Yankees GM Brian Cashman joined joined Mike Francesa as part of Francesa’s Breakfast with a Champion series this morning at the Hard Rock and during this breakfast answered many questions from Francesa and others in a very frank, open, and informal way. His answers to questions ranged from what would happen with Jeter if he could no longer play shortstop, why Joba is not a starter, and on Pettitte’s return or retirement. Cashman’s answers have been played over and over again on Twitter and in various media outlets and I am not going to re-hash them here as you can read that elsewhere and this post is really about the reactions to Cashman after in regard to anyone being able to do his job with his checkbook and that he has NEVER had a “good draft” and doesn’t build the farm well. In fact, Cashman himself started to address this on the Michael Kay show afterwards by saying how proud he is to have transformed the Yankees from a checkbook centric team to one that respects the draft and has a great farm system. Of course, what the GM says might not be fact and seen as defending his own legacy so I decided to look into this closer.
First, I am not saying that money doesn’t help, that with the Yankees resources that they are not able to cover up or quickly recover from mistakes unlike other clubs (see Igawa, Kei), or that every signing or every draft pick works out. We only have to look at the off season from 2009 to 2010 and the adjustments that were made during the 2010 season to find perfectly good examples of this (again we could also discuss how the GM plays an important role in fixing issues and making mid-season trades and how the trades that Cashman made/did not make during the season may have affected the final outcome and the future of the team for years to come). I also will give everyone the fact that the Yankees did open the checkbook after the 2008 season to make three major signings (which worked out pretty good) bringing the Yankees a championship in 2009.
Second, I also recognize that there are other factors in building a good team and being a good GM such as making trades (such as trading Wilson Betemit, Jeffrey Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez for Nick Swisher—which Cashman did) or not making trades (such as holding onto Phil Hughes, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, and yes even Joba Chamberlain—which Cashman also has done) and again this whole topic probably deserves yet another post as it would be too vast to discuss along with a draft story. That said I would argue that the trades made and trades not made weigh more heavily on the “great job Cash” side than not.
As for the draft I am going to rate his first round picks three ways. Bust, can’t rate, or a quality first round.
Some would like to say that we should go back to 1998 which is when Cashman became GM of the Yankees to evaluate his draft choices. This would be fair if he had the majority of the influence over the picks immediately but to be honest I doubt that highly so I am going to start my analysis with the 2000 in which I think is reasonable.
Let us first look at the Yankees first round draft picks from 2000 on. There is no doubt that 2000 and 2001 were awful drafts and since the Yankees had no first round pick in 2002 that year cannot be evaluated but in 2003 the Yankees drafted Eric Duncan who in 2005 was named the Yankees highest prospect.
Sure, Eric Duncan did not work out for the Yankees after they tried to convert him from a third baseman (due to the A-Rod deal) to a first baseman but Cashman drafted a quality player. For this group I am rating the Yankees first round picks as two busts and two cannot rate.
This brings us to 2004 and Phil Hughes who in 2009 playoffs was the Yankees bridge to Mariano and in 2010 the Yankees second best starter behind CC. The Yankees also drafted in the first round in 2004 Jonathan Poterson and Jeffrey Marquez. Poterson did not accomplish much but Marquez in 2007 lead the Eastern league in wins, was tied for first for starts, and tied for second in innings pitched. While he had a pedestrian 2008 he was valuable enough that he was included in the Swisher trade. I am rating this draft as a quality first round.
In 2005 the number one draft pick was Carl Henry Jr. While he was certainly not worth the number one pick as a player his value, as many “prospects” are was as a trade chip and was part of the deal that got the Yankees Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. The Yankees apparently still believed in his stuff as they re-signed him to the minors for 2008 but he has now gone back to college to play basketball. Again, a failed first round pick when it came to playing but he surely was valuable as part of a package (and apparently the Yankees were not the only major league team that saw his potential). I am going to give this a bust rating although he got us some very good players.
