BY BOB KLAPISCH
IT SEEMED LIKE A LIFETIME AGO when the Yankees were bound by an outdated business model, collecting past-their-prime free agents in their 30s, on their way to statistical irrelevance. After winning a world championship in 2009, the Bronx Bombers began a slow, insidious decline, failing to make the playoffs between 2013-2016.
But one man turned the franchise around: General Manager Brian Cashman, whose Yankees are not only younger and more athletic on the field, but have become more financially disciplined, too. Rivals say the Bombers are poised for another dynasty.
The Yankees have evolved so quickly, in fact, they beat projections by two years in 2017, finishing just one victory short of the World Series. For his vision and corporate excellence, Cashman was named Executive of the Year in 2017 by Baseball America.
More significantly, Cashman was awarded a five-year, $25 million contract extension by the Steinbrenner family, which owns the Yankees. Cashman, age 50, is celebrating his 20-year anniversary in the GM’s chair, having ascended to the job after predecessor Bob Watson abruptly quit due to health concerns.
Cashman is now regarded as one of the industry’s most powerful executives, boldly firing manager Joe Girardi last winter and replacing him with Aaron Boone, a former player and television broadcaster who had no prior experience.
Here are Cashman’s thoughts on leadership, risk-taking and the prospects of another championship season in the Bronx in 2018.
Managing a Winning Team. “I surround myself with people who are smarter than me. I want their input. I want their opinions. I want to be able to learn from them. Running a baseball team is no different than running a corporation. The most important thing is selecting the right personnel and empowering them to do their jobs.”
Being GM of the New York Yankees. “I’m one of the easiest GMs to work for because we have a tremendous process in place that I learned from a lot of great people over time. We empower our personnel to do their job within the guidelines and be as effective as they possibly can be. All the departments are connected. I believe in the process instead of me looking over people’s shoulders and telling them what to do.”
Dealing with Pressure and Expectations. “It comes with the territory; it’s something you have to accept when you work here. I’ve always tried to answer questions honestly, make myself accountable and not take criticism personally. If you do, then you’re in the wrong market.”
Hiring Aaron Boone as Yankees Manager. “We’re evolving into a younger, more progressive franchise, and I thought it was time for someone who had better connectivity with our younger players. I’m grateful for the work Joe Girardi did for us, but we’re not the same top-heavy team with mostly older players. We needed someone who was better equipped to keep the channels open with the kids. I wasn’t seeing that, so it was my recommendation to ownership that we go in a different direction.”
Weighing Boone’s Lack of Prior Experience as a Manager. “Aaron brings a lot to the table. He’s well-rounded, intelligent, a good communicator, gets along with everybody. He has a great way about him. He played the game (from 1997-2009) so he understands it from the players’ perspective, but he understands the media as well (broadcasting for ESPN). Aaron is a hard worker and I believed he was ready for this job.”
Making Winning Decisions. “The toughest part of my job is acquiring talent. That’s the most vital aspect of a franchise’s success—putting the best possible players on the field, so your manager can succeed. I had to make tough decisions last year whether to trade for Sonny Gray (from Oakland) and Didi Gregorius (in 2014 from Arizona.) Those are just two examples. If you make the wrong decisions, it won’t matter who your manager is.”
Dealing with the Marlins for National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. “It wasn’t our intention to trade for Stanton, but the situation presented itself and we decided to go for it. It’s an exciting team that a lot of people will be paying attention to.”
Turning Around the Yankees’ Business Plan. “It became obvious from what other teams were doing—shifting towards younger players under contract control, de-emphasizing older players with bigger contracts—that we needed a change. The return on the investment just wasn’t there. Unlike other teams, though, the Yankees couldn’t have a fire sale and rebuild from scratch. We had to point the ship in a different direction while remaining competitive.”
Winning the GM Job with the New York Yankees. “I never aspired to be a general manager; it was never on my radar. When I was the assistant GM in 1998, GMs were typically former players or scouts—Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, Pat Gillick. So. when Bob (Watson) sat down in my office and said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ I spent 30 minutes trying to change his mind. Finally, Bob said, ‘Look, I think George is going to offer you the job.’”
Deciding to Lead the Steinbrenner Family Business. “I realized I was being presented with the opportunity of a lifetime. George called and asked, ‘Did Bob talk to you?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Can you meet me at the Regency Hotel?’ I went down there and the first thing he said was, ‘There are plenty of (candidates) who I could’ve recycled for this job, but a lot of folks say you’re the right person.’ I was smart enough not to turn George down.”