What the Yankees uproar over Brian Cashman’s Giancarlo Stanton comments is really about

Brian Cashman offered a lot that could be viewed as controversial or off-base in his hour-long sparring session with reporters at the GM Meetings. None of it had anything to do with Giancarlo Stanton.

Last week, Cashman, at his annual sleep-out to raise awareness for youth homelessness, attempted to clarify his comments, saying that he reached out to both Stanton and Stanton’s representative, Joel Wolfe, to make sure both knew he meant no malice.

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Let’s drill down here for this week’s “Got my attention.” I think this Stanton issue had life breathed into it because Cashman currently is so unpopular with the fan base that his most ardent haters are willing to turn molehills into controversy.

My strong belief is that many screaming the loudest that Cashman should be fired also would fit into a group who still wish George Steinbrenner owned the team because — among other items — he would fire Brian Cashman.

But remember that one charming aspect of Steinbrenner was that he was not above ripping his own players and employees publicly. I once had to — with an editing assist from this newspaper — figure out how to present the word pussy (pussie? pus-sy? rhymes with fussy) because the dignified Yankees owner called Hideki Irabu a fat pussy (pussie? pus-sy? rhymes with fussy) toad. He labeled Dave Winfield Mr. May. He attacked Derek Jeter for being too distracted with off-field endeavors.

Cashman noting the likelihood that Stanton would get injured again next year would not have cracked the Steinbrenner Top 50. Imagine if Cashman had said this about Stanton: “I’m fed up with his attitude. He ought to realize his lack of hitting lately has killed us.” By the way, Steinbrenner once said exactly that about Don Mattingly.

Hideki Irabu infamously drew the ire of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Nury Hernandez for the NY Post

You want to argue that ownership comes with a privilege to do this? Sure. I just haven’t noticed other owners indulging, particularly to the volume Steinbrenner once did.

Again, for those looking to level Cashman, he offered plenty of statements to criticize in his conversation with reporters. Among other things, his defense of acquiring Joey Gallo hopscotched from one bit of illogic to the next, and his calling the minor league hitting program “indisputable” was quite disputable.

But when it came to Stanton, what Cashman offered had the shock value of saying summer will follow spring. Stanton has been on the injured list seven times in the past four seasons. What if Cashman had said this about the frequency of Stanton injury list stints: “It’s unacceptable this often.”

Would you have killed him for that? Before you answer, would you like to know who said that about Giancarlo Stanton? That would be Giancarlo Stanton criticizing himself upon injuring his left hamstring last April.

Stanton’s public accountability in his time with the Yankees has been as impressive as his exit velocity.

Cashman’s comments on Stanton were part of a roughly two-minute answer in which the Yankees general manager was mainly defending his director of player health and performance, Eric Cressey. He veered into Stanton by noting, “I’m not gonna tell you he’s gonna play every game next year because he’s not. He’s going to get hurt again, more likely than not, because it seems to be part of his game. But I know that when he’s right and healthy, other than this past year, the guy’s a great hitter and has been for a long time.”

Brian Cashman had to do some damage control after he was quoted mentioning Giancarlo Stanton’s injury issues.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Really, it does not rise to the level of “Ken Clay spit the bit,” another Steinbrenner classic.

Yet, the Stanton portion of the quote surfaced about a week later independent of the fuller answer Cashman delivered. Wolfe told The Athletic in response, “I read the context of the entire interview. I think it’s a good reminder for all free agents considering signing in New York both foreign and domestic that to play for that team you’ve got to be made of Teflon, both mentally and physically because you can never let your guard down even in the offseason.”

Wolfe did not want to discuss the matter further when contacted by The Post, but he does represent the top “foreign” free agent this offseason in Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who is a Yankees target. Cashman said at the sleep-out that “I feel like everything’s in a good spot” when it comes to his relationship with Wolfe, Stanton and this marketplace.

I doubt a non-sequitur about the injury-prone Stanton being injury-prone will dissuade Yamamoto from playing in The Bronx if the righty wants to do so and the Yankees bid the most. Wolfe is one of the best and most respected agents in his business and has a history of working well with the Yankees, including when Stanton used a no-trade clause to spurn deals from the Marlins to the Giants or Cardinals and get directed to the Yankees instead.

By then, Wolfe had vast knowledge of all things Yankees. He’s placed plenty of his clients with the team, including Jason Giambi, whose ties to steroids and the Yankees’ inability to get out of his contract once led to Steinbrenner going on a verbal tirade against Wolfe’s then-boss, Arn Tellem, in which, among other things, he called Tellem a four-letter curse word.