In 2006, the Yankees drafted as one of their first rounders Ian Kennedy. IPK was the Pac-10 pitcher of the year, had 12.15 K/9, and was a first team All American twice. If this is not someone who Cashman should have drafted at number one I do not know who is. Ian pitched relatively well but seemed to have gotten the injury bug which reduced his ability and affected how great of a pitcher he can be. That said Ian (along with Austin Jackson—who was the Yankees EIGHTH round pick in 2005) brought the Yankees Curtis Granderson who looks to be the Yankees CF for years to come (until that is Jeter replaces him…I’m joking). The other 2006 first round pick for the Yankees was Joba Chamberlain who as much as I have criticized over the last year still is a valuable pitcher for the Yankees and has had many flashes of brilliance with the team. If the 2008 injury that Cashman alluded to today really did decrease his velocity then this is another draft pick that should not be called into question. This is obviously a quality draft.
In 2007, the Yankees first round pick was Andrew Brackman who in 2009 Baseball America named the Yankees’ tenth best prospect for 2010. Brackman had a record of 10-11 last year in the minors and was so highly touted by the organization he was called up to the major league team late in the year. While I will not say I know much about Brackman from seeing him from what I have read he is a viable reliever for the Yankees and could even make a spot start and is the first of the Bs (Betances and Banuelos) that should debut. That said trying to rate a 25 year old pitcher is difficult.
In 2008, the Yankees chose Gerrit Cole, a right handed pitcher out of high school in Newport Beach, California. Cole was ranked as the 17th best player in the country but chose instead to go to UCLA than sign with the Yankees. It will be interesting to follow Cole’s career simply to see what the Yankees might have gotten if he had signed. The other first round pick in 2008 was LHP Jeremy Bleich who at 23 is way too young to even rate. That said he is a left handed pitcher with good command and has been said to model himself after Andy Pettitte. The 2009 first round draft pick was Slade Heathcott who is again too young to rate but was considered the Yankees #4 prospect going into 2010. The 2010 first round pick was Cito Culver (a shortstop) who at 18 is too young too rate.
Based on this I have looked at the 10 drafts, strictly based on first rounders, and the Yankees (and hence Cashman) had three busts (with two being 2000 and 2001), two quality years (2004 and 2006), and five cannot rate (2002, 2003, and 2007-now). As for when it comes to players the Yankees have drafted 16 players in first round since 2000 and while 9 were either busts or traded before any potential could be seen there have been two (Hughes and Joba) that have worked out very well and three in the system now considered to be very high prospects.
I also tried to look at the players at the positions that the Yankees used for first round picks that were still on the board that other teams drafted to determine if the Yankees drafted “the right guy”, based on major league performance to date, for the position they drafted (agreed that works under assumption they were looking at positional need and not strictly best player on the board) and found that except for the 2005 pick of Carl Henry over Yunel Escobar at SS and the 2006 pick of Ian Kennedy over Daniel Bard as a RHP (and I described why I think IPK was still the better choice above) I did not find any evidence that the Yankees left the better player at that position on the board among first round picks.
I would argue that since the “bust” years were early, most recent first rounders are still not ready, and the Yankees did not lose out on that much picking who they did at the positions they did I am going to say that Cashman’s efforts here have been good to very good with the possibility of it being great depending on those still developing.
Now some may say that the draft is not just first rounders and they certainly are correct in this assessment but there are quite a few notables in the lower rounds as well and there are quite a number of people on the list who are already showing signs of quality. It should also be noted that the Yankees have never been a great team when it comes to drafting in the lower rounds as a whole and history has given them only a few very high quality players out of these rounds (notable of course are Don Mattingly in the 19th round, Andy Pettitte in the 22nd round, and Jorge Posada in the 24th round) and under Cashman we have seen Brett Gardner in the 3rd round/Austin Jackson in the 8th round in the 2005 draft and David Robertson in the 17th round of the 2006 draft.
