On Oct. 1, the New York Yankees played their final game of the 2023 season, a 5-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals that dropped them to 82-80. That is New York’s worst record in three decades. It was not until this past Tuesday, Nov. 7, that someone with the Yankees put on their big boy pants, got in front of reporters, and took ownership of the disappointing season. And given what was said and how it was said, staying silent would have been the better move.
“I’m proud of our people and proud of our process,” GM Brian Cashman said Tuesday (per the New York Post). “It doesn’t mean we’re firing on all cylinders. It doesn’t mean we’re the best in class. But I think we’re pretty f–king good, personally. I’m proud of our people and I’m also looking forward to ’24 being a better year than ’23.”
Give Cashman credit for defending his staff, something chairman Hal Steinbrenner failed to do during his Zoom call earlier in the day Tuesday. The “I think we’re pretty f–king good, personally” comment was not and never was going to be well-received, even though it has been passed around without full context. Regardless, it’s a bad soundbite coming off an 82-80 season.
Cashman was fiery and combative, at times unprofessional — cursing doesn’t make you sound tough, it makes you sound unintelligent — and at times unhinged. I do admire Cashman for sticking up for himself and his people, although we can all see the “process” the Yankees employ has lost effectiveness. Their 82-80 season was not a fluke. It was the culmination of failed decisions going back several years, from the Joey Gallo trade to thinking Isiah Kiner-Falefa was an everyday shortstop, plus more.
Maybe Cashman, who is deeply unpopular with the fan base these days, didn’t go about defending himself in the best way — he’s been at this long enough to know how his comments would be received — but he was passionate. That is unlike Steinbrenner, who continues to seem thoroughly unmoved by his team’s multi-year downward trajectory. The owner who, in June, said he was “confused” why fans are upset, promised “big changes” on Tuesday without providing details.
“I’m not trying to be difficult. These were private meetings, and they need to stay that way,” Steinbrenner said when pressed on what “big changes” are being made (per the New York Daily News). To date, the only known organizational changes are at hitting coach and bench coach, where Sean Casey and Carlos Mendoza left the club voluntarily.
“Big changes” were promised and, seeing how Cashman and manager Aaron Boone are still in place, any changes will fall short of being “big.” Last December, Steinbrenner said “we’re not done yet” following Carlos Rodón’s introductory press conference, then the Yankees did nothing the rest of the offseason. They did not add another player to the 40-man roster from outside the organization until signing Franchy Cordero off the scrap heap the day before Opening Day. Steinbrenner is developing a reputation for big talk and small actions.
Steinbrenner added one of the first “tough” questions he asked after the season was whether Boone should return (he will), but there’s nothing tough about that. That is nothing more than an annual performance review. The sort of basic question that should be asked every offseason. Certainly nothing to brag about when the organization is trending downward and the fan base is begging to see some sign the franchise’s decline is being taken seriously or even just registering with the higher-ups.
The manager’s job security being questioned after a season in which the team fell so short of expectations is apparently such a foreign concept to Steinbrenner that he thought it was a “tough” question. It’s not tough, it’s basic due diligence. Is Boone the problem with the Yankees? No, of course not, but six years into his tenure it is becoming increasingly clear he is not part of the solution either. Hiring Boone straight out of the broadcast booth is another knock against the “process” Cashman defended.
We haven’t seen much evidence to suggest Steinbrenner is willing or capable of making difficult decisions. There is something admirable about his loyalty to Cashman and other longtime employees, but there’s a fine line between loyalty and complacency. The Yankees need a fresh set of eyes and a new voice in the front office, but they clearly aren’t getting one. And even if Steinbrenner did decide to make a change, is there reason to believe his search for Cashman’s replacement would be thorough and land on the right name?
You can always trade or release bad players, fire or replace ineffective coaches and managers and front office people, but if you have a bad owner, you’re stuck with them until they decide they no longer want to be stuck with you. Perhaps it’s unfair to call Steinbrenner a bad owner — he does support a high payroll every season — but he does not come off as engaged. He doesn’t have to be his father, who himself was very unpopular with the fan base until the late 1990s, but what we saw Tuesday was indifference.
Ultimately, words only matter so much. Actions matter, and all will be forgotten if the Yankees have a good offseason — what exactly constitutes a “good offseason” is certainly up for debate — and win next season. There is no better solution than winning. Tuesday’s press conferences told us clearly that the Yankees are feeling the heat, as they should. Cashman’s response was to fire back and maybe that wasn’t the best move. Steinbrenner? He came across as at best indecisive and at worst disengaged.