Commentary

Brian Cashman is firmly in control

The GM seems determined to extract a high price for failure. Remind you of anyone?

Updated: October 26, 2010, 3:15 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The first casualty was, as it often is, an underling -- in this case, pitching coach Dave Eiland.

Someone had to answer for Javy and A.J. and D-Rob and Joba, who turned out to be the soft underbelly of a New York Yankees machine that at one point looked lean and hard and ready to start stringing together World Series championships the way it had back in the late '90s.

But there will be others, rest assured, and when the time comes to pull the trigger, Brian Cashman will not be farming the job out to anyone else.

"I'm not going to be bringing Dave Eiland back," Cashman said by way of kicking off his postmortem on the 2010 season Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. "It was my decision. We're making a change and I'm not going to give any more detail than that."

Asked if his manager, Joe Girardi, was on board with the call to dismiss Eiland, a coach in whom he appeared to place a lot of trust and upon whose judgment he appeared to rely heavily, Cashman looked stunned.

"Didn't matter," he said. "I talked to Joe and told him what I was gonna do."

The Boss is dead, long live The Boss.

Boss Cashman.

Friday night, in the moments after the Yankees had been run out of October by the Texas Rangers, Joe Girardi's voice was hushed and his eyes were swollen and red.

Cashman's, as always, were ice blue.

Both had clearly taken the loss hard, but clearly in very different ways. Girardi was disappointed and hurt, the pain reflected in his eyes and in his voice.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cashman
AP Photo/Seth WenigIn the wake of the Yankees' ALCS collapse, Boss Cashman is looking for answers.

Cashman was disappointed and disgusted, the disgust clear in the dispassionate way he addressed the failure of his $213 million investment to pay out its expected dividend.

Girardi showed the bewilderment of a coach who felt both let down by his players and baffled by their failure. Cashman was more like a CEO having to deliver a bad financial report to his shareholders.

By Monday, Girardi's hurt had faded but the bewilderment was still there.

Cashman's demeanor hadn't changed a bit. He spoke about his proposed "order of business" and "attacking weaknesses." Friday night, he said his team had been "manhandled." Monday afternoon, all he wanted to talk about was how to make sure it never happened again.

"We'll have to make some tough decisions," he said. "But we're not afraid of that. I think we've proven that over time. It's not about money. It's not about being afraid to hurt someone's feelings. It's about doing what's best for the franchise."

He was looking backward to some of the tough calls he had already made, regarding Bernie Williams and Joe Torre, and at the same time looking forward to some even tougher ones yet to come regarding Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

And you knew that when the time came to make those calls, Brian Cashman would make them with the same ice-blue eyes through which he had watched with disgust as the Texas Rangers manhandled the team he built with George Steinbrenner's money.

If you have any doubt about whose ballclub this is, if you're vacillating between Jeter's Yankees or A-Rod's Yankees or Robbie Cano's or Joe Girardi's, understand that none of them really exist.

These are Brian Cashman's Yankees. He is the one calling the shots, deciding whom to buy or trade for, which players to invite to spring training and whom to disinvite from the postseason roster.

"Hey, I left Javy Vazquez off the postseason roster and he was one of our more expensive pitchers," he said. "I didn't like telling Javy Vazquez that he can't pitch for us in the postseason, but at the time that was what was best for the New York Yankees and that's what we did. We will do what we think is right."

It is really the only way to run this ballclub, an outfit that is not only committed to winning but perpetually locked into it, not only by the legacy of The Boss but by the expectations of the fan base and the needs of the voracious monster that is Yankee Stadium. It's a $1 billion maw that must be fed a diet of 50,000 fans 81 nights a year in order to remain healthy.

There are no rebuilding seasons for the New York Yankees. No down cycles are allowed, no breathers, no seasons where, for one reason or another, it just didn't happen.

To the Yankees, falling two victories shy of the World Series is the same as finishing last. And Cashman, who has consolidated power in this organization like Michael Corleone, is the man who must make sure things like this don't happen again.

That is why, when asked how difficult he thought it would be to tell Jeter -- as much a symbol of this franchise as Ruth or DiMaggio or Mantle -- that he could not expect to play shortstop here forever, or hit leadoff, or eventually, even to play for the ballclub anymore, Cashman did not mince words.

Where, scarcely a half-hour earlier, Girardi had tried to make the case that Jeter's 2010 season -- in which he posted career worsts in just about every offensive category including a 64-point drop-off in batting average from 2009 -- might well be an aberration, Cashman didn't even attempt to argue the point.

"He's still one of the better shortstops in the game," Cashman said. "But obviously, he's getting older. There's no doubt about that. Derek's a champion. He will attack his weaknesses. He will do anything necessary to be successful if told properly what he needs to work on. But where that leads next season, I can't say."

Clearly, that means Jeter will be told exactly what the Yankees think he needs to work on, and probably, what he can expect in terms of playing time, lineup spot, and maybe even an eventual shift of position.

"We'll work something out that we're both comfortable with,'' Cashman said. "It's all about winning and doing what's best to put ourselves as a group in the best position to win. And that goes for every individual."

The same goes for Posada, an anchor of the team that won all those championships under Torre as well as last year's under Girardi. Everyone but Posada seems to know that his days as a full-time catcher are numbered. His successor, Jesus Montero, played this season a mere three-hour drive away from the Bronx in Scranton, Pa.

"I have people who believe he's major league-ready at the catcher position with a tremendous offensive bat," Cashman said of Montero. "But nothing gets handed to somebody here. You have to take it and earn it. He'll have to come to spring training and either show that he's ready for a higher level, or he's not."

He summed up his philosophy succinctly and dispassionately: "Every player we possess is either here to help us win games, or to put us in the position to win games, or to be utilized as a trade chip. It's as simple as that."

If you're not helping the Yankees win, then you're hindering them, and in that case, you're not helping Brian Cashman do his job.

Monday, he was quick to admit that last winter, he did not do his job very well. He pointed to the Vazquez disaster, and the Nick Johnson catastrophe, and acknowledged his failure to bring back Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui.

But then, the night the Yankees put away the Phillies in the 2009 World Series, one of the first things he told me, without coming out and saying so, was that neither Damon nor Matsui could expect anything from the Yankees based solely on their outstanding postseason play.

When the time came to negotiate, Cashman factored in everything he had seen from both players and everything he thought he could expect, and tailored his approach accordingly. Neither player came back to the Yankees.

Next year, the odds are that neither will Kerry Wood or Lance Berkman or maybe even Marcus Thames, three players who were instrumental in getting the Yankees as far they did this year.

But as Cashman likes to say, "This game doesn't lie." Weighing how much more he can expect from players against what it would cost to keep them doesn't always add up.

His winter starts on Tuesday, when he begins discussions with Girardi's agent about a new deal. Soon afterward, Boss Cashman will make Cliff Lee an offer he can't refuse.

But with every deal will come rules and stipulations. For Lee, for the manager, for Jeter and Posada and Rivera and Andy Pettitte, if he decides to come back. No one gets a free ride around here, and every dollar spent is expected to bring a return.

On Monday, the same way Carlo ultimately had to answer for Santino, Dave Eiland had to answer for his pitching staff. In the coming weeks, there will be more questions and more people asked to provide answers.

And if Boss Cashman doesn't like the answers, people will be made to pay.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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