Last Updated on November 12, 2023 at 9:52 am by dopse
Brian Cashman has had a free run within the Yankees since he took over as general manager in 1998. However, for the first time, he is facing a challenge to his all-pervasive power as Aaron Judge is emerging as a counterweight to him within the organization.
This was clearly on display as Aaron Judge went on to speak against the Yankees’ analytic-heavy approach anchored by Cashman. He even openly reminded the Yankees owner about promises made to him during his return from free agency and termed them a key factor in the 2024 success. His call for changes forced the general manager to come out to defend himself. However, it turned more into a tirade against fans and critics that invited further brickbats.
Aaron Judge’s ascendancy in the Yankees hierarchy
Soon after he was named the captain, Aaron Judge set in motion his Yankees plan. His strong backing played a crucial role in the Yankees settling on Anthony Volpe as the starting shortstop after spring training.
During the spring, Aaron Judge consistently informed reporters how impressed he had been with Volpe’s composure, especially considering the young player’s age of 21. The Yankees captain observed how well Volpe dealt with pressure and expectations, even surpassing his own performance at that age. At one juncture, Aaron Judge conveyed a direct message to the front office through the media.
In March, Aaron Judge said that he thinks being the best player should be the deciding factor, irrespective of age. He asserted that if someone is the best fit for the job, they should contribute to helping the Yankees, emphasizing that age, whether 19 or 41, should not be a determining factor.
The Yankees haven’t consistently followed that approach. Historically, the team has often leaned toward keeping high-paid veterans, even if they are facing challenges or hindering the team’s chances of winning, rather than giving opportunities to younger players. For instance, the Yankees persisted with Josh Donaldson at third base for the last two seasons, despite it becoming evident last year that he had declined and no longer maintained the batting performance he once had.
Aaron Judge pressed Cashman even more
The Yankees faced a multitude of challenges this season. These challenges range from underperformance and unfortunate injuries to subpar roster construction. However, when the team was officially ruled out of playoff contention in late September, Aaron Judge expressed the need for “lots of internal changes’ within the organization. This statement revealed the significant influence that he holds.
Aaron Judge wasn’t speaking solely as a star right fielder and the reigning American League MVP; rather, he was addressing the situation as if he held the responsibilities of general manager Brian Cashman. Soon several of his teammates joined him with strong backing. Cole even went on to demand a seat for either him or the captain in the Yankees’ decision-making process.
In late September, Aaron Judge shared that he had some ideas for improvement, but he emphasized that it would require collaboration from everyone within the organization. He stressed the importance of discussions with individuals at every level, from the minor-league staff to the top management. The Yankees slugger acknowledged the areas needing work and enhancement but also highlighted the promising aspects observed with the emergence of young talents. According to him, this is the opportune moment to build on those positive elements and lay the groundwork for the future.
On Tuesday, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner shared minimal information during his media discussion about the team’s future. However, a closer examination of his statements provided additional insights into Aaron Judge’s position in the organizational hierarchy. Steinbrenner made two mentions of “Judge and I” during Tuesday’s session, specifically in connection to what they consider “significant changes” that may not align with the opinions of the media and fans. Notably, when addressing potential changes, Steinbrenner emphasized “Judge and I” rather than “Cashman and I.”
However, since Aaron Judge secured his nine-year, $360 million contract last offseason and assumed the role of captain, he has had a direct channel to Steinbrenner’s attention. Even while on vacation in Italy last December, Steinbrenner himself closed the deal with Judge. Throughout the negotiation process, Steinbrenner took a hands-on approach, being the most involved in any free-agency decision since becoming the team’s owner. The trust between the player and the owner has since grown significantly. This empowered Aaron Judge to voice his opinions on team matters. Toward the end of the season, Boone noted that he felt Judge was becoming more comfortable participating in behind-the-scenes decisions.
Yankees’ Steinbrenner gives importance to Aaron Judge
Certainly, the Yankees are attentive to Aaron Judge’s viewpoints. Being the most crucial player with a substantial financial commitment of around $40 million per year, it’s only natural to consider his thoughts on the team’s issues within the clubhouse. This consideration played a role in Boone’s reappointment as the manager for the upcoming season, as Aaron Judge endorsed it, expressing confidence in Boone’s abilities.
Steinbrenner said that there would be significant changes, but that they might not be considered significant by some. According to him, both he and Aaron Judge made these decisions based on their daily involvement in the team.
They have already had several meetings this offseason, but the details of these discussions have been kept private. Starting this season, it became a routine for Steinbrenner, Judge, Gerrit Cole, Cashman, and manager Aaron Boone to gather at least once a month at Yankee Stadium.
Aaron Judge isn’t the only prominent athlete wielding significant influence over their team’s decision-making processes. LeBron James has been engaged in this practice for several years, with outcomes that are often less than favorable. Players may occasionally let personal biases influence their judgment, as seen in James’ push for the Los Angeles Lakers to trade for Kyrie Irving. In hindsight, considering Irving’s inconsistent performance, it’s clear that trading for him may not have been the wisest decision.
While Aaron Judge can certainly have valuable opinions on personnel matters, the front office should generally make independent decisions regardless of his input. Agreement with the Yankees captain is fine, but yielding to his preferences could be problematic. Regardless of public distrust in the decision-making process, Aaron Judge’s influence should not be disproportionate. This raises questions about how the general manager feels regarding the direct access his star player has to the owner, potentially going over his head. In October, Aaron Judge acknowledged that he was in more direct communication with Steinbrenner than with Cashman.
Since the season concluded, Cashman had a conversation with Aaron Judge to better understand his remarks regarding the team’s emphasis on certain statistics. The general manager defended his approach. However, Steinbrenner seems to be placing significant importance on the Yankees captain’s perspective regarding the team’s current state and its future appearance. Recent developments suggest that Aaron Judge holds a position akin to the second tier of the team’s organizational hierarchy and that he shares that level with Cashman. Steinbrenner’s statements on Tuesday served to reinforce this observation.
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