Brian Cashman has said that he subscribes to the theory of building with a “strong spine” of the diamond, first instilled in him decades ago by the late Yankees superscout Gene Michael. Teams that boast solid performers at catcher, shortstop, second base and center field are usually well-equipped to be contenders.
As the general manager eyes the Yankees’ projected 2022 roster, Cashman sees flashing red signals that indicate weakness in several of those areas, increasing the likelihood that the club will aim to address the issues in the free agent or trade markets this winter.
“We will be open-minded to everything and anything on this roster, as we should be,” Cashman said. “I’m going to be looking to upgrade, as we always do. Certainly after this 2021 season, there are some areas of weakness that have popped up in a lot of categories that did not exist prior to this year.”
Cashman said that his budget for 2022 has not been finalized, but the GM outlined shortstop as a clear area of need. The Yanks abandoned their Gleyber Torres experiment in September, shifting Torres to second base, where the club believes he will be better served in the future.
Cashman indicated he would look to upgrade over the in-house shortstop options of Gio Urshela and Andrew Velazquez, with Urshela penciled in as the starting third baseman.
This offseason presents a loaded free-agent crop at shortstop, including Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Trevor Story.
“Our belief was that we’d have a good player at that position in Gleyber Torres going into the 2021 season, but it didn’t play out the way we’d hoped,” Cashman said. “I would say, given that circumstance, without question as I enter ’22 I need to obviously upgrade that position from a defensive standpoint.”
Cashman said that he aims to field a lineup with more athleticism and contact-hitting ability than the ’21 roster displayed. The expected return of switch-hitting centerfielder Aaron Hicks could help settle some defense and balance issues.
Notably, Cashman was non-committal when asked if he envisions Gary Sánchez as the starting catcher in ’22. Sánchez did not start in the AL Wild Card Game against the Red Sox, yielding to backup Kyle Higashioka.
“We’ll see. I know one thing -- Gary has worked his tail off,” Cashman said. “I know at times the results might not be there, but I am proud of the fact that you’ve got a guy with a lot of heart, a lot of care, a lot of effort.”
Hindsight is 20/21
The Yankees’ 2021 playoff run lasted just nine innings in the American League Wild Card Game, and given the club’s inconsistent play throughout the regular season, Cashman said that he was not as surprised by the team’s early elimination as he has been in some previous seasons.
“There was certainly a lot of frustration that I’m going to take responsibility for, because it’s my operation,” Cashman said. “We went backwards in categories that we certainly didn’t see coming or expect. Two of our areas of strength were supposed to be our bullpen and our offense going into this season.”
Cashman aimed to correct those deficits at the Trade Deadline by importing first baseman Anthony Rizzo, outfielder Joey Gallo and others. Rizzo is eligible for free agency, while Gallo is under contract through ’22.
“This was a year that I would say might be my toughest,” Cashman said. “It was somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde. At times it looked unstoppable, but many other times unwatchable because of the streakiness and lack of consistency. Trying to solve that on the run, we were able to get to a Wild Card berth and a 92-win season, but certainly that’s not what we’re about.”
The search begins
Boone’s coaching staff will have a new look in 2022, with the Yankees opting not to renew the contracts of third-base coach Phil Nevin, hitting coach Marcus Thames and assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere. Cashman said that conversations about the shape of Boone’s coaching staff will now take place.
“Ultimately, I had to get Aaron done first before we can continue those conversations,” Cashman said. “I’m happy we’ve done that, but they were difficult calls to make. Hopefully it will serve us well as we move forward.”