- Bob Klapisch, MLB
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NEW YORK -- Welcome to the Yankees' new, surreal world, where executives are promising to respect each other's turf and the front office will be as efficient as the A's or White Sox's. At least that's what Brian Cashman was telling everyone on Thursday, after pledging allegiance to George Steinbrenner for three more years (and $5 million).
The GM has won a month-long power struggle, exacting a promise from Steinbrenner that will allow him to be the head of baseball operations. Cashman will now be to the Yankees what Billy Beane is to the A's and Kenny Williams is to the White Sox. One longtime baseball executive doesn't quite buy the makeover -- "I'll believe it when I see it," he said -- but if you take Cashman at his word, this will be the first time the Steinbrenner-era Yankees will have a GM with true, decision-making powers.
That'll be both a blessing and a curse. Cashman will have nearly unlimited financial backing to end the Yankees' five-year championship drought, and there's no doubt he'll use the Boss' money to outbid all other suitors for free agent-to-be B.J. Ryan. The Yankees will also flood the market for a new center fielder. In no particular order, the Yankees plan to chase Torii Hunter (if they get him without trading Chien-Ming Wang), Juan Pierre and Johnny Damon.
That's the kind of firepower other GMs dream about, but if recent history has taught us anything, it's that money is no guarantee of success. The Yankees have spent nearly $1 billion since beating the Mets in the 2000 Subway Series, and yet they've been outmaneuvered by lower-budget teams like the Diamondbacks and Marlins. This year's White Sox had a payroll of $75 million, roughly one-third of the Yankees'.
The Sox blasted through October not because of the money but because of the foresight to bring Bobby Jenks and Jose Contreras and Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle onto the same pitching staff. Now it's up to Cashman to match and raise the White Sox, which means doing more than play rotisserie-junkie with Steinbrenner's dollars. The Yankees need a bona fide leadoff hitter, they need to think about the transition to the post-Mariano Rivera era (which is why they're already obsessed with Ryan), and they'll be looking for more versatile bench players than Ruben Sierra and Bubba Crosby.
Replenishing the roster is the offseason chore of every GM, but Cashman's mandate is different. He'll have to do it with the kind of interference and fractured politics that have sabotaged the Yankees for one, long, messy decade. In his heart, Cashman knows the Yankees won't ever be completed unified, not while their base of operations are split between the Bronx and Tampa.
Cashman will have to deal with this virus, dormant as it might be now. Sooner or later, it'll be his problem again, and he'll have no right to complain about the backstabbers and second-guessers, not after accepting Steinbrenner's vow (and that $5 million). The minute Cashman signed that three-year contract, he forfeited his right to appeal. He's a slave to the Yankee universe -- as glamorous and moneyed as it might be.
Cashman and Joe Torre both had their chance to move on, get a new life -- or, more to the point, get a life, period. But neither man walked through the open door. Torre chose to believe Steinbrenner when the owner insisted he wanted him back in 2006. Yankee insiders say differently, that Steinbrenner wanted to fire Torre and hire Lou Piniella, but was talked out of it by his PR guru, Howard Rubenstein. Torre promises to somehow forget the subplots on a going-forward basis, but we'll see how he feels the first time the Yankees lose two of three to the Red Sox.
At least Torre could rationalize his naiveté by reminding himself that $13.1 million was on the table. Cashman had no such incentive to hang around. In fact, he was No. 1 on the Phillies' list of potential hires. All he had to do was wait until Tuesday, the first day of his liberation from the Yankees, and he would've been in Dave Montgomery's office with a contract in his lap.
But to work for the Phillies would've meant taking less money. It also would've stripped Cashman of the perk he's cherished all along, being able to say he's the general manager of the most successful team in professional sports. Since 1998, Cashman has suffered through the tirades and threats from Tampa, as well as the crossed agendas which, little by little, turned the Yankees into a bloated and ill-conceived team. But through it all, the job's glamour made a deeper imprint than the knife wounds in his back.
But starting today, no one wants to hear whether Cashman is feuding with Billy Connors or Bill Emslie, the two Tampa-based lieutenants who had Steinbrenner's ear all summer, questioning both the GM and manager. No one will feel sorry for Cashman next year if, in the middle of a losing streak, he looks pale and gaunt, the crescents under his eyes becoming more purple than ever.
This is the pact Cashman has made with the Yankee universe. This is the contract he signed. This is the life he chose. The GM's friends are all calling today to wish Cashman good luck -- because, as one of them said on Thursday, "He's probably going to need it."
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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