Our next Pinch Hitter, Dan Hanzus, is a Rockland County native and current “Los Angeleno” who has been writing his Yankees blog, River & Sunset,  since 2008. Dan admits that he, “sometimes looks up at the night sky and wonders if Shelley Duncan is gazing at the same star.” My guess is there’s a 50-50 chance.
This is Dan’s third entry to the LoHud Pinch Hitter series. He wrote about Derek Jeter back in 2009 and Donnie Baseball  in 2010. This year he tackled the subject of Brian Cashman’s contract year.
In an offseason during which Cliff Lee dissed him, ownership undercut him, and Andy Pettitte Brett Favred him, Cashman has remained unflappable, disconnected even. Some in his position would’ve developed a facial tick from the stress by now. Cashman? He dresses up like an elf and shimmies down a building. He serves pints of Guinness in a Corey Haim wig. He makes half-hearted contract offers to Carl Pavano just to see if the internet can explode from snark.
It reminds me of Office Space, when the restless and disgruntled Peter Gibbons decides the way to escape the monotony of his droll life is to revolt against the system that shackles him. He accomplishes this by barely showing up for work, defying his superiors, and occasionally gutting a trout in his cubicle. In the movie, Peter’s blunt insubordination is rewarded with a promotion by corporate lunkheads who mistake his disobedience for leadership.
Could Cashman be banking on the same result?
If Cashman is restless, perhaps it’s understandable. The 43-year-old has been the general manager of the Yankees for 13 years. That’s a long time to be a manager at The Gap, let alone a chief cabinet member for the most successful sports franchise in America. With The Boss gone and the organization in a controlled state of flux, Cashman — consciously or not — may be testing the limits of how entrenched he really is.
The job he’s done in that time continues to be a lightning rod of debate in Yankee Universe. Supporters say he’s a smart, hard-working executive who has earned the respect of colleagues around the game. Detractors believe he was simply along for the ride during the dynasty run, a poor talent evaluator, and was directly responsible for the team’s title drought last decade.
Wherever you stand, most will agree that no GM works under the same level of expectations. The Boss may be dead, but the Steinbrenner Doctrine — anything short of a championship is considered failure — lives on. Yes, Cashman is armed with the golden checkbook, but he also has the smallest margin of error. Call it a wash.
Cashman is entering the final year of his contract. During his 2005 renegotiation, Cashman demanded, and received, the power to restructure the baseball operations. He said that the dueling factions in New York and Tampa needed to disappear, and they did. For a five-year stretch Cashman was El Hombre, every bit as vital to the Yankees enterprise as A-Rod, Jeter, or Sabathia.
That’s what made the Rafael Soriano signing such an eye-opener. For the first time since he threatened to walk in ’05, Cashman was publicly undermined on a key personnel decision. If Hal Steinbrenner has decided to take a more active role, is there room for both men atop the food chain?
It all makes for great theater as the 2011 season unfolds. By this time next year, we’ll likely know the true alpha dog when it comes to the construction of the Yankees.
(Cut to Hank in his shadowy lair, cigarette dangling, bourbon in hand, black cat on lap: “That’s what you think.”)
Associated Press photos