Raise The Semantics Banner

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Brian Cashman wants to win the war on semantics.

If you missed yesterday’s presser with Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone or you want to relive the most interesting part of the conference, here is the video of a tense moment between Cashman and WFAN’s Sweeny Murti:

Sweeny Murti nailed this. Ever since the winter of 2015, the Yankees have failed to acquire elite starting pitching. There have been multiple and varied reasons given by Cashman over the years explaining why they didn’t bring in an ace. Up until today, the media didn’t do much to directly challenge these explanations. This is the first time in a long time that it felt like the media put Cashman on the hot seat. Cash did not respond well.

It is pretty revealing that the Yankees’ GM was on the defensive from the mere prefacing of a question. Instead of addressing the process and subsequent results of that process, Cashman consciously decided to attack how the decisions were described. Did you pass on it? Did you entertain it? Did you think really long and hard about it? Did you dream about it? Do any of these descriptions have consequences? Is it really worth having a three-minute back-and-forth detailing failed attempts at acquiring must-have players?

The most important quote from this exchange was Sweeny correctly pointing out that these elite pitchers “are currently not here.” This is the only statement that matters. Over the last four offseasons, the Yankees have established a clear comfort zone when it comes to player acquisition. That comfort zone is obviously tied to a certain level of payroll. The franchise is frustratingly steadfast in living in this payroll range. The problem is you are competing to secure the services of the elite in the profession. There is no such thing as a comfort zone for the best at their profession. You are either going to pay the price or you’re going to sit at a press conference after another playoff loss defending a failed process.

The fact of the matter is Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, David Price, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin are not New York Yankees. You can make the case for some more than others, but all would be significant additions to a rotation lacking in front-end pitchers. The debate of placing the blame more at Hal or Cashman’s feet is also a futile exercise. The New York Yankees did not bring in any of these pitchers. You can argue that they passed or they were outbid. Either description is irrelevant. The team has not succeeded in bringing in elite starting pitching despite having the resources, both financial and player capital wise, to bring one in. There is no semantics argument that can be made to refute that fact.

Brian Cashman is a tremendous general manager. He is a Hall of Fame executive. Cash and his staff have done an incredible job of developing elite position players and supplementing it with talented depth. The Yankees are a true championship contender with sustainability. They also don’t have an ace. There have been opportunities to secure one and the job wasn’t done. It is imperative that the franchise finally brings one in this winter. If they do, we won’t be witness to a silly game of semantics that only highlights the glaring flaw of this talented team.


End of Year Pressers: Hicks needs Tommy John, Voit, Tanaka, rehab process, top-end pitchers


Mailbag: ALCS Fallout, Gary Sánchez, Patrick Corbin, Gerrit Cole


  1. MaryAnn Slater

    AMEN. Definitely need an ACE….need another Andy Pettitte….a great pitcher with a phenomenal attitude towards the game and his teammates.

  2. Wire Fan

    There is nothing worse in the SABR world when something doesn’t go as expected and you get the “good process, bad result” refrain. There is an inherent confirmation bias when you evaluate your own process. Of course you think your own process was good, that’s why you made the decision/analysis in the first place.

    Someone who didn’t perform “the process” needs to evaluate it for objectivity. Of course Cashman thinks the process was good and rationalizes each and every decision. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have made the decisions he made in the first place.

    The other fundamental issue (IMO) -sometimes it is not about winning every trade or FA signing. Sometimes you have to overpay (in $ or prospects) to address a need. It is nice to “win” every transaction, but ultimately it is not simply stockpiling talent, it is about making the pieces fit.

    There is no better example than Preller – he is bringing in a bunch of talent but doesn’t seem to worry about the fit. I think Friedman is also at times guilty of this – no one wants to overpay for a reliever, but how does he not address that issue year after year? Instead it is “look at all the starting pitcher depth, we’ll just use those guys in the pen in October”. And he trusts his process which seems to be “the bullpen is fungible and we’ll just piece it together each year come postseason time”.

  3. RetroRob

    Excellent take, Randy.

    I generally like Cashman’s interviews because he usually is fairly straightforward, although in a dry, sarcastic form. I can understand Cash-speak. That’s why I was generally surprised by his annoyance with Sweeny’s question. It was a good question. It’s one fan’s want to know the answer to. He could have simply said we had an interest in all those pitchers, we put a price (either money or in prospects) on those pitchers, and we weren’t willing to meet that price because it would have hurt us elsewhere. We will continue to look at adding elite pitching and eventually we will. It would have less defensive. That fact he snapped means it’s a sore point. Maybe that’s a good sign as perhaps it indicates a change in approach. You have to get angry first.

