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Red Sox are in last place in the American League East -- granted, not by many games -- but Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is still fanning the flames of the game's most famous rivalry.
Cashman participated in a Chatting Cage session on MLB.com on Friday, taking questions from fans before the start of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium. He was asked about the Yankees' most underrated opponent, and his answer had nothing to do with the Rays, Orioles or Blue Jays.
"The most underrated is probably the Boston Red Sox, believe it or not," Cashman said. "I think it's hard to say -- people might be not expecting to hear that they're underrated, but I think given what took place last year and the turnover and the tough start to their season and the controversies they've had and some of the injuries, I think people continue to just assume that they're dead and buried or gone, but obviously, we know they're not. So I think they're underrated."
Cashman didn't give any conclusive hints as to where he's looking to go at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, as it's too far away, but he mentioned starting pitching as one possibility. Hitting with runners in scoring position was an area he lamented several times -- the Yankees entered Friday hitting .217 in those situations, third-worst in the Majors.
Yankees fans dove into the world of prospects with questions about the Minor Leaguer Cashman has been most excited about, and they also asked for updates on pitchers Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances.
Cashman had no hesitation about who's caught his eye: Right fielder Tyler Austin, MLB.com's No. 14 Yankees prospect entering the season, has stolen the show on a stacked Class A Charleston team. As of Friday, the 20-year-old was hitting .330 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in 56 games. Cashman said he's "done a phenomenal job."
As for Banuelos and Betances, Cashman didn't sugarcoat things. The former is hurt (left elbow), and the latter has a 5.28 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Following is the transcript of Cashman's chat.
The Subway Series is here!
It's upon us, the weather's good, New York City's going to be jumping this weekend.
What's going to separate the Yankees in a strong AL East?
Well, I think we better start hitting with runners in scoring position, first and foremost. I think if we did that, we would have separated ourselves a little bit already. Our starting pitching has come out, and our bullpen seems to be fine. I'd like to get our offense going in a more efficient way. I'm not sure if we've declared any area that's a major vulnerability yet, other than that runners in scoring position category.
How do you as GM not become reactionary to fans and media and ownership?
It's a good question. I mean, the expectations are always going to be high with our payroll, with the notoriety this franchise's history brings. You hook it up to the largest media market in the world, arguably, there's certainly going to be a lot of attention and notoriety and expectations that come with that.
You've got to honor the job description. They want you to win in the present, in the future, and ... you just try to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself and try to build some ideas around a philosophy that you already feel works, and then you stick to it no matter what.
Patience has to be a part of this game of baseball. It's 162 games; it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. You can't get caught up in the sprint mentality that comes whether it's April or May or June or July. When things don't go right, there's a hurricane of questions that come your way. You've got to feel good about what you're doing, because you'll be tested, and the ones that make mistakes, I think, deviate more so than not from their philosophies, and I try not to do that.
How will the outfield shape up when Brett Gardner's back?
Oh, Brett Gardner gets plugged right into left field, and Curtis Granderson stays in center and [Nick] Swisher stays in right.
[Gardner's] starting in Charleston tonight, five innings, and then we'll see how he feels and then bring him up to about seven innings of defense with the offensive side that comes with that, and just gradually bring him along and maybe have him back here as early as the next series we play.
What are you looking for at the Trade Deadline?
I'm not sure just yet. The preference would be not to do anything, because I'd rather not touch the farm system or add to the payroll. You'd like to have everything here in front of you, but that's never the case. So right now it's way too early to tell you what's lacking. Our starting pitching is something that has improved over time and pitched closer to its capabilities, with [Phil] Hughes and [Ivan] Nova and now with the addition of [Andy] Pettitte. I think our starting pitching's been much better; is it good enough? We'll have to determine that over time. I think if we just hit with runners in scoring position, we'd certainly be in a better position, too. It's too early for me to say what we're looking for just yet, if anything.
Can we get a Francisco Cervelli reprise any time soon?
That's tough to say. He's started to get it going now at Triple-A, and he's doing a great job catching, and the offense has gotten much much better, but Chris Stewart's done a great job here, and we're hoping Russell Martin's turned the corner and got the offense going for us. If both catchers stay healthy for us right now, I can't predict when you'll see Francisco Cervelli, but we feel we have a Major League catcher sitting there at Triple-A waiting for us just in the event we need him.
Which Minor Leaguer are you most excited about?
That would have to be Tyler Austin, who's at our Charleston club. We've got a lot of prospects on that Charleston club, and he's stepped up and so far had the biggest season out of that group of guys.
What's going on with prospects Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos?
They're not doing too good. Banuelos is on the DL with an elbow [injury], so he's probably down for another month, and then Betances' stuff is fantastic, [but] the command of his stuff is not fantastic right now, and so he's trying to find a way to harness that command with the big frame he throws at 6-foot-8. It takes a while for these big guys to get their mechanics on a consistent basis on a downward plane. When he can do that, he's got full command and no one can really hit him, but he's been very inconsistent with those mechanics and therefore inconsistent with the command of his stuff. So far one's injured and one's not performing up to his full potential just yet.