Yankees general manager Brian Cashman watched the Red Sox rebuild and was impressed with Ben Cherington’s work, just as he had been impressed with Theo Epstein transforming the Red Sox through analytics before the 2004 season.
Cherington held on to his prospects amid temptations to trade them for established players. He allowed manager John Farrell to develop the team’s core and was willing to take his lumps with two last-place finishes as the young players went through growing pains.
Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez, and then Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers developed into the new core of the Red Sox, ready to win.
Cashman wanted his Yankees to follow a similar blueprint. He had to sell it to ownership, though, because, as it is in Boston, finishing last is unacceptable.
But the Yankees didn’t finish last. And they are now in the American League Championship Series against the Astros after beating the Indians, arguably the best team in baseball, after being down, two games to none, in the Division Series.
“I tried to take what successful franchises like the Red Sox and Indians did and what Theo and Ben and [Indians president of baseball operations] Chris Antonetti were doing and how they handled their young players with their amateur scouting and drafting and building a farm system. I looked at everything,” said Cashman, who has won five championships.
“We’ve had a situation where the players have stayed healthy. We got a guy like [Aaron] Judge who should have been at the top of the draft but we got him in the later part of the first round. We had two outstanding international signings with [Luis] Severino and [Gary] Sanchez. The people we traded for have all done a great job. We had so many contributions from so many people in our organization.”
Cashman has developed the Yankees’ farm system while shedding veterans such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. The organization is still pretty deep even after Cashman parted with several prospects at the trade deadline this summer.
He recognized that baseball is now bullpen-oriented, and he assembled six outstanding relievers in Adam Warren, Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman.
Cashman was benefitted by CC Sabathia reinventing himself in the final year of his contract.
Cashman added character and power by signing Matt Holliday and he watched shortstop Didi Gregorius become one of the more valuable players in baseball.
Cashman made outstanding deadline deals for Robertson, Kahnle, Todd Frazier, and Sonny Gray.
The Yankees have a good nucleus of young players, with more on the way. Cashman has done what Dave Dombrowski has done — turn prospects into impact major leaguers. He could keep doing that, if he so chooses.
Amazingly, the Steinbrenners let both Cashman and manager Joe Girardi reach the end of their contracts. Both are expected to be retained at big money, and they deserve it.
Girardi was nearly the Yankee goat when he failed to review a play in Game 2 of the ALDS. He owned up to it, admitted it was a mistake. But facing elimination, the Yankees won three straight games against a 102-win squad.
Girardi feels grateful.
“I was telling someone, in 1989 I came up with the Cubs and we made the playoffs, and I thought it was going to happen every year,” he said. “And I was a rookie and I said, ‘Well, this is going to go on forever. This is great.’ You realize how difficult [it is] the next year when you don’t make it.
“And we went through some transition here where we have had an older club and we made some trades to improve the club, the talent level in the minor leagues, and these kids have started to come up and make an impact. I do think the guys appreciate it a lot more because there’s young guys doing it for the first time; there’s a number of guys that came from other clubs that wouldn’t have had this opportunity had they not been traded; and the veteran guys hadn’t been there much lately. So I think that there is a big appreciation and I think they’re enjoying every minute of it.”
Even amid a transition, Girardi thought the Yankees would contend for the AL East title.
“I don’t look at it as beating the odds, because I said from Day 1, when the season started, I thought we could be really, really good and fight for our division. We did that,” he said.
“I got a little depressed when Didi got hurt in the World Baseball Classic, but somebody picked him up. [Ronald] Torreyes picked him up. Sanchez went down and [Austin] Romine picked him up. Guys kept picking each other up and I thought they kept growing and maturing as players.
“We believed, not everyone believed in us, because I don’t think people knew what you were going to get out of an Aaron Judge. I don’t think people know what you would get out of Gary Sanchez or Luis Severino. We believed in our players. They’ve made a difference.”