We can also look at the number of people drafted by the Yankees from 2000 to now, how many made majors, and what their WAR is to determine Cashman’s drafting capabilities. Since 2000-2010 the Yankees have drafted 553 players and 37 of these have made it to the major league level (6.6% including those drafted within last 4 years). The average WAR among these players is 0.625 with the low point being the 2000 draft with an average WAR of -0.5 and the high was 2005 with an average WAR of 1.9. It should be noted that no one drafted 2008-2010 have appeared on the roster. The time frame from 1990-1999 the Yankees drafted 693 players (including 100 in 1996) and of these 67 made ANY major league roster (9.6%). The average WAR among these players was 3.486 with the low point being the 1993 draft with an average WAR of -1.4 and the high was 1992 with an average WAR of 14.9. It bears noting however that the 1990 WAR of 8.7 is skewed due to two players (Pettitte-WAR of 49.7 and Posada with a WAR of 46) and of course the 1992 draft is skewed due to Jeter (his WAR is 70). Of all the other players drafted by the Yankees from 1990-1999 there are only six (Carl Everett, Mike Lowell, Casey Blake, Nick Johnson, Eric Milton, Mark Prior) who even had WARs above 10. It will be interesting to look back a few years from now to see how the 2000-2009 draft players compare.
I also compared the Yankees draft to the RedSox draft over the last five years (06-10) and found that they that are pretty similar to the Yankees when it comes to draft picks, current major leaguers, and WAR.
Since the 2005 draft the RedSox have seen 16 players drafted make the majors (but none from the 2007-2010 drafts) and in the 2005 draft the players that made the majors have a WAR of 1.7 and for the 2006 draft the players that made the majors have a WAR of 0.9 (including Bard with a 3.8).
Since the 2005 draft the Yankees have seen 13 players drafted make the majors (but none from the 2008-2010 drafts). In the three drafts that players have made the majors 2005-2007 the WARs are 1.9, 1.2, and .5 respectively with Gardner accounting for 6.2 from the 2005 draft and Joba 4.7 from the 2006 draft as the high points.
In addition these draft years include Dellin Betances drafted in the 8th round in that 2006 draft and is currently considered one of the best pitchers in the Yankees minor league system as well as Austin Romine drafted in the 2nd round in the 2007 draft who it has been suggested is even better as a catcher than Jesus Montero.
I would argue that over the last four years the RedSox have not had a significantly better draft then the Yankees have and the reason why I used them as a comparison is not only that they are a division rival but also because they are in the same position as the Yankees by not having as high draft choices due to success in the regular season. I am more than willing to re-do this using other teams if those reading believe I should use a different comparison team.
Lastly, I looked at the players that the Yankees have drafted from 2000 to 2007 and the number of players that are still active (30) and which of these are on the Yankees now (Joba, Hughes, Robertson, and Gardner). Admittedly this is an area where other teams do better but not by a significant amount.
I will also point out that Cashman has taken heat in the past for “bad drafts” or not getting good players so once a constant drum beat is out there it is not easy to silence those critics but I think these attacks were premature (not allowing players to develop) or are old and focus on pre-2002/2003. During my research tonight I found one article that says that Cashman basically blew every one of his first through third draft picks from 2000 to 2008 but yet included caveats like “have yet to show that they are players capable of doing good things at the major league level” and listed players such as Brackman and Romine (admittedly giving Cashman credit for Joba, Hughes, and Gardner) but also many of these articles seem to have failed to look at the draft as a whole in these years, where the Yankees picked, what was available before and after, and what the Yankees got outside of the first few rounds.
Since we will be looking at the farm and other signings next perhaps this is a good time to consider IPK, Hughes, and Joba and how in hindsight they were rushed to the majors due to team needs and while in the case of Hughes it worked out it does not seem to have for either IPK or Joba and this could be why the Yankees are being more careful with those pitchers they have now in order to ensure they are ready. This could lead to some Yankees fans who are just casual fans or who have not looked at these players to say the Yankees do not have a farm system that is what is needed to make the Yankees competitive (mind you the Yankees are very heavy at catcher which is an area that others teams are short at which gives the Yankees a significant advantage at making deals).
As for the “farm” the Yankees have a lot of quality players and some that are not even included among the draft picks the Yankees have made. I am just going to focus on a few of them here.
