Full Autonomy

Hot Stove

No one has it.

At least not in the “full” sense; not in the context of doing whatever they want without interference or subtle nudging from the owners and bosses.

Brian Cashman is the general manager of the New York Yankees. It’s a great job with lots of money available; accolades; respect (fleeing though it is); and cachet.

He also has bosses. The bosses he has now aren’t as difficult as the previous one, but they’re still bosses.

When it was said that Cashman was refusing to consider giving up the compensatory draft pick to sign Rafael Soriano, there were two possibilities: 1) he was saying it so that Soriano and his agent Scott Boras would think that the Yankees were out unless they dropped their asking price to a level that Cashman deemed reasonable—a negotiating tactic; or 2) Cashman didn’t want to consider giving up the Yankees draft pick to sign Soriano.

Yesterday I speculated here and on Twitter that Cashman didn’t want to sign Soriano and was forced to do so. In today’s NY Daily News, that’s exactly what Bill Madden and Roger Rubin wrote—link.

This is nothing new and it can’t be blamed on the late Boss, George Steinbrenner as many things were—especially if they didn’t work.


This was Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. What’s glaring is that the more prominent of the two in baseball operations—Hal—apparently overruled his GM; a GM with whom he seemed to be in lockstep after Hank was pushed into the background after numerous public gaffes of a explosiveness.

It’s a common setting in the Yankees and any club’s operations.

No GM has full autonomy. Even as Cashman demanded and recieved the so-called “final say” in player decisions when he re-signed (especially when George was still around), he’s an employee; he does what his bosses tell him to do regardless of any language in a contract or tacit agreement that such is not the case.

To the contrary, even the most accomplished, respected and lauded GMs (whether they deserve it or not—more on that in a moment) have someone who’s above them in organizational hierarchy. It’s not as if the Yankees are rife with shadowy operators either.

Never mind the bloviating Hank; Hal is involved with the club and has always portrayed an image of quiet confidence and an unsaid, “I’m in charge here” persona. Randy Levine and Lonn Trost didn’t get where they are without being aware of political fiefdoms, positional wiggleroom and backroom machinations to suit themselves.*

*If you check the Yankees front office page on their website, next to the names of Levine and Trost it says, “Esq”; I’ve found that people with the term “Esq.” next to their names tend to like having their voices heard. Also, George is still listed as chairperson; if anyone can run things from beyond the grave, it’s The Boss.

These are smart, cagey people.

Any power-broker could’ve gotten into the ear of one or more of these people and, with a head shake/concerned sigh, let it be known that the Yankees team without Cliff Lee; without a guarantee of Andy Pettitte; with A.J. Burnett and young Phil Hughes behind C.C. Sabathia and question marks abounding that something drastic needed to be done.

The one drastic thing that could be done now was to sign Soriano. As far as we know, no big name pitchers of the Lee stratosphere were available via trade; they tried for Felix Hernandez and were rebuffed; Zack Greinke wasn’t going to work; Matt Garza? The Rays would probably have preferred not to trade him in the division and if they were going to, the cost was going to be significantly higher than what they got from the Cubs—and they got a lot from the Cubs.

The other names who might be on the market once the season starts aren’t going to be on the market until the season starts. The Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter, Chad Billingsley type would be a good fit for the Yankees, but they wanted to do something now.

It’s understandable but telling.

Telling that the GM makes a recommendation to ownership and, for the most part in situations like that of Cashman, ownership signs off on the recommendation without a second thought; in this case, they overruled him as they have every right to do.

The days in which the GM was the boss and final decisionmaker ended with Connie Mack and John McGraw. Charlie Finley, who had a reputation as vindictive, mean, cheap and impossible to work for was actually a very astute and underrated baseball man, excellent judge of talent and brilliant marketer.

Hank is capricious, easily-influenced and short-sighted as his decision to take Alex Rodriguez back after he opted out of his contract after 2007 showed. The Soriano case is different (albeit with the same agent, Boras). Hal appears to have been on-board with the Soriano signing.

So what’s it all mean?

Now we know that the “full autonomy” stuff is only a concept. GMs are given parameters in which to work and, in some cases, allowed to do pretty much whatever they want as long as the bottom line is maintained. Looking at some of the more venerable GMs in baseball and the successful clubs for which they work, you see instances of interference and outright meddling with club operations.

The Marlins have one the best staffs at talent recognition in all of baseball, but Larry Beinfest answers to the difficult and disliked David Samson and petulant owner Jeffrey Loria.

The Dodgers have an aggressive and mostly successful GM Ned Colletti who’s dealing with the Frank and Jamie McCourt circus.

Omar Minaya demanded “full autonomy” when he agreed to return to the Mets in 2004 and it lasted as long as the club was doing well and Minaya’s moves were working; after that came the fiddling from Jeff Wilpon and end around maneuverings from the disloyal and ambitious underlings and organizational gadflies.

John Henry of the Red Sox lets his baseball people do their work, but there have been public rifts between Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein—one which led to Epstein’s tantrum-induced resignation and subsequent return.

And the exalted hero, the handsome prince who rose from the depths of despair from his failed career as an athlete and achieved a fame and fortune as a front office warrior and now as part owner; acquired a status greater than all other mere peon baseball executives before him; one who slew the dragons of the baseball world whose ineptitude and outright stupidity were exploited by his golden touch; whose heroic adventures were recorded on stone tablets and delivered to the masses as a means of expressing thine commandments of running a baseball team, achieved best-selling status and will soon be a movie in which our brave hero will be played by one of the most handsome men in the world; the fable/biblical text/farce of the stat zombie—Moneyball—and its hero therein, Billy Beane, has a boss!!!!

That boss, Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff, was said to have forced Beane to make the criticized trade of Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street among others for Matt Holliday and to sign a shot Jason Giambi as more of a sentimental return to glory than intelligent baseball move; who tried to get his club to run before they could walk and paid for it with lost money and prospects.

It’s normal in the baseball world. To think otherwise is ignorance, romanticized notions and fantasy; the Soriano signing, while not on a level with the A-Rod contract in terms of idiotic interference, is a window into what really goes on with a franchise.

Everybody works for someone and if they want to keep their jobs, sometimes they have to do what they’re told and act like they’re on-board even if they disagree with it.

And take the blame if it doesn’t work.

I’ll answer the mail/comments tomorrow. Also there will be stuff about Joba Chamberlain and his starter/reliever status; some of the player moves of the past week; and other stuff.


3 thoughts on “Full Autonomy

  1. The practice of ownership meddling is prevalent in most professional sports, since sometimes the owners are worried about the course the team is taking, and they feel they have to do something to steer the ship. The (mostly) lack of it is something that I like in the Philadelphia Eagles organization, since their head coach is also their president of football operations, therefore Andy Reid knows exactly what to expect from a player and how he fits in the team. A GM/Manager in baseball would be an interesting concept to explore, and one that will reduce (I think) the meddling of the owners.

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