The biggest off-season move the Yankees made this offseason was Rafael Soriano. Yet they ran away with the division few thought they would really compete in this year. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Since Brian Cashman became general manager of the New York Yankees the team has won four World Series championships and been to the World Series six times. But this year might be one of the finest of Cashman's career with the Yankees even if they don't do anything special in the playoffs.
This rag-tag bunch of aging veterans and a pitching staff made up of mostly duct tape won 97 games this season. 97 games!
How did Cashman pull this together? Was he just lucky?
It was an offseason of big swings and misses: Cashman aggressively pursued Cliff Lee, to no avail. Cashman also flirted with Carl Crawford, again to no avail. It was a quiet offseason for the headlines, but much got accomplished. What happened this offseason?
First, Cashman took care of the Yankees own by re-signing Derek Jeter (through a much too public "negotiation"), and Mariano Rivera.
Cashman took a lot of flak for the hefty contract that Jeter received ($51 million over three years), but Jeter has gone on to have a better season than anyone could have expected since July. Jeter has 94 hits in 281 at-bats, a .335 average over that time span. His speed, power, and defense are not what they once were, but Jeter has again shown why he is Derek Jeter.
Old Man Rivera had 44 saves this season in 49 opportunities and a 1.91 ERA. His eight walks allowed on the season is the second-lowest figure of his career.
The Yankees' biggest offseason signing was reliever Rafael Soriano, who has had an up-and-down season, but has been much better in the second half of the year. Cashman, remember, was against this move. But the point is not the signings like Soriano, it's the fact that there were not a ton of high-priced free agents this offseason.
Cashman also made a bunch of very "Theo/Red-Sox" like moves by taking on veteran comeback projects like Bartolo Colon, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia and Russell Martin.
Colon responded by going 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA. Not overly impressive, but his season was excellent until August, before which he was 8-4 and had no months with an ERA even as high as 4.00.
Freddy Garcia went 12-8 with a 3.62 RA. Another fine season.
Martin was sort of ousted by the Dodgers after a couple of disappointing seasons. He's significantly improved the Yankees defense from the catching position this year. His .237 average is nothing to write home about, but his 18 home runs were a nice surprise.
Chavez has flashed the ability that made him a perennial all-star early in his career with the Oakland Athletics, though he will never play every day and it's on a much larger scale. His presence on the Yankees has helped this team.
What other big moves did Cashman make? None,really. And that's the point.
I often define a season's value based upon how well the team plays above my expectations. I did not expect the 2011 Yankees to run away with the division. It was enough for them to make the playoffs, but through all of the injuries to Phil Hughes and Alex Rodriguez, the craziness of A.J. Burnett and complete decline of Jorge Posada this team has shown that its depth is much greater than we expected.
What might ultimately make this Cashman's finest season are the moves he didn't make. He believed in his much-maligned outfield of Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, and Nick Swisher. All have turned in good seasons. He pieced together a pitching staff that was able to accumulate 97 wins.
When Yankees fans look back in he future while watching Jesus Montero launch balls into right field, they should appreciate the patience and faith Cashman had in the 2011 Yankees roster. He swung and missed on Lee, but every other move he's made seems to have rolled aces. This team has greatly exceeded my expectations and I commend Cashman and Girardi for another division title and a fine season of Yankees baseball.