Yankees fans can only imagine the invective George Steinbrenner would unleash on his team were he still alive.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

These are the kind and gentle Yankees compared to then. Aaron Boone, also a client of Wasserman (where Wolfe runs the baseball wing), is more likely to break out in song than to deliver pointed public criticism of one of his players. Cashman’s track record is to try to foster an environment that provides lots of support and resources for players. Hal Steinbrenner is most certainly not his father.

Because if George took on New York titans like Winfield, Jeter and Mattingly, then trust me, what he might have said about Stanton would not have been buried deep in a defense of Eric Cressey.

Free-agent deep dive

My intention was to write about Aaron Nola this week because I heard he might come off the board relatively quickly. So I had assembled a lot of these thoughts prior to Nola signing a seven-year, $172 million contract to stay with the Phillies for what might now be his whole career.

There are no more aggressive heads of baseball operations than Atlanta’s Alex Anthopoulos and Philadelphia’s Dave Dombrowski. They are baseball literalists, especially Dombrowski. What they need, they go out and get.

And if that sounds like a relatively obvious concept, you might not have been fully watching the sport in recent years.

The more analytically leaning front offices operate under the principle not to feel cornered into filling a need. The credo is there are two ways to improve: You can score more runs or give up fewer. Which works just fine as a macro theory to help avoid overpaying for items. It is just that if you need a third baseman and you get a pitcher, you might give up fewer runs, but you still need a third baseman.

GM Alex Anthopoulos has already made a number of deals this offseason to create roster flexbility for the Braves.

The Yankees have — to my belief — been bedeviled by this way of thinking in recent seasons. This is how they keep (in their mind) winning individual maneuvers for so many unathletic righty hitters. They are fixated on winning the move, but not fully appreciating how they are losing the roster. If you need a lefty hitter, you need to get a lefty hitter — even if he is inferior to the righty hitter.

The other more modern default is to use the clock to drag out business and look for bargains as players/agents or teams get antsy to get deals done.

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In this universe, Anthopoulos and Dombrowski navigate differently from so many of their peers. Anthopoulos is renowned for acting quickly to address his needs. Already this offseason, for example, he did much to address his bullpen in the short and long term by extending the contracts of Joe Jimenez and Pierce Johnson, trading for Aaron Bummer and signing free agent Reynaldo Lopez for three years at $30 million.

Anthopoulos also dealt seven players and non-tendered seven in the past week to free up roster spots and money. The belief was that Nola was a target. Adding him would have offered the Braves the high-end innings eater they needed in the rotation, but also would have hurt the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, in part because the Phillies were 2-0 in Nola’s starts as he held the Braves to two earned runs in 11 ⅔ innings.

The Phillies obviously know the track record. So Dombrowski stayed true to his philosophy and acted swiftly to retain one of the best pitchers in Phillies history. He called Nola the No. 1 priority for the Phillies this offseason and treated the pursuit that way.

Phillies team president Dave Dombrowski moved quickly to sign Aaron Nola and keep him from joining a division rival.

Does it help Dombrowski that he almost always has an owner willing to foot the bill to address what he needs at the top of the market? No doubt.

Philadelphia owner John Middleton has distinguished himself by prioritizing winning with the way he authorizes spending. The Phillies will now be paying at least seven players $20 million or more in 2024: Nola, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Zack Wheeler, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. Plus, Taijuan Walker will make $18 million.

I would suspect the Phillies did not want to go seven years to begin this process, but they wanted Nola on the Braves (or somewhere else) less. The Phillies needed a top starter and awarded Nola the largest pitching contract in franchise history.

So what did they buy?

What is never fair to the sturdy, above-average starter is that what makes them appealing (their durability) is what worries teams. Every pitcher is on a warranty. It is just a matter of time until he breaks. The best sign of a pitcher who can make all his starts and provide significant innings is a track record of doing just that. But that track record builds up the innings on a body/arm.

Nola was the best bulldog in this free-agent class, at least the domestic portion. Since 2018, the righty has been on the IL just once — a brief stint for COVID in 2021. In that time, he had started the most games at 175 (Gerrit Cole is second with 173) and had the second most innings at 1,065 ⅓ (Cole has 1,076 ⅔).

No one in the majors has started more games since 2018 than the Phillies’ Aaron Nola.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

During this period, he has a third-, fourth- and seventh-place finish for the NL Cy Young. But he also has two seasons in that time in which he was below average in ERA-plus, including this past one. He spruced up the 2023 campaign by pitching well in the postseason — a 2.35 ERA in four starts.

