The issue surrounding the latest player on whom the New York Yankees “just missed” isn’t about the player himself. By most accounts, Yoan Moncada is a superior talent. He’s very young and needs seasoning, but he’s an asset. A big one. Only time will tell whether or not he was worth the money that he received or if he’ll be another foreign bust.
None of that matters.
We can ignore that the “just missed” narrative was previously relegated to the team across town. We can also ignore that it’s their hated rivals the Boston Red Sox that were the ones that did sign him. As far as we know, there was no chair breaking from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman similar to the oft-told and categorically denied story regarding then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s reaction when the Yankees signed Jose Contreras in 2002. The Yankees, through intent or circumstance, have laid the foundation for sufficient ambiguity to shift blame and insert a believable tale to explain away why their spending is so low; why they’re hoarding draft picks and accepting their 2015 fate in a way that never would have happened if…wait for it…George Steinbrenner were still alive.
This story isn’t about Moncada and whether Cashman desperately wanted to sign him as some are saying. It’s not about the money that the GM supposedly asked for from Hal Steinbrenner to sign Moncada and was rebuffed. It’s about where the organization is headed and why.
While Moncada is secondary, the symbolism of the Yankees passing on Moncada in their ongoing winter of austerity can’t be ignored. When was the last time the Yankees didn’t get a player they wanted because of money? When was the last time they were predicted to be, at best, a .500 team? And when was the last time that was accepted by the front office without doing something, anything to avoid it?
The Steinbrenner offspring have every right to draw a line in the financial sand that never existed under their intense, win-at-all-costs dad. George Steinbrenner equated winning and losing with greater urgency than he did breathing. That dedication and seriousness doesn’t appear to be present with Hal Steinbrenner – the family front man. Part of George Steinbrenner’s reason for wanting to win was his massive ego. Part of it was ingrained. The sons don’t have that passion. They’re going through the motions and after the 2013-2014 spending spree that obliterated the $189 million plan they’d been preparing for for several years yielded a more expensive version of a worse team, the vault has been shut.
Prognosticators, observers, the media, baseball people and especially Yankees fans spent the 2014-2015 winter waiting for the inevitable financial strike in which the Yankees would sign Max Scherzer or James Shields; trade for Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and/or Cliff Lee; do something notable and headline worthy. It never came. As one player after another came off the board, the truth hit that they really did intend to stop the endless spending that had been a hallmark of the Yankees for the entire time the Steinbrenner family has owned the team. Now it’s another player – Moncada – that they wanted and the financial concerns prevented them from getting.
Looking toward the future with references to a package of minor leaguers expected to be the next “core” group willfully ignores the fact that the last core group took several years of bad baseball to accumulate and develop. The Yankees from 1996 onward were built in 1989 to 1992 – four years in which the big league club was one of the worst in baseball. They were rebuilt by Gene Michael, who was known to have a talent for recognizing players not through complicated algorithms and formulas, but by his experience.
Ironically, it’s not the Steinbrenner children who are influenced by their father’s looming shadow, but his pseudo-son, Cashman, who is trying to escape it and prove himself in a manner that was impossible while George Steinbrenner was alive. The kids have their own interests. While they’ve tried to adhere to the principles of what their father built, there’s a missing component in that they avoid the spotlight and don’t want to overspend. Considering the realities of the game today, how baseball has taken steps to allow every team to have an equal chance to win, and that the Yankees’ spending has failed to help them achieve their championship goals in every year since 2000 save one, they’re not wrong in saying enough.
That word – enough – should also have extended to their general manager and that’s the case for both sides.
Cashman’s attitude is one that should concern fans far more than the debate as to his competence in assessing players who are not already established stars when they’re purchased. His statements sound world-weary, tired, bitter and angry. His monotonous, self-shielding autopilot of catchphrases and corporate inanities are hollow and dull. There’s an absence of enthusiasm and energy for the job while making a blatant attempt to shun the responsibility while seeking credit. He’s jaded at the perception of him. He’s jealous of the credit other GMs like Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman get for building their teams while he’s seen as nothing more than a creature of the financial might of his employer.
He wants the credit, but pursues it without the known background to run his team in the same manner those who operated under budgetary constraints do. He’s doing it with a multitude of excuses leaked out that his hands are tied; that the former mandate of championship or bust every year led to them having this bloated payroll of ancient, declining stars; that it will take years to get back into a contending position and none of it is his fault.
The laments that they would’ve drafted Mike Trout had he fallen to them and did draft Gerrit Cole are meant to simultaneously assuage implications that the GM doesn’t know how to assess talent and provide a backdrop of “don’t blame me.” The leak that he wanted to sign Moncada and couldn’t because of Hal Steinbrenner turning down his request was strategic and self-serving. Nothing is his fault.
If the Yankees were going down this road, they should have fired Cashman. If Cashman doesn’t have the deep-rooted fire to rebuild correctly and is simply seeking personal fulfillment, then parting ways would also have been better for him.
The team is a dysfunctional mess in a way that was never evident in the years of George Steinbrenner’s dictatorial reign. At least then, there was an amount of care. Now there’s not. Now there’s factions with their own agendas. It’s not about Moncada. It goes deeper than that and it makes the future look worse than even the most realistic and pessimistic of Yankees fans, followers and media members can possibly foresee.