It’s very hard to call a team with the highest payroll in baseball the underdog, but coming in to this season things felt a little different for the New York Yankees. Everyone said they were old. Everyone said they were a lock to miss the playoffs. Everyone was bashing the General Manager, Brian Cashman. How could they win with a bunch of rag-tag guys whose best years were behind them?
It turns out 2013 may be Cashman’s finest hour.
Joe Girardi is also doing his best managing job. With all the new personalities in the clubhouse, he has done a great job mixing and matching and building chemistry.
Time after time, as players who were integral parts of past teams began leaving for free agency, Cashman was getting criticized. Why can’t the Yankees spend? You can’t win if you don’t shell out the bucks! The team that “won” the offseason now has one of the worst records in the game – the Angels – at 14-24.
Then the injuries came. One by one, players began dropping like flies. From Derek Jeter to Eduardo Nunez, and everywhere in between, the Yankees have had to patch things together on the go. Well, on May 14, the Yankees have the second best record in all of baseball.
Cashman is very good at analyzing players, taking a chance, and looking for a bounce-back year. Look at Nick Swisher. In 2008 with the White Sox, Swisher hit just .219 with 24 homers and 69 RBIs. He earned $5.5 million in 2009 with the Yankees after coming over in a trade (Wilson Betemit was the main piece Chicago received), and hit .249 with 29 homers and 82 RBIs. His best year came in 2010, when he hit .288, 29 home runs and 88 RBIs.
Vernon Wells, 34, was relegated to being a fourth outfielder with the Angels, making $21 million per year. He had been an All-Star and gold glove winner with Toronto, but has completely fallen off the map in recent years. A trade necessitated by injury brought Wells over to the New York in March, with the team picking up $15 mill of his remaining $42 million over this season and the next. Last year, Wells hit .230/.279/.403 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs in 77 games. Currently, he’s hitting .299/.349/.526 with nine homers and 22 RBIs in just 36 games. Wells is tied with Robinson Cano for the team lead in average. He is second in runs (20), second in home runs, second in RBIs and third in stolen bases (4).
Cashman, who has always been a big believer of high on-base guys with power, saw value in Travis Hafner – a guy who once hit 42 home runs and 117 RBIs while leading his team to the World Series but has since been plagued by injuries; Hafner, who will be 36 in June, has only played in over 100 games once since 2007. Last year, he hit .228/.346/.438 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs in 66 games. This year, he’s hitting .269/.387/.527 with six homers and 18 RBIs in 31 games.
Lyle Overbay, 36, was on the scrap heap in spring training, signing with the Red Sox before they ultimately released him towards the end of camp. With only three days to impress the Yankees before the season began, he donned the pinstripes. Overbay played on four teams from 2010-2012, clearly at the end of his career. Entering play on Tuesday, Overbay – who is making just over $1 million – has more RBIs (22) than Albert Pujols (21) – who is making $15 million.
The young guys have contributed as well. Clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh yesterday, rookie Corban Joseph doubled for his first career hit. Then Austin Romine doubled him in, knocking starter Trevor Bauer out of the game. The Yankees went on to have a six-run inning en route to a 7-0 win.
Things didn’t look so good when spring training started. Cashman himself even got hurt from jumping out of a plane to support the Wounded Warrior Project. In year’s past, the Yankees have fielded hall-of-famers at nearly every position. 95-100 wins and a playoff appearance were givens. The team steamed through the regular season like a juggernaut. Now, things are different. Nothing is guaranteed – October is an unknown, not a formality. This team is fun to watch – they have to earn these wins.
Even though these guys probably can’t maintain their current production, they have gotten the Yankees through the tough part of the season with flying colors. The cavalry is on the way and the team can only get better, as Curtis Granderson is set to return possibly tonight and Mark Teixeira in a few weeks. But right now, these players from the “island of misfit toys,” it seems like, are producing. No one wanted them in the offseason. The Angels are paying Vernon Wells to play against them. Hafner spent 10 seasons with Cleveland before they let him go. Overbay was released from the Sox when they had first-base issues. Cashman has said all along he believes in the guys he’s brought aboard.
If the Yankees go anywhere this year, they will have earned it and surpassed any and all expectations anyone had for them… Except Brian Cashman’s.