Commentary

Just a case of Cashman being Cashman

Is comment on Derek Jeter agenda-driven? Puh-lease -- GM simply told truth, again.

Updated: January 26, 2011, 7:25 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Brian Cashman said he would be "surprised" if Derek Jeter was still the New York Yankees' shortstop by the end of his new contract four years from now.

Frankly, so would I. And so would you.

So what is all the fuss about?

Shortstop, traditionally, is a young man's position, and by baseball standards Jeter, 36, is no longer a young man. He is already older than any starting shortstop not named Omar Vizquel, and there have only been a handful of shortstops in baseball history to be playing the position on an everyday basis at Jeter's age.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cashman
Alan Maglaque/US PresswireIf the truth hurts, Brian Cashman doesn't seem to mind.

So this is not news.

What is news is that once again Cashman has chosen to speak candidly in a public forum on an issue that most general managers would try to keep private or talk around or simply not address.

And since the statement was made -- on Tuesday morning at a breakfast Q&A in a Manhattan restaurant -- there has been all sorts of speculation about what Cashman's motives might have been.

Are there lingering bad feelings about the Jeter negotiations that cause Cashman to zing the Yankees captain whenever he's given the slightest opportunity?

Is he trying to talk his way out of a job that most baseball executives would kill to have but may, in fact, be killing Cashman?

Or is this an attempt by the GM to exert his muscle after the public humiliation of having been overruled on the Rafael Soriano deal?

I prefer to believe this is simply a case of Cashman being Cashman.

A man who never volunteers a thing but, when asked the right question, has a terrible time not giving a truthful answer.

That is true, sometimes to his embarrassment and someday, perhaps, to his detriment.

Already this offseason, we have had Cashman taking a hard line in the Jeter talks, a line that was subsequently softened in the backroom by other voices in the Yankees organization.

We have had Cashman detail, publicly and privately, why he was not in favor of signing Soriano, a set-up man, to the kind of deal usually given only to an elite closer.

We have had him state unequivocally that he does not expect Andy Pettitte to come back this year, while just about everyone else in the organization, including his manager, continues to hold out hope.

And now we have Cashman acknowledging what any Yankees observer has known for at least the past year: At some point between now and 2014, the Yankees are probably going to have to find another position for Jeter to play.

I don't think this was meant to chide Jeter. Cashman is not stupid and knows Jeter will be in New York for the next three seasons and probably four if he invokes his player option for 2014.

By the same token, I don't think he was looking to make enemies with Soriano when, with his new set-up man in the room not 50 feet away, Cashman refused to back off from his previous arguments for why he didn't think this was the right deal for the Yankees to make. (He did, at least, allow that acquiring Soriano made the Yankees better.)

And I don't think he was trying to curry favor with Theo Epstein, John Henry or Larry Lucchino when he said at the same Tuesday breakfast that the Red Sox were a better team than the Yankees right now.

As anyone who has covered Cashman for any length of time should know by now, this is just the way he is. Ask him a question and he will almost always give you an answer.

And not just any answer, but what he really believes. Often, he will surprise you. Sometimes he will get himself in a little hot water.

For the people who cover him, this is a rare quality. It makes him a pleasure to deal with on most days, although if you don't know what to ask him Cashman is not going to help you out.

For instance, I called him Tuesday morning to ask about another matter. I was completely unaware of what he had said earlier at the Hard Rock Café. As soon as we got off the phone, I got a message from my office informing me of Cashman's quotes on Jeter. He hadn't breathed a word of it.

So I called him back, and we discussed it. He tried a bit of damage control, saying that he was speaking in hypotheticals and minimizing the imminence of a position switch for Jeter. But in doing so, he acknowledged the likelihood that Jeter would not be playing shortstop for the entire term of his contract, which we all knew, while adding the tidbit that his landing spot might turn out to be not third base, as is widely assumed, but center field.

And as always, his reasons were sound. Jeter's not now, nor has he ever been, a power hitter. The Yankees can't really use him at DH and they don't want him at one of the corner positions, in the infield or the outfield.

Besides, to dangle the possibility of a shift to third base would have raised even more questions about the future of Alex Rodriguez, who is signed -- over Cashman's very strenuous and quite public objections at the time -- through 2017. No point in rattling that hornet's nest, too.

As far as we know, Jeter's not a catcher and he's not a pitcher, and nobody is displacing Robinson Cano at second base.

So under that set of circumstances, there really is only one place to move him a couple of years down the road, and that is center field.

So, hypothetically speaking, Jeter could be the Yankees' center fielder in 2013. And hypothetically speaking, I could be the CEO of Disney by next week.

But as Cashman said to me in our phone conversation Tuesday, "I don't know what's going to happen [in the next two years]. I'm telling you right now, we're not planning on that [position switch]. I said I think his athletic ability is more suited to the outfield in the event we ever have to do that, but we're not there. We'll deal with that when we have to.

"Jeter's our shortstop, period."

Once again, Cashman was asked a question and gave an answer. A good answer and an honest answer. And a perfectly logical answer.

And once again, he is being asked to answer for his answer.

Some guys just never learn.

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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