He limits walks while striking out more than a batter per inning during his career. But through age 30, his defining skill is dependability. He takes the ball. Kevin Gausman had a similar profile through his age-30 season — sturdy right-hander with good, but often vacillating results. He then signed a five-year, $110 million pact with the Blue Jays and actually has blossomed further — still providing durability, but also finishing ninth and third for the AL Cy Young in the two years with Toronto.

But there are many righties who came up at age 22 (as Nola did) and had a run through age 30 that belong in the Venn diagram with Nola — workhorse innings and very good, not great results: think Matt Garza, Kevin Millwood, Matt Morris, Brad Radke and Jason Schmidt. All of them faded either immediately or in their early 30s.

The industry generally rewards dominance, and that is why the far less durable Carlos Rodon got a six-year, $162 million accord last offseason. In this marketplace, Blake Snell is Rodon — a lefty who has the ability to dominate and real concerns beyond that.

So Nola’s seven-year, $172 million package ($24.57 million on average annually) likely sets the baseline for Snell, who also just concluded his age-30 campaign.

Nola was in a similar comparison with a starter with more overwhelming stuff after the 2018 season as well.

Free agent Blake Snell can use Aaron Nola’s $172 million Phillies deal as a benchmark.

Nola and Luis Severino both came up in 2015 and had similar profiles through 2018 — Severino had finished third and ninth for the AL Cy Young in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and Nola finished third for the NL Cy Young in 2018.

The pair signed extensions a few days apart in Feb. 2019 to avoid arbitration — Nola for four years at $40 million with a fifth-year option and Severino for four years at $45 million with a fifth-year option.

During the life of those contracts, Nola made 142 starts, threw 853 innings and accumulated 16.3 Wins Above Replacement (Baseball Reference). The injury-proone Severino appeared in 45 games (40 starts), threw 209 ⅓ innings and had 1.1 WAR.

Severino is likely looking at having to sign a one-year contract to prove himself before trying to score much more next offseason.

Roster stuff maybe only I notice

The Mariners do not deserve to be No. 26 on our list.

The talent that they have incubated is far better than that. But it is lopsided. And the game we have agreed to play here is to assemble the best 26-man roster possible by putting each player back with the organization that signed him to his first pro contract.

Hence, the problem: The Mariners simply do not have enough position players. On a 26-man roster, no club could have more than 13 pitchers. And the issue is the Mariners have just 12 position players.

Julio Rodriguez is one of the relatively few homegrown position players the Mariners have sent to the majors.
Getty Images

If this were a game of just which organization has accumulated the most talent, the Mariners would be fine because their small positional group includes — among others — Ketel Marte, Cal Raleigh and Julio Rodriguez. And if this were just about starting pitching, Seattle would win. In the real world, Seattle would simply trade some of the starting pitching for positional needs. Of course, in the real world, the Mariners did trade pitchers such as Pablo Lopez and Freddy Peralta and received too little in return. Perhaps that helps explain why the franchise has made just one playoff appearance since 2001.

Seattle had 47 original signs play in 2023 — 35 were pitchers. And consider this when it comes to pitching: Of the 27 pitchers who started at least 32 games, four were original Mariners signs (Lopez, Logan Gilbert, Yusei Kikuchi and J.P. Sears). There were 35 who made at least 31 starts, and six (including George Kirby and Taijuan Walker) were Mariners originals. And they had seven of the 40 (adding Peralta) who made 30 starts.

Most organizations struggle to compile a competent five for an original rotation. The Mariners could make two pretty strong rotations if you also want to include Zack Littell, Bryce Miller, James Paxton, Brandon Williamson and Bryan Woo.

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They had 12 originals make at least 10 starts. Only the Yankees had as many, and their quality was nowhere near as good as that of the Mariners.

Logan Gilbert has proved to be one fo the Mariners’ most reliable starters, compiling a 3.76 ERA in 88 starts.
Getty Images

The Seattle original team — short one bench player:

C: Raleigh
1B: Ji Man Choi
2B: Marte
SS: Chris Taylor
3B: Noelvi Marte
LF: Tyler O’Neill
CF: Rodriguez
RF: Cade Marlowe
DH: Luis Rengifo
Bench: Kyle Lewis, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino
Rotation: Gilbert, Kikuchi, Kirby, Lopez, Peralta
Closer: Felix Bautista
Bullpen: Littell, Isaiah Campbell, Enyel De Los Santos, Dominic Leone, Emilio Pagan, Erasmo Ramirez, Ryan Yarbrough

My totally made-up trade*

On occasion, rather than make one up, I will review one. This week, that is the Braves acquiring Bummer from the White Sox for righties Michael Soroka and Riley Gowens, lefty Jared Shuster, infielder Nicky Lopez and shortstop Braden Shewmake.

