Wise moves build ‘Baby Bombers’

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY DAVE SHEININ dave.sheinin@wash­post.com

The win­ningest gen­eral man­ager in base­ball, the only one with four World Se­ries ti­tles on his ledger, has never won a ma­jor ex­ec­u­tive of the year award. For much of his ten­ure, it was easy to dis­miss Brian Cash­man’s suc­cess as the re­sult of the New York Yankees’ in­dus­try-lead­ing re­sources and own­er­ship’s will­ing­ness to spend them. Cash­man, in this view, was merely the bag man, hand­ing over the Stein­bren­ners’ cash to the next big-ticket free agent.

But that per­cep­tion, never ex­actly true in the first place, no longer ex­ists. Cash­man has far greater con­trol of the team’s base­ball op­er­a­tions than he used to, and the Yankees are no longer the game’s big­gest spenders: Their Open­ing Day pay­roll ranked third, be­hind the Dodgers and Tigers. The fran­chise’s fi­nan­cial phi­los­o­phy the past cou­ple of years has been one of mostly re­straint.

The 2017 Yankees are Cash­man’s team, more than in any pre­vi­ous year, and as the sea­son rounds first base and heads to­ward sec­ond, this col­lec­tion of play­ers may rep­re­sent the pin­na­cle of his ca­reer as an ex­ec­u­tive. The Yankees, built largely around a group of young­sters known as the “Baby Bombers,” are 28-18 and lead­ing the Amer­i­can League East, base­ball’s tough­est di­vi­sion, by two games.

Over the off­sea­son, the Yankees un­der­took one of the most dif­fi­cult mis­sions in base­ball, at­tempt­ing to tran­si­tion to a younger, more flex­i­ble ros­ter while still as­sem­bling a cham­pi­onship-cal­iber club. It helped, of course, to have some $200 mil­lion in pay­roll bud­get, but it still left Cash­man in the tough spot of try­ing to achieve two sep­a­rate goals that are of­ten at cross-pur­poses.

“It’s a balanc­ing act,” Cash­man said ear­lier this sea­son. “You’re try­ing to con­stantly get younger, and build up for the present and the fu­ture, but also con­tinue to try to fight for a play­off spot.”

There is no de­fined start­ing point in the con­struc­tion of this ros­ter — the long­est-tenured Yan­kee, Brett Gard­ner, has been in the or­ga­ni­za­tion since 2005 — or any ros­ter, for that mat­ter, but in ex­am­in­ing Cash­man’s hand­i­work, it is pos­si­ble to pick out pivot points along the way. Here is a look at four of them:

The 2013 draft. By mak­ing a qual­i­fy­ing of­fer the pre­vi­ous win­ter to vet­eran Nick Swisher — which Swisher, as the Yankees had hoped, even­tu­ally re­jected — New York re­ceived a com­pen­satory draft pick, 32nd over­all, when he signed else­where. And by fail­ing to sign a ma­jor free agent them­selves, the Yankees held on to their orig­i­nal first-round pick, 26th over­all.

With the 26th pick, the Yankees took Notre Dame third base­man Eric Jagielo, who still hasn’t ap­peared above Class AA, but whom Cash­man traded to Cincin­nati in De­cem­ber 2015 as the cen­ter­piece of the prospect pack­age that got them closer Aroldis Chap­man.

And with their 2013 com­pen­satory pick, they took Fresno State out­fielder Aaron Judge, a 6foot-7, 280-pound be­he­moth who reached the ma­jors in 2016 and who this year is a lead­ing can­di­date for AL rookie of the year, if not most valu­able player.

The De­cem­ber 2015 trades. Not only did the Yankees get Chap­man from Cincin­nati for four prospects, none of whom at this point looks like an im­pact­ful big lea­guer, but in a sep­a­rate trade, they also ac­quired three-time all-star sec­ond base­man Star­lin Cas­tro from the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Adam War­ren and a player to be named (who turned out to be in­fielder Bren­dan Ryan). And not only has Cas­tro, still just 27, be­come a mid­dle-ofthe-or­der main­stay in the Bronx, but they also reac­quired War­ren from the Cubs as a sec­ondary piece in a trade last July, mean­ing they es­sen­tially got Cas­tro for free. War­ren, mean­while, has be­come a key mid­dle re­liever in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The 2016 trade dead­line. This was the cen­ter­piece of the Yankees’ tran­si­tion, as in a span of a week they traded away vet­eran re­liev­ers Chap­man and An­drew Miller and out­fielder Car­los Bel­tran for a to­tal of 11 play­ers, mostly prospects — in­clud­ing highly re­garded short­stop Gley­ber Tor­res, who could be on his way to the Bronx this sum­mer. Al­most in­stantly, the Yankees’ farm sys­tem went from one rated in the mid­dle of the pack to one that Base­ball Amer­ica ranked as the sec­ond best in the game en­ter­ing this sea­son.

In a less her­alded trade, they also picked up re­liever Tyler Clip­pard from Ari­zona for a re­liever, Vi­cente Cam­pos, whom the Di­a­mond­backs waived af­ter the sea­son. En­ter­ing Fri­day, Clip­pard had al­lowed only one earned run this month.

And around this same time, they pro­moted catcher Gary Sanchez to the big leagues, where he went on to his 20 homers in just 53 games.

The Chap­man sign­ing. This win­ter, Cash­man made one im­por­tant de­vi­a­tion from the down­siz­ing strat­egy, sign­ing Chap­man to the rich­est con­tract in his­tory for a closer, a five-year, $86 mil­lion deal. That gave the 2017 Yankees a ninth-in­ning an­chor in the event this team ar­rived early, which ap­pears to have hap­pened. Though Chap­man is on the dis­abled list with shoul­der in­flam­ma­tion and could be out un­til mid-June, he re­mains among the most un­hit­table pitch­ers in the game.


The Yankees have grown younger and more com­pet­i­tive. They ac­quired Star­lin Cas­tro, left, via trade and Aaron Judge, right, through the draft.

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