Last Updated on October 29, 2023 at 12:11 pm by Sara Molnick
Brian Cashman’s trade of Josh Donaldson will surely go down in Yankees history as one of the worst-ever decisions taken. Considering the team’s current slide, the general manager can’t go scot-free this time.
The decision to release Donaldson marked the conclusion of a two-year miscalculation. This misjudgment not only cast a shadow on the competence of the Yankees’ analysts but also contributed to their descent to the last position in the AL East. Presently, the Yankees exhibit a state of disarray across all facets of their gameplay. In essence, Donaldson’s presence epitomized the broader array of issues that have plagued the team.
The decision and its ramifications on the Yankees
Shortly after the Yankees suffered a defeat in the 2021 wild-card game against the Red Sox, Brian Cashman took swift action to tackle a persistent concern that had been bothering him throughout the season. The general manager, alongside other key figures within the team’s leadership, held the belief that the Yankees lacked the necessary grit and resilience required to secure a championship title.
The team’s requirement was for a passionate player capable of injecting energy into the clubhouse.
Cashman had engaged in discussions with the Twins regarding a potential trade involving Gary Sanchez, a player the Yankees were eager to part ways with. Unexpectedly, the Twins had their own concerns to address, which led them to consider unloading Josh Donaldson.
Despite Donaldson’s history of being somewhat difficult and his reputation that had caused him to move through four different teams in as many years, the Yankees chose to overlook the negative chatter and saw it as a risk worth taking. Additionally, his history in the Yankees’ analytics department was highly regarded: Alongside his victory as the top performer in 2015, the power hitter had consistently secured a position within the top eight contenders for the MVP award for four consecutive years, spanning from 2013 to 2016.
Yankees gamble goes warry
The Yankees held firm in their belief that they could resurrect the former version of Donaldson and manage any additional challenges that arose. Unfortunately, this gamble resulted in an unmitigated failure. The team squandered a considerable sum of $50 million on an aging veteran whose performance had significantly declined, hitting a mere .207.
Cashman’s adept team failed to recognize that Donaldson, in his ages 37 and 38 seasons, could never replicate the form he displayed during his prime a decade ago. Although he consistently made solid contact with the ball, his frequency of successful hits had diminished. A seasoned executive remarked on the limitations of the Yankees’ reliance on analytics, suggesting that the question should focus on whether the player can simply hit, without delving solely into exit velocity.
The answer to this inquiry was a clear and resounding “no.” As highlighted by Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, Donaldson’s performance this season included only one hit out of the 63 fastballs he faced that were thrown at 95 mph or higher.
In all fairness, Donaldson’s interactions within the clubhouse were unremarkable, primarily due to his frequent injuries and isolation from the team. While influential figures like Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Gerrit Cole didn’t welcome Donaldson into their inner circle, he posed no significant disruption. In essence, this represented the best outcome that the Yankees could have anticipated.
A member of the MLB community who has had a long association with Donaldson likened having him in the clubhouse to having a pit bull at home. This individual explained that pit bulls can display both affection and warmth, but unpredictably, they might suddenly become hostile without any apparent reason. Similarly, the person described Donaldson as amiable and pleasant, but with an underlying uncertainty. The point is, interactions with him can be unpredictable and one can never be certain about his demeanor.
The decision is one of Cashman’s many mistakes
The subsequent part of this narrative contributes to a broader storyline that is set to unfold in the upcoming winter.
Cashman’s miscalculations extended beyond Donaldson and encompassed players like Joey Gallo, Frankie Montas, and Aaron Hicks, among others. The scrutiny will be placed not only on the Yankees’ analysts but also on the player development team and the international scouting department during this offseason.
Cashman himself will be subject to evaluation, although his job won’t be on the line. He will, however, be accountable to Hal Steinbrenner. Contrary to the sentiments expressed by critics of the owner on social media, I’ve been informed that Steinbrenner is deeply disappointed by the franchise’s downward trajectory. Once the regular season concludes, the young Boss plans to hold every party involved responsible.
This leads us to the role of manager Aaron Boone. I learned weeks ago that Boone’s position could be in jeopardy if the Yankees ended up in last place. The possibility of Boone’s departure remains open.
However, a recent report by SNY’s Andy Martino suggests that Boone is safe. He has Cashman’s endorsement, and Boone’s removal would necessitate Steinbrenner’s intervention.
Considering that such a scenario hasn’t unfolded before, it’s likely that Boone will return in 2024.
Nonetheless, this course of action would have made more sense in a different era, perhaps back in 2017 when Cashman wielded full autonomy. That year, despite a contract up for renewal, a decade without a losing record, and narrowly missing the World Series by a single game, Joe Girardi was let go by Cashman. A new wave of young Yankees, including Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, was deemed to need a younger leader.
Girardi, devastated, made a plea to Steinbrenner to keep his job, but the young Boss sided with Cashman.
Now, six years later, neither Cashman nor Boone has guided the Yankees to the World Series. Grave mistakes have been made along the way, Donaldson included, despite a payroll exceeding $1 billion. The extent to which Steinbrenner will reshape the Yankees’ structure is yet to be revealed, although financial concerns seem to be secondary, even with the missed postseason ticket sales.
The Yankees could have potentially earned an additional $25 million to $30 million had they reached Game 7 of the World Series. However, this was not a feasible outcome. Steinbrenner has come to terms with this revenue loss.
What’s certain is that this isn’t 2017. Cashman’s influence will no longer remain unchallenged. Advisors from the old school, such as Omar Minaya and Brian Sabean, will have a more substantial say in the upcoming months.
This could spell trouble for the analysts and potentially for Boone as well. Donaldson’s time with the Yankees has come to an end, but the internal intrigue is only just starting.
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