I like the trade for both clubs.

New White Sox GM Chris Getz had publicly stated he did not like the roster of a team that lost 101 games in 2023. He said he was open for business. And he made the kind of deal that begins to raise the floor on his team. He needs bodies. And he used Bummer to get them. Might he have received a better player or players at, say, the 2024 trade deadline if Bummer pitched well? Probably. But that is a long way and a lot of risk from here.

Jared Shuster, who made 11 starts as a rookie with Atlanta in 2023, should help deepen the White Sox’s rotation.
Getty Images

Soroka is far removed, and several injuries removed, from the pitcher who finished second for the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year. Perhaps there is a 10-20 percent chance he can pitch somewhat like that in 2024. If so, he becomes a trade chip at the deadline.

Shuster is a back-of-the-rotation piece for a team that needs inexpensive depth. The White Sox can hardly do worse at shortstop than they did last year with Tim Anderson. Both Lopez and Shewmake can at least defend the position, and one can slide over to second. Gowens is a depth piece.

For the Braves, Bummer should be thought of as perhaps the lefty version of Pierce Johnson.

Atlanta traded for Johnson last July 24 when he had a 6.00 ERA in 43 appearances for the Rockies. But at that time, Johnson had a 3.98 expected Fielding Independent Pitching ERA — a metric that attempts to credit a pitcher for what he is most responsible for and not penalize him for, say, a poor defense.

Johnson was a flyball pitcher in a bad home park (Coors Field) to be a flyball pitcher and doing it for a losing team with bad mojo. The Braves thought there was a lot to like about Johnson, who produced a 0.76 ERA for them in 24 appearances. This offseason, the Braves signed him to a two-year, $14.25 million extension.

Bummer had a 6.79 ERA in 61 appearances last season for the White Sox. But he had a 3.51 xFIP. He is an extreme groundball pitcher (58.2 percent grounders) who had a bad infield behind him in a depressing environment. The Braves have one of the best defensive infields in the majors.

The Braves will now have four lefty relief options next season with Bummer, Dylan Lee (who has minor league options), A.J. Minter and, if he can return successfully from Tommy John surgery, Tyler Matzek. Minter can be a free agent after the 2024 campaign, so the Braves gain some protection with Bummer, who is signed for $5.5 million in 2024 with options for 2025 ($7.25 million) and 2026 ($7.5 million).

Aaron Bummer should see an uptick in his numbers with the Braves’ stellar infield defense behind him in 2024.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Po

Lopez and Soroka were players the Braves were going to non-tender if they did not trade them. Shewmake, Shuster and Gowens had no obvious roles any time soon with the team.

Last licks

In a column that appeared in our Sunday paper, I noted that “the Yankees have roughly a $250 million payroll projection for next season if they do nothing” further in adding players.

My email revealed some blowback on that, so I figured I would try (and probably fail) to explain it.

First, let’s start with the word “projection,” which means talking about what something is going to be. This is an expectation for the 2024 season, not where matters stand right now.

Second, let’s describe the process, because there are a lot of ways to calculate a payroll. But the one most teams care about — certainly the Yankees — is the one for the luxury tax. So everything here will be done with that in mind.

The Yankees have seven players signed for 2024 — Cole, Rodon, Stanton, Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu and Tommy Kahnle — at a total of $165.75 million.

They still are responsible for Aaron Hicks’ $10 million salary next season, minus the $740,000 minimum (that is the likely outcome, but not guaranteed). Thus, the Yankees’ responsibility would be $9.26 million. That brings them to $175.01 million.

The $9 million-plus the Yankees likely will owe Aaron Hicks next year doesn’t help their payroll picture.
Getty Images

The Yankees have eight arbitration-eligible players — Gleyber Torres, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Kyle Higashioka, Nestor Cortes, Jose Trevino, Michael King and Clarke Schmidt. MLB Trade Rumors’ salary projection for that group is $37.9 million.

That takes the running total to $212.91 million.

You still have to fill out a roster with pre-arbitration players and project a series of call-ups during the season. A conservative guesstimate is $12 million for that, bringing the total to $224.91 million. Then, all 30 teams are assessed a fee for player benefits such as insurance and pension. Let’s say that’s $17 million. Every team also is charged about $1.7 million for the universal pre-arbitration pool.

That brings the total projection to $243.61 million — more if you want to add, say, a $3 million-$5 million expectation for July trades.

But this provides a rough guide at the “projection” before the Yankees decide whether to trim further by trading any/all of the arbitration-eligible Torres, Cortes and Higashioka. And, of course, before they significantly add to the payroll from outside.

If you like this, drop a line and we will do the same exercise next week for the Mets.

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