By George King
Hire them. Empower them. Don’t suffocate them.
That is Brian Cashman’s way of handling his staff. It’s a way that’s paid off.
The Yankees outperformed expectations by winning 91 games. They took the Red Sox to the final weekend in the AL East and went to Game Seven of the ALCS before falling to the eventual world champion Astros. Their eight prospect-packed domestic clubs produced a winning percentage of .602, the best in the sport.
In each case moves made by Cashman played a big part, which is why Cashman is Baseball America’s 2017 Major League Executive of the Year.
Before Cashman acquired Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier and Dillon Tate in July 2016 the talent in the Yankees’ system was already easy to spot. Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez transitioned from high-end prospects at the start of 2016 to very productive big league players in 2017.
So in 2017, the Yankees flipped the script. As contenders, they used that farm system to acquire Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson from the White Sox and Sonny Gray from the A’s. The price was steep, but the payoff was significant.
“It was difficult giving up 10 prospects but there were certain guys we were not going to give up at all. They were no go,” said managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. “Sonny Gray will be great and we keep Sonny, it’s not like we got him for two or three months. The White Sox deal was good. Both deals were well thought out.”
The development of players like Jordan Montgomery, Miguel Andujar, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade, Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, Albert Abreu, Torres, Sheffield and Clint Frazier provided depth to cover for those lost in trades.
Talk to the people who work for Cashman and those above him and there is common thread connecting them: They aren’t suffocated by him.
“Cash is very deliberative. He seeks consensus and is inclusive in his information gathering,” team president Randy Levine said. “He is not defensive when his opinions are challenged but strong enough to go with his gut in making tough calls.”
Cashman says his job is far too big for one person to handle.
”Baseball operations is an extremely large operation. There is no way you can effectively micromanage domestic amateur, international, professional scouting (and) player development. Most important is selecting the right personnel and empowering them to do their jobs,” he said. “I do believe I am one of the easiest general managers to work for because I do believe 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 have connected in what currently has become a productive picture of effectiveness and success in the present. It’s our challenge to make that picture bright and shiny.”
Tim Naehring, the Yankees vice president of baseball operations, has been with Cashman for a decade.
“He has done a very good job of leading by example, taking a step back and letting us do our job. He respects a lot of people’s opinions and he always has a platform for a variety of people,” Naehring said.
There was a time when being young and a Yankee meant being dealt because the path to the big leagues was blocked. That, according to Naehring, has changed.
“For years the players worked in the minor leagues thinking, ‘If I play well I might get traded because I am blocked.’ Cash has changed that culture to the point now where young players not only develop as Yankees but have the goal of playing at Yankee Stadium and helping a championship club,” Naehring said.
Damon Oppenheimer has been with the Yankees for 25 years, the last 15 as VP of domestic amateur scouting and appreciates the respect Cashman has for those under him.
“He doesn’t micromanage. It’s ‘Show me the process and get results.’ When he lets you do your job it makes it comfortable,” Oppenheimer said. “You still have heavy requirements but you don’t feel like you are working for a taskmaster who is just beating the hell out of you all the time.”
Jean Afterman has been Cashman’s assistant GM for 16 years. She also knew him as an adversary when she represented players.
“Brian’s remarkable qualities are the same, regardless of which side of the table you sit on. He is smart, forthright, straightforward and honest. He has integrity and an unwavering commitment to the New York Yankees. That he has managed to keep all of these qualities consistent in the roller coaster fire-ride that is New York is an achievement in and of itself,” Afterman said. “In addition to his loyalty to the Yankees, he is incredibly loyal to those who work for him. He is humble, and always gives credit to those around him.”
Now, the credit belongs to Cashman.