    As I wrote above, it’s not that the Yankees missed out on Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, David Price, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin. I can see individually why they fell short at times, and some I even agreed with. It’s the collective miss. They should have added an ace out of the group to maximize their win-now period. It’s not too late. Not at all. They can do that this winter. Do it.

  4. ruralbob

    I hope everyone is submitting their resumes to the Yankees front office so they can demonstrate how much better a job they’d do.

    • Randy

      Wait. You didn’t know that the entire intent of this blog is to overthrow the evil Steinbrenner regime and institute a plan based off all our posts and the comments? I thought everyone knew that.

  5. Joe

    I’m annoyed about the ~budget~ too, but people have really been going overboard on their criticism of Cashman in some of these moves. (I say this as someone who wants Cole more than any free agent ever in the time I’ve been a hardcore Yankee fan, so if they don’t get him I still reserve my right to get Mad Online).

    Look back at all the trade rumors, you remember who Pitt really kept pushing for for Cole? Gleybar. Anyone want to speak up and say they’re mad Cashman didn’t outbid the Astros with that? Thought so. Plus, look at Cole’s stats the last few years. He’s what Mike, who we all love, had to say at the time “On the other hand, Cole has gone backwards the last two years. He had a 4.26 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 203 innings this season, which is as close to league average as it gets. League average is fine! A league average workhorse is quite valuable. I just worry about trading an ace package for a guy who hasn’t been an ace in two years.” Cole’s value then was not nearly what he’s made it since, and the Yankee’s other pieces don’t look as rosy now as they did back then. But this is pure hindsight 2nd guessing.

    Verlander was a pass, but that’s ownership’s fault. Again, Sweeny, fans, you, me, can/should be unhappy about that, but I’m sure Cashman brought it up to ownership and got turned down. He can’t really say in a press conference hey I tried with Hal but he passed not me blame that guy.

    Corbin yeah I’m good with calling that semantics.

    • RetroRob

      There is definitely some significant revisionism going on with Yankee fans with most of these pitchers. When Scherzer came on the market, many fans recognized that the Yankees were going through their own version of a rebuild, and that the team already had a high payroll with players trending down. They were about four years away from being in what I’d call true contention. To their credit, the rebuild went better than expected and they were back in 2017. Yet, no one really thought Scherzer would remain an elite pitcher five years on at age 34. There’s good reason. That rarely happens. The Yankees passed, even if Cashman’s blood pressure rises with that term. Verlander? Verlander at the 2017 deadline was not the pitcher he is now. He was clearly in decline. Cole? Fans were screaming he was mediocre, not worthy of our best prospects. Cashman did make a very competitive offer, but the Pirates picked the players they actually wanted. On, and on. Chris Sale? He would have cost Judge and Gleyber and more. Frankly, I’m quite happy that passed on him, especially now that it looks like he’s on the downside in fairly rapid order.

      To me, the issue isn’t with any one of Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, David Price, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin, It’s that they’ve missed on all of them. I’m hoping they correct that this winter with a Corbin or even a Strasburg. There is no waiting. This is win-now. Win.

      • RetroRob

        …”Cole” or even a Strasburg.

      • Randy

        “It’s that they’ve missed on all of them.” That is my point and that is my criticism. You can justify any move or non-move. The only thing that matters is not one of them is on the team. I was very adamant in the moment about the Yankees signing Cole and I was just as adamant about them getting Scherzer. I am very straightforward about this. I don’t care what the reasons are anymore. They have a hole. Go fill it this winter with an elite option.

        • RetroRob

          Yes. We’re in agreement. I posted a separate note on that very point. It may not have been clear from my response to Joe. It’s not any one miss. It’s the collective miss to date.

        • Joe

          That’s fair, and I agree with that. My point is that although I like Sweeny pressing the issue I don’t take issue with Cash taking issue. He can’t exactly go out there and trash his boss, so all he can say is the ‘we stuck to where we were comfortable’ thing that’s been hashed out many times.

          Then again, I’m one of the (seemingly few) people who’s optimistic they’ll go harder for Cole, because it just makes too much sense not to compared to the guys last year, so maybe my blood will be boiling with everyone else in a few months.