The Yankees fought for the division title. They made it difficult for the Red Sox in the last week of the season. They were a hot team. They kept winning.
That hot streak has continued into the playoffs. Now they’re playing the Astros, who many consider to be the best team left. But maybe the Yankees are that team.
For that, they can thank the Red Sox. Cashman followed the Sox’ blueprint, but he may have done it better.
SET UP TO SUCCEED
Change to do the Red Sox good
When the Red Sox make a managerial change, it usually leads to good things. In 2004, they hired Terry Francona after they fired Grady Little. In 2013, they hired John Farrell after they fired Bobby Valentine. Both Francona and Farrell won titles in their first seasons.
The hirings of Francona and Farrell were accompanied by roster upgrades. In 2004, the Red Sox added Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, Mark Bellhorn, Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Dave Roberts. In 2013, they added David Ross, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Jake Peavy, and Mike Carp.
The Red Sox didn’t add much when Valentine took over. Cody Ross was the only newcomer to have a really good season.
The Sox’ next manager will likely have a big bat in the middle of his lineup as Dave Dombrowski looks to help the struggling offense.
Farrell’s firing was seen as unfair around baseball, but managerial firings are usually not fair in general. We will hear about player discontent and lack of communication, the usual raps on a manager who has been fired.
The question now is, how long will Farrell be unemployed?
The Mets, Tigers, and Phillies have managerial openings and Farrell could emerge in one of those spots. The Mets currently see hitting coach Kevin Long as the front-runner. The Phillies still have their sights on Buck Showalter (if Orioles owner Peter Angelos lets him out of the last year of his contract and receives compensation). The Tigers could go in a number of different directions. Not sure Farrell would want to get into a rebuild there.
The Nationals have yet to decide Dusty Baker’s fate after he bowed out in the Division Series. That could be a good spot for Farrell given their elite pitching staff.
“I don’t think John will be unemployed long,” said one AL executive. “He has a good reputation, has managed a successful program, and is generally regarded highly in the game. He would be someone a non-rebuilding team, like a Washington, would be looking at strongly. It could be that he has to wait a year.”
Which Farrell probably wouldn’t mind doing. After you’ve managed in Boston, you sometimes need that year. It worked well for Francona, who spent a take-a-breath year at ESPN (which he thoroughly enjoyed) after the Red Sox fired him. Farrell could do the same.
Apropos of nothing
1. The Blue Jays laid off more than 20 front office and administrative personnel last Wednesday. Among them were well-respected media relations director Mal Romanin, strength coach Chris Joyner, and longtime assistant trainer Mike Frostad. The Jays had a lot of injuries this year and the front office is seeking solutions to the problem.
2. Red Sox coaches are all wondering what’s next for them. They all have one-year deals remaining. Brian Butterfield could be a keeper for the next manager, given his reputation as a great infield coach. Bench coach Gary DiSarcina has been mentioned in Philadelphia as a possible managerial candidate. Dana LeVangie has the reputation of being an excellent bullpen coach; he could get scooped up by Torey Lovullo in Arizona. Hitting coaches Chili Davis and Victor Rodriguez and pitching coach Carl Willis are also in limbo, as is first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr., who transitioned so well from his GM days.
3. Brad Mills, Terry Francona’s longtime lieutenant, said of the Indians bowing out in the ALDS to the Yankees, “I think Tito took it as hard as I’ve ever seen him take it. I think we were all worn out. The [22-game win] streak was great, but it took its toll. I think we were worn out by it. I think it was that simple. The Yankees played well, no doubt about it. But whenever you lose sooner than you think you should lose, it’s pretty tough. We’re all trying to deal with it right now.” Mills would love to be considered for the Red Sox manager’s job. He has managerial experience (Houston, 2010-12). He was Francona’s bench coach in Boston and he gets the culture.
