The Yankees had held only one season-ending press conference this early in October under general manager Brian Cashman until Tuesday.
A year ago, the Yankees were closing in on their 11th AL East title under Cashman. Two years ago they were preparing for an ALDS matchup with the Tigers. Three years ago they were concluding a 97-win season. And four years ago they were three games away from starting a run to their 27th championship.
The blame is being thrown around by Yankee fans for this messy and injury-plagued season that saw the lack of depth exposed, but Cashman was brief and direct when asked who should take the primary responsibility for the team’s failure to make the playoffs.
“Me, it’s my responsibility,” Cashman said.
The Yankees went through a record-setting 56 players this year and Cashman indicated that the number would have been higher if certain waiver claims of unnamed players went through. By the end of the season, injuries and defections had shrunk the Yankee roster to six active position players from last year’s postseason.
Though he blamed himself and expressed disappointment during the 50-minute session inside an empty Yankee Stadium, Cashman did not fault the effort of himself or ownership.
“We fell short,” he said. “But their intent was to find some way to get us in, regardless of what had happened. That’s what we try to do. But obviously, we fell short on it. But the only confident thing I can tell you is when the last name is Steinbrenner, the effort’s going to be there in terms of making a full push for having the best team on the field you can possibly have.”
The best possible team the Yankees can field might or might not involve the $189 million threshold for payroll. In the past, the team has mentioned wanting to get below that threshold by 2014 to avoid the luxury tax. The Yankees have been over $200 million for the last six seasons, and have exceeded $189 million for the last nine seasons but presently have $87.4 million in payroll commitments for 2014.
Cashman frequently described the $189 million figure as more of “a goal and not a mandate,” but that could be challenging since the team wants to re-sign second baseman Robinson Cano. The actual value for a long-term Cano contract is presently unknown but reports have surfaced saying he might ask for over $300 million, while the Yankees might only be willing to use $160-180 million on the All-Star second baseman.
“We’d love to have Robbie back,” Cashman said. “There’s not much more for me to say about that. But our intention is to have him back — if we can. He will receive, or has received, a significant offer to stay. So he’ll have something legitimately to ponder. We’ll have to, again, play that one out, as well. See where it takes us.
“He’s been a great Yankee. I think if stays he has a legitimate chance to experience what you just saw a little bit from Mariano. Where maybe he has a chance to be the first Dominican-born player to be in Monument Park. A homegrown Yankee. But at the same time, it’s a business. He has comported himself in a tremendous way, both on and off the field, with the New York Yankees. And we’ve been extremely happy to have him.”
Cashman, however, cautioned about letting the process drag itself out, citing the free agency of Carlos Beltran in 2004. Beltran eventually signed with the Mets after spending a half season with Houston but the seven-year contract was not completed until early-January and Cashman seemed to express a desire to avoid that situation if possible.
“They waited the entire winter, and then when Beltran made the decision and went to the Mets, there was nothing left on the board,” Cashman said. “That’s a problem you don’t want to be into. I think [Beltran] didn’t make his decision until, off the top of my head, January. They put all eggs in that little basket, and then it wasn’t there for them in the end, and it affected their winter and their catch-up after that.
“Those things are things you have to deal with. Those are the pressure points you work through, and you rely on the experience. I think being in this chair as long as I have, I’ve got a lot of those types of experiences to rely on as I make my decisions of what we should or shouldn’t do and share those accounts. We’ve been there, done that and we’re not afraid of it, but at the same time, it’s our job to look at retaining Robinson Cano, but I’ll obviously look at whatever the alternatives have to be in the event that’s not possible. But our hope is to retain him.”
The process of determining what the roster looks like on April 1 will begin next week. Cashman will sit down with the pro scouting department and listen to recommendations and suggestions about available players or about those who might become available.
Among the areas of need is starting pitcher.
Besides Andy Pettitte’s retirement, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes are free agents. Ivan Nova pitched well in a short time frame but has never done so from April through September. CC Sabathia is recovering from a hamstring injury and learning to pitch more games that require him to grind it out as opposed to dominating with a 95-mph fastball.
The left side of the infield also is a question.
The is uncertainty involving Alex Rodriguez who started his hearing to appeal a 211-game ban for performance-enhancing drug use. Also, Derek Jeter will turn 40 next June and four different stints on the DL after he had surgery on his broken left ankle limited him to 17 games in 2013.