          • Randy

            I think Cash took issue with the wrong thing. That wasn’t even the question Sweeny was asking. There wasn’t an indictment of what the team has done. I don’t think he needs to trash his boss either. It just seemed like an unnecessary defensiveness that opened him up to criticism.

            I also believe they will be aggressive with Cole.

  6. Scully

    Cashman is the public face of the front office. We’re ripping him because he’s being put in an awkward position where he has to publicly defend the process that (while he has a huge part in) is ultimately decided by the ownership group. Cashman’s name isn’t on any of the checks.

    Fiscal responsibility is definitely very important in any business… was it clear at the time that the Yankees needed another front end starter (every time that one of these other guys was in play)… yes it was…. Instead of Verlander the Yankees traded for Sonny Gray. There were warning signs for both guys at the time and it’s hard to argue that Gray’s upside was anything less than a #1 or #2 starter. This past offseason when they lost out/got outbid for Patrick Corbin, J.A. Happ was resigned (a mediocre move at the time that looks a lot worse now) and James Paxton was traded for (a good trade at the time that looks good now)… so it’s not as though Cashman hasn’t tried to do ANYTHING to improve the starting rotation. He has… and gone are the days of signing an injury riddled Jaret Wright, or a suddenly way passed his peak and 40 Randy Johnson.

    I’m not upset with Brian Cashman. He’s ultimately just doing his job to the best of his ability given the framework he has to operate within… and he’s shrewd and done his job well. Should the Yankees outspend every other team? Yes… they should because they can. Will they? No.

    • Randy

      I don’t see where I ripped him. I was even complimentary of him and his work. And as I said in the article, it doesn’t really matter if the main culprits are Hal or Cashman. We’re looking at results and outcomes. They have not acquired that guy. There is a LONG list of guys they have not brought in. Some were very obviously going to be very good. So all of this talk of he’s done well or he hasn’t done well is irrelevant at this stage. They keep running into the same issue every postseason. They have a huge hole. There are great options to fill it. Go and do it.

  7. Great headline Randy.

    Murti showed intellect, professionalism and guts yesterday, Where were his colleagues?

    Profits, Process, Pinstripes…your 2020 New York Yankees.

  8. Bill Toncic Jr

    Great article & Sweeney said things all of us have felt for years. Sweeney was our voice yesterday & we all saw how Cashman responded! I have very little hope that the Yankees will sign Cole this off-season as we’ve seen that the new policy of fiscal conservatism is Hal’s mantra. Remember,a few years back when he said he believed the Yankees could win & stay under the luxury tax? Well,they’re winning but not winning! My take & it could be totally wrong,is that Hal wants a competitive team every year & if they win the World Series,that’s a bonus,as long as the Yankee brand continues to be out there & the team continues to turn a large profit,Hal is happy. Winning the World Series doesn’t hold the same importance for him that it did his Dad! Now,I hope I’m totally off base & Hal decides to spend,spend,spend this off season. But,I wouldn’t bet on it!

  9. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    The semantics are this, Randy. Cashman is the first Yankee GM not to take his club to a WS in a decade. And he’s only won one in the past two decades. Sox fired their GM after one season of not winning. We leave ours in place after twenty. And the ’09 title was built on the backs of what Gene and George did in the late 90’s because that core was still in place.

    But what was the lesson of ’09 that put us over the top in October? Actually going out and signing an ace starter and they also signed a #2 that offseason. Having more .300 hitters like Hideki and Johnny and less guys who strike out 50 times a game. There was no soft spot in that ’09 lineup. This year’s lineup had 3 guys who could consistently hit and get on base and 6 who struck out 5 times a game.

    Not getting a Cliff Lee, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin cost us at least 3 WS in the past decade and probably many more. Look at the Nationals. They have 4 horses in their starting rotation who can pitch no hitters into the 7th inning. We don’t even have a starter who can go 7 innings. Verlander went 7 innings in a loss against us saving his bullpen for Game 6.

  10. Doug Hudgins

    Kudos to Sweeny – Cashman obviously prefers softball questions and plaudits. He was defensive if not downright surly when Sweeny asked some hard questions. Hope he gets more in future.

  11. The Original Drew

    Cashman prefers the term “Allowing to be overbid despite obvious team needs”

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