagues, his ability to switch-hit might pair very nicely with Florial and Pereira, not to mention Judge and Stanton.