Besides Jeter and Rodriguez the Yankees employed 11 players who appeared on that side of the infield — David Adams, Reid Brignac, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Brent Lillibridge, Chris Nelson, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Mark Reynolds, Brendan Ryan, Kevin Youkilis.
The group combined for 1,189 at-bats but combined for a .201 average. Cashman said he wants the combination of power and on-base ability at that position, even in a backup role, which is something more likely to be unearthed when teams start non-tendering players in December.
“We’ve got a lot of problems that we need to attack,” Cashman said. “I think the starting rotation is an area that is one we need to look at. There’s questions on the left side of the infield. Three of the four spots in the infield, really, because of the free agency of Cano. We’ll see.”
Cashman making the rounds to keep Girardi
Cashman said he had coffee with manager Joe Girardi Monday and that he planned on dining with his agent Steve Mandell on Wednesday to talk about re-signing.
The obvious destination besides the Yankees for Girardi is the Cubs. Not only did Girardi play there and is from that area, but they have an opening after firing manager Dale Sveum Monday.
“We’re going to give him a real good reason to stay. And he’s earned that through his six years with us so far.
The last time Girardi’s contract expired — after the 2010 season — the Yankees quickly re-signed him to a deal that reportedly paid him $3 million per season.
Cashman declined to say if he would allow the Cubs to talk to Girardi, who technically is still under contract until Oct. 31. Girardi has publicly stated he would like talks to end quickly and based on Cashman’s comments, it seems that the deal could be more lucrative than the last contract.
“He’s been a world-champion player for us, a coach, a broadcaster and, obviously, a world-champion manager. So we’ve benefited from having him. And we’d like to do that going forward. But we’ll have to stay tuned to see how it plays out.”
While mentioning his desire to keep Girardi, Cashman also said that he wants to retain the entire coaching staff. The Yankees have not had a coaching change since Larry Rothchild replaced pitching coach Dave Eiland following the 2010 season.
Cashman a realist on Sabathia’s velocity
The days of Sabathia averaging 95 miles per hour on his fastball seem to be gone as the left-hander has logged 1,116 of his career 2,775 1/3 innings with the Yankees.
Cashman presented a realistic picture of a pitcher he has spent $110 million on so far and the fact that fastballs in the high 90s aren’t likely to be coming from Sabathia’s left hand next year either.
Sabathia started off slowly in terms of velocity as his first fastball of the season was clocked at 88 mph. In 211 innings, Sabathia averaged a career-low 91.1 mph on his fastball and since joining the Yankees, his average fastball has been the following: 94.2 mph, 93.5 mph, 93.8 mph, 92.8 mph and 91.1 mph.
“I don’t expect [an increase] based on the year he just had velocity-wise,” Cashman said. “If that didn’t come back this year, I don’t know why it would start to come back next year. So I’m going to assume that he’s going to be pitching at the current velocity that he kind of settled into this year toward the second half.”
As a result of that, Sabathia was 14-13 with a 4.97 ERA, which easily was his worst season in those statistical areas. And even worse was that he will be recovering from a Grade 2 hamstring injury suffered in his last start Sept. 20 against San Francisco.
Sabathia’s strikeout per nine innings rate was 7.5. That was his lowest rate as a Yankee and his 175 strikeouts were 21 below his career average.
He also was done in by allowing 28 home runs, exceeding his previous career-high of 22 from last season.
Cashman talks player development
One of the reasons the Yankees made so many minor transactions involving veteran players was a lack of major league-ready depth in the farm system. The Yankees have recently traded prospects Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero and Zach McAllister and the minor league depth is just reaching Double-A now. Others, such as Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, have trended backward since their initial hype.
A re-evaluation of the player development process has been discussed internally and Cashman said he started going through the process of evaluating those decisions two months ago.
In 2012, the Yankees used their top pick on high school pitcher Ty Hensley but he has pitched in only five games due to injury. From that draft class, no player has seen significant time above Single-A.
In 2011, the Yankees used their top pick on Dante Bichette Jr., who batted .214 in Single-A with Charleston this year. From that class, two players have seen significant time with Triple-A.
In 2010, the Yankees used their top pick on high school shortstop Cito Culver. Culver has yet to get above Single-A ball, though he might have shown something batting .355 in 16 games with Single-A Tampa. From that class, reliever Preston Claiborne has reached the majors and 11 others have reached Double-A
“You try to determine what is accurate and true, and what is actually not as accurate, and more perception,” Cashman said. “First and foremost, we’re going through that process. But, yeah, we haven’t had as fruitful results from the draft recently as we’d hoped and anticipated.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.