Exec: Brian Cashman still in charge

Updated: January 18, 2011, 11:41 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The Yankees have "full confidence" in general manager Brian Cashman, according to a senior team executive who acknowledged a division in the ranks over the signing last week of reliever Rafael Soriano but characterized the incident as "a disagreement, not a dispute."

"Cash did not want to give up the [No. 1] draft pick," said the executive, who refused to speak on the record until the Soriano deal is finalized pending a physical this week. "But at the end of the day, he didn't throw his body across the tracks over it, he just disagreed with it. It was a good faith dispute. Reasonable people can disagree."

The executive went on to say: "Cash has not lost one iota of credibility or autonomy over this. There has been no loss of faith in him at all. Cash is in charge of all baseball operations, but he would never in a million years tell you ownership doesn't make the final decisions. It's their money, not his."

Cashman has not returned phone calls or text messages since the story broke last Thursday that Soriano and the Yankees had come to terms on a three-year deal potentially worth $35 million, but with player-triggered opt-out clauses after each of the first two seasons.

Previously, Cashman had been on the record as saying he would never surrender a first-round draft pick for any of the available free agents -- with Cliff Lee out of the picture, that crop included Soriano as well as starter Carl Pavano and relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes -- and privately expressed reservations over Soriano's behavior at at least two of his other stops, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, where he is said to have had disputes with managers Bobby Cox and Joe Maddon.

That is why the sudden signing of Soriano appeared to be a sea change in the Yankees' thinking, or at least that of their general manager. But the source said that while Cashman remained opposed to signing Soriano, co-owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, along with team president Randy Levine --who is said to have come up with the complex and unorthodox deal Soriano and his agent Scott Boras eventually agreed to -- made the final decision to bring the right-hander, who led the American League with 45 saves for the Rays last year, to the Bronx.

"The thinking was that with Andy [Pettitte] maybe not coming back, and the starting rotation that we have, and knowing Mo [Rivera] is 41, this was a good deal to make," the source said. "The price on Soriano was falling and it just seemed to all of us that to get a player of this magnitude at this price was too good to pass up."

The executive said Cashman's main objection was with surrendering the draft pick, not Soriano's reputed behavioral problems.

"GM's are very territorial about draft picks," the source said.

Other sources told ESPNNewYork.com last week that several people who know Soriano, including Rivera, endorsed the signing to Yankee officials, with Rivera promising to "mentor" the 31-year-old Soriano as his possible successor in the closer's role when Rivera's newly-signed deal expires after the 2012 season.

"He's a hothead, that's all" said one source who knows Soriano, "but he's matured and as long as he's around the right people, he'll be all right."

The Yankee executive downplayed any type of a rift within the organization to rival the schism that infuriated Cashman about five years ago, when a cabal of Yankees front-office men based in Tampa, a group that was led by owner George Steinbrenner and included roving pitching instructor Billy Connors, scouts Mark Newman and Damon Oppenheimer, operated like a shadow government and often overruled Cashman's decisions.

"This is nothing like that," the executive said. "They were running their own operation and weren't reporting to Cashman. There's nothing like that going on now. Cashman is still in charge of the baseball operation here."

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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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