Yankees GM Brian Cashman continues to prove he's one of the best sports executives
Cashman's signing of Neil Walker is the latest evidence of this
On Monday, the New York Yankees agreed to terms on a one-year deal worth around $5 million with second baseman Neil Walker. Consistently an above-average hitter, Walker ought to permit the Yankees to play Brandon Drury at third base and store prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar in the minors for further seasoning. It's a smart deal the capstone to an offseason that proves Brian Cashman is one of the best general managers in the league.
Cashman has artfully assembled a team that was projected by PECOTA to win 97 games without Walker and has done so while maintaining an elite farm system and payroll flexibility. The Yankees have six prospects ranked in MLB.com's top 100, and they have about $15 million to spare before they hit the collective bargaining tax threshold, suggesting they'll be able to pursue Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado without worrying about stiff overage penalties next winter. Oh, and the Yankees entered the week with a lower payroll than the likes of the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners -- that despite having a significantly better, deeper roster.
Yes, Cashman has made some trademark Yankees moves in recent years: stealing Giancarlo Stanton; trading for Sonny Gray; bringing in Masahiro Tanaka and bringing back Aroldis Chapman and CC Sabathia; swallowing Jacoby Ellsbury's contract as he sits on the bench. But, for the most part, this club has been built through smart management and good player development. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird, Brett Gardner, Dellin Betances, and Jordan Montgomery have never suited up for another organization. (David Robertson, Adam Warren, and Tommy Kahnle were originally Yankees, too.) Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks have improved their stocks since coming over in non-blockbuster trades, and so has Chad Green -- who, perhaps forgettably, was netted alongside Luis Cessa for Justin Wilson.
As for that farm system, Torres is ranked no. 5 by MLB.com, while Estevan Florial (44), Justus Sheffield (48), Andujar (65), Albert Abreu (74), Chance Adams (75) are also considered top-100 talents. That's a lot of depth that the Yankees can leverage either through trades or promotions, the latter affording them more payroll flexibility to chase the veterans of their dreams. Cashman deserves credit for what he did at the July 2016 deadline, when he turned Chapman and Andrew Miller into Torres, Sheffield, Clint Frazier, and others.
It's easy to point to the Yankees' payroll and say Cashman has an easy job. But he doesn't. He's seldom afforded an off year, and he sharpened his teeth while working for perhaps the most mercurial owner the league has ever seen. Even now, Cashman will face criticism from a fierce media market if these Yankees fail to fulfill their promise. There's also the matter of whether or not Cashman's hiring of Aaron Boone as manager proves to be another masterstroke. Two things are for sure though: 1) Cashman knows how to run a baseball team; and 2) if Boone fails it won't be because Cashman didn't deliver talent.
The Yankees have the chance to win the 2018 World Series. They'll be in the conversation for the championship in 2019, 2020, 2021, and so on, too. It's been too easy to avoiding Cashman his credit throughout his time in charge. But it's time. Cashman is one of the best and has been for a while. Anyone reluctant to concede that isn't going to have a choice for much longer.
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