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A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News


Pinch hitting: The Yankees’ Republic

Posted by: Peter Abraham - Posted in Misc on Jan 11, 2008 Print This Post Print This Post | Email This Post Email This Post

blog-photo0.jpgJanuary is usually a slow month for baseball news. So we’ve lined up a series of guest bloggers to entertain you. Next up is Matt from The Yankees’ Republic

Matt is a writer and lawyer in New York City but hopes to earn enough money at the former one day to forego the latter. Meanwhile, he dreams of some media outlet rescuing him from the tedium of practicing law. His blog, The Yankees’ Republic, endeavors to contribute baseball commentary with a literary flavor and polemical bent to cyberspace’s “Republic of Letters.”

Here’s his post:

February 4 will mark the 10th year of Brian Cashman’s tenure as the Yankees’ titular general manager, the longest period anyone has held the position in the Steinbrenner era, in itself an accomplishment. With celebration, however, anniversaries also invite reassessment. Accordingly, the milestone begs an appraisal of Cashman’s record.

A record, I judge, in sum, an equivocal one: far less prodigious than the genius nomaas.org, for example, regularly credits him with; but far more able and momentous than the incompetence Mike Pagliarulo’s crude tract smeared him with last year.

No place is this checkered ledger more evident than the Yankees’ major league roster. Where a history of shrewd position-player acquisitions have secured and fortified the dynastic foundation Cashman inherited, while a disastrous succession of inept, aged, and frail pitchers have squandered and undermined it. Compare Justice, Ventura, Olerud, Matsui, A-Rod, Damon, and Abreu, on one side, with Weaver, Karsay, Brown, Vasquez, Contreras, Wright, Pavano, Farnsworth, and Igawa, on the other. Sure, Tampa accounted for a few of these moves. Also, looms the occasional exception. Nonetheless, the overall pattern speaks for itself: éclat with position-players, folly on pitchers.

Now, in Cashman’s defense, a neglected, depleted farm system and a bare free-agent pitcher market often confined his options to overpriced starters and regressing veterans. And to his credit, he recognized the handicap. More impressively, once granted full authority in 2005, he remedied it with dispatch. In just three years, his infusion of premiere, minor-league pitching talent raised the Yankees organizational ranking from 27th in 2004 to fifth in 2007 in Baseball America’s annual survey.

Yet how Cashman accomplished this transformation will leave perhaps a more enduring legacy on the franchise than will even the players themselves. He streamlined the management structure. Next, he dismissed scouts, hired new cross-checkers, and re-invested money and manpower in the amateur draft. And finally, he expanded the use of quantitative analysis to vet prospects, to identify unsung talent, and to preempt subjective, scouting reports, plagued by human bias, with empirically verifiable data. Enter Moneyball; Exit Prodigal George.

Some of Cashman’s recent comments, however, raise worrisome questions. Has the GM succumbed to the very irrational bias he embraced sabermetrics to curb and proceeded to overvalue Hughes, among others? When he foiled the Santana deal, Cashman told one reporter he’d become ‘attached to” his “young talent”. Economists would call a GM’s susceptibility to overestimating his prospects “endowment bias” – peoples’ tendency to demand more to sell what we possess than what we’d pay to buy it.

Why, for example, do the Yankees alone seem to project Hughes a bonafide ace? Also, how does a rotation of three unproven rookie starters, with two limited to about 150 innings, contend for a championship in ’08? And how many more productive seasons does the Yankees aging lineup really have? How often, finally, is an ace in his prime, like Santana, ever even available?

I wish I could say, given Cashman’s history on pitchers, I trusted his judgment. But on the fate of Santana and Hughes both will hinge the final reckoning.

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