NEW YORK — Brian Cashman’s concerns have changed. The Yankees general manager left spring training reflecting on the state of his starting rotation, which was missing three of his intended five arms. A staggering rash of injuries then decimated the starting lineup, sidelining bold names like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
Cashman needs no reminder that the American League East is a mighty division, and with a 16-15 record coming into play Wednesday, his club sits 8 1/2 games behind the first-place Rays. He notes that the schedule was only one-fifth full and says he continues to believe he’s built a winning roster, if and when their major plays become healthy.
“Don’t abandon us. That’s all I can tell you; don’t count us out,” Cashman said. “We have a good group of people – player side, staff side, support staff side. It’s a championship-caliber operation from that point of view, but we’re not currently flying at the level we would have expected, as we’re missing some pretty important pieces.
What does the organization see as its biggest problem?
The Yankees have about $152 million of their 2023 payroll on the injured list, a group with Judge, Stanton, Carlos Rodón, Josh Donaldson and Luis Severino. Judge could return as soon as Monday against Oakland, and Severino is set to begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Single-A Tampa this week, but the others are still weeks away.
Offensively, these Bronx Bombers haven’t lived up to the nickname: New York has scored two points or less in 13 games, a number that leads the Majors. On the offensive side, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Franchy Cordero, Aaron Hicks and Willie Calhoun all received more playing time than expected.
“The team we’re running there right now, it’s not the team we actually anticipated,” Cashman said. “It happens continuously; usually you lose a guy or two along the way. But we lost a lot more than one or two guys along the way. We plug the holes as best we can at this time of year.
The Yankees need to pin their hopes on improving health. Cashman has repeatedly said they hope to “grow in place” until their stars return. He doesn’t see the market as favorable to upgrades or acquisitions. The free agent market is largely barren, and opposing teams generally aren’t looking to offload talent until at least the All-Star break.
“At the end of the day, myself and our staff are constantly looking to see what’s available,” Cashman said. “The time of year is difficult – April, May, June. If you asked me this question in winter or even March, what is your biggest fear at the start of the season? All the general managers would say that you don’t don’t want to get destroyed by injuries early on.
What’s wrong with conditioning and training?
The Yankees hired Eric Cressey in January 2020, asking the famed performance coach to overhaul their training and strength/conditioning programs. Those changes seemed like a success when they were remarkably healthy in the first half of the 2022 season, but now every one of manager Aaron Boone’s pre-match interviews is dominated by injury updates.
“It’s unfortunate, and the question you asked is a fair one to always ask,” Cashman said. “I believe we have a very good staff on the health care side – the doctors, the coaches, the strength coaches. I think we have players who are wired the right way, who care and who compete. … Our manager and coaching staff have been through this before.
Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees were “not done yet.” What happened?
Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing partner, made the comment in New York on Dec. 21. The signings of Judge and Rodón were already complete, and Steinbrenner seemed to indicate that more moves were on the horizon. Cashman said the club was aiming to trade from their inside surplus (perhaps Gleyber Torres or Kiner-Falefa) to improve left field, where Oswaldo Cabrera and Hicks have shared duties, but those moves didn’t go together. not materialized.
“I don’t think there was anything on the table that I could have taken away that would have made a difference,” Cashman said. “We were certainly exploring a lot of effort; if you look at our list, we were far from the inland side. We were looking for trade opportunities from an area of strength if we got the right value. We did not find the correct value. I don’t see any missed opportunities with all that was at stake.”
Do you have any regrets about last year’s trade deadline?
There is no debate: Cashman’s maneuvers at the 2022 trading deadline did not pan out. Right-hander Lou Trivino underwent season-ending surgery at Tommy John on Wednesday, joining Scott Effross and Frankie Montas after undergoing procedures. Harrison Bader and Andrew Benintendi (now with the White Sox) also dealt with injuries; in Bader’s case, he was injured during his acquisition.
Cashman shielded his baseball operations department by saying all blame should lie with him, then added that there was nothing they would have done differently in terms of due diligence on player medical reports.
“I certainly wish last year’s trade deadline had gone better,” Cashman said. “Injuries happen, and ultimately we get a lot of injuries right now. It’s definitely killing us. But I don’t have anything to condemn. If you want to condemn someone, condemn me. It’s my responsibility.