4. What do the Nationals do from here? They’ve lost in the Division Series in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017. They’re deciding on manager Dusty Baker’s fate and GM Mike Rizzo’s contract is also up. For the team that has everything, what do you do?
5. I always said former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and Giants president of baseball operations Brian Sabean are the two best storytellers in baseball. Colletti has a book out about his baseball life. He has inside stuff on the deal he made for Manny Ramirez with the Red Sox and the deal where he acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto from Boston, among many other stories. The book is titled “The Big Chair” and it’s hard to put down.
6. The Pawtucket Red Sox are getting more support from civic leaders to build a new “Ballpark at Slater Mill” at the site of the old Apex Department Store. PawSox owner Larry Lucchino is giving Pawtucket and the state of Rhode Island every opportunity to stay put. Lucchino is also being tugged at by Worcester and some cities in Connecticut.
Updates on nine
1. Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers — It’s going to be touch and go on whether Martinez will be able to resume his career. He had a heart procedure in mid-September, and while he came out of it well, there’s concern about whether he can endure the rigors of professional baseball anymore. If he retires, the former Red Sox catcher will finish his career with a .298 average, 2,036 hits, an .826 OPS. He’s hit equally well from both sides of the plate, .296 batting righthanded, .304 lefthanded.
2. Alex Cora, bench coach, Astros — It would be an upset if Cora didn’t get one of the four available managing jobs. He will be interviewed by all — the Red Sox, Mets, Tigers, and Phillies. Excellent communication skills, working in a winning program (Astros), and ability to handle media obligations are all in his favor.
3. Jayson Werth, OF, Nationals — His career with Washington is over. He’s the outfielder the Red Sox should have signed prior to the 2011 season instead of Carl Crawford. Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nats and gave them some productive years as well as injury-filled years. But compared with Crawford? There’s no comparison.
4. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, Red Sox — The Red Sox may break up their homegrown outfield if they want to sign J.D. Martinez to play left field and put Andrew Benintendi in center. The Red Sox would be sacrificing some defense, but their need for power is so critical they may have to go that route. Bradley would draw a lot of interest from teams like the Giants, Royals (if they lose Lorenzo Cain in free agency), Phillies, and Braves.
5. Jim Hickey, former Rays pitching coach — Some consider Hickey a possible managerial candidate, shedding the pitching coach typecast that Bud Black and John Farrell have had to overcome. At worst, Hickey will be a great pitching coach for someone. He could wind up in Boston, or the Mets could take a long look.
6. Max Scherzer, RHP, Nationals — Amazing that the pitcher I consider to be the best in the business has lost the last seven postseason games he’s appeared in, dating to Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS with the Tigers. Scherzer started that day and struck out 13 in seven innings, but David Ortiz hit the tying grand slam off Joaquin Benoit and the Red Sox walked it off.
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, free agent — Salty will play winter ball in the Dominican Republic in the hopes of getting signed after he was released by the Blue Jays over the summer. “There’s still a lot of ball left in me. I just have to go play and prove it,” Salty said.
8. Joe McEwing, third base coach, White Sox — McEwing’s name is starting to pop up for managerial openings (Mets, Tigers). We wouldn’t be surprised if the Red Sox interviewed him. He’s well respected in the game, and he ended his playing career with Pawtucket in 2007.
9. Jason Varitek, special assistant, Red Sox — While he won’t get the Sox’ managing job, Varitek may be getting groomed for a coaching role. Stay tuned.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Most Ineffective Strikeout Looking of the Season award goes to Asher Wojciechowski, who took 17 pitches to fan Tommy La Stella on Sept. 30.” . . . Also, “Four pitchers allowed 20-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases: Julio Teheran (31 HR/26 SB), Yu Darvish (27 HR/20 SB), Jason Hammel (26 HR/20 SB), and Mike Pelfrey (25 HR/26 SB) . . . Happy birthday (on Saturday), Boof Bonser (36), Midre Cummings (46), and Frank Duffy (71).