Eduardo Nunez signed as an amateur free agent in February 2004 and was supposedly the Yankees “Plan B” if Jeter did not re-sign and was also one of the players that the Mariners supposedly wanted in the Lee deal that fell through. Nunez has shown he can play any of three positions in the infield (although he still is a work in progress here), has speed, and a good knowledge of the strike zone. He might not start the season on the major league roster but is positioned to be a utility infielder or fill in if needed due to injury.
Manny Banuelos at just 19 years old was just named MLBNetwork’s 35th best minor leaguer and is a left hander who could be valuable not only to the Yankees in years to come (particularly with the RedSox current lineup) but also for teams looking for a left handed pitcher. Banuelos has a fastball that has been clocked in the mid-90s and is known for his command and ability to repeat his pitching motion.
Gary Sanchez is yet another one of the Yankees highly touted catching prospects (along with Montero and Romine) and was signed as an international free agent at 16 years old in July 2009. While he is young and will be starting the year at single A the word is he is better now as a catcher than Montero was at his age although his offense needs work.
Dellin Betances as mentioned earlier was the Yankees 8th round draft pick in 2006 and is currently part of the Yankees 40 man roster. Betances just missed the MLBNetwork list of top 50 prospects released tonight (ranked 53rd) and has a fastball clocked in the 90s, a very good curve, and a change up that is impressive for a player of his age. Health may be a concern here but for a 8th round draft pick he has a very high ceiling.
For those who are more interested about the farm that Cashman has had a hand in building I also suggest you look up and learn about the names Brandon Laird, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps.
I would argue that the signings of these players and the holding onto them until they have developed into quality players that either can play for the Yankees on a major league level or are valuable trade chips are positives for Cashman and his legacy as Yankees GM.
And then there are the players that Cashman signed as amateur free agents and are either roster potentials for 2011 or roster certainties.
Jesus Montero signed at just 16 years old in 2006 is going into spring training to compete with Cervelli to be the backup catcher to Russell Martin and has been the one player that every team that has talked to the Yankees about trades have asked about. While his defensive skills are still developing (and he is just 21) he is a right handed slugger who is the type of player the Yankees may try to work into the lineup (or trade for a need) even if the defense is not there quite yet. Montero is considered by Baseball America as the Yankees best prospect and the #4 prospect in all of MLB.
Ivan Nova was signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2004 and while he was picked by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft in 12/08 he was returned to the Yankees just four months later. Nova has been touted as having some of the purest stuff in the Yankees organization and showed in 2010 that he was unafraid of pitching at a major league level and will be competing for a rotation spot this spring. While Nova did not show he could go five innings or more in 2010 he just recently turned 24 and has been pitching in winter ball and will have all of spring training to prepare as a starter. The improved pen and ability to put Joba or Roberston in games earlier (with Soriano for the 8th) will also give the Yankees the ability to pull Nova if needed or if his pitch counts get too high.
Of course one of the best amateur free agent signings the Yankees probably have ever made was signing Robinson Cano. While I will agree that the Yankees lucked out by keeping him (they did try to trade him early on at least twice) they did have the foresight to sign someone who has turned into a player that will be a leader and a dominant player for the Yankees for a long time to come.
I would argue that the amateur free agent signings that the Yankees have made have exceeded some of their draft years but Cashman himself said that the team works best when it mixes up free agents, with trades, with the draft, and amateur free agents.
I think most of the complaints about Cashman come down to one fact and one fact only. The Yankees need a starter. I do not disagree as the Yankees need a starter but would you rather a GM who panics at the first sign of adversity and trades away players for no value when all teams with decent players think they are still competitive or do you want a GM that is practicing patience and holding onto the valuable players he has on the farm and on the major league team until a offer that makes sense not only for 2011 but also for long term becomes available?
Is Cashman the best talent scout as a GM out there? I would agree with those who state no but I also think that if one took an objective view at all of the facts one would see why Cashman is a high quality GM even without a “big checkbook” from his trades and non-trades, to his somewhat successful drafts, to the condition the farm system is in, to his non-drafted player signings.