Cashman is one smooth, stealth operatorWhen the Yankees GM does business, it creates surprise and awe
Monday was a memorable day if you’re a New York sports fan, particularly if you share passion for the Rangers and Yankees. Hours before Cashman stunned everyone with the trade for Ichiro Suzuki, the Rangers completed marathon talks with the Columbus Blue Jackets to acquire Rick Nash, an elite forward who is a two-time 40-goal scorer and with 289 goals in 674 career games. The difference between Rangers GM Glen Sather and Cashman was that there were people who knew the Rangers were after Nash since the winter. Thanks to the explosion of social media, fans are plugged in and left to differentiate fact from fiction, speculation from reality, legit or hoax Twitter accounts. Whether reports are true or false, fans are in on the action.
Then you have GMs like Cashman, whose business philosophy is shock and awe, even when the names don’t necessarily scream blockbuster. It was different on December 23, 2008 when Cashman, shortly after executing the expected with the signings of free agents CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, agreed in principle with Mark Teixeira. Six weeks earlier he traded for Nick Swisher to play first base and spent $243.5 million on two starting pitchers, so the fact that Cashman was in on Teixeira and got him was a bombshell.
In recent seasons Cashman has waved a magic wand, each time causing those around baseball to do a double-take. The year of 2010 was when he suddenly acquired Lance Berkman, Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns, out-of-nowhere acquisitions as the clock towards the non-waiver deadline was down to precious minutes. It was January 13 – Friday the 13th – of this year when Cashman, following weeks of denials he wasn’t in the market for anyone and was set with his starting five, traded cherished prospect Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda, and roughly an hour later signed Hiroki Kuroda.
Shock and awe. Cashman applies it with verve. And even though Ichiro is no longer Ichiro, nobody saw this coming. No “sources familiar with the situation” cited anything about Ichiro to the Yankees, nor did anyone play virtual GM over Twitter suggesting to import an outfielder who’s enduring his worst season (.261-4-28) and whose OPS was worse than the .778 put up by Dewayne Wise – designated for assignment to make room for the 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner.
The Yankees stole the back pages from the Rangers with the acquisition of Ichiro based on stature and not production, whereas Nash is a prolific impact player, right here and right now, and free from the trade rumor distractions and losing environment that dogged him in Columbus. But besides this being a no-risk, potential high-reward acquisition of a player who may end up revitalized in New York City, how it came to fruition was a secret. And how the news broke – YES’ Jack Curry was first to report it – out of thin air and the reaction to it was a whole lotta fun.
“We weren’t actively in the marketplace,” Cashman said. “But when we got the word on Gardy (Brett Gardner’s season-ending surgery), I started making phone calls, started talking to ownership about surveying the landscape about what would be available, what might be available. My discussions left me a lot of different ways, but the price tags in those discussions didn’t match up with us. (Yankees president) Randy Levine approached me during the conversations that he had with (Mariners president) Chuck Armstrong that there might be an opportunity here to pursue. We started focusing on that.”
Why might Ichiro become rejuvenated? For one thing, he neither has to carry the Yankees offense nor be an elite hitter, elements missing from his game the past two years. Joe Girardi will be batting him eighth, near where Gardner hit, hoping for a circular lineup. He still brings speed and defense to the table, and for the first time in some time, the adrenaline will be flowing through his body during the heat of a pennant race.
"No disrespect to where he’s coming from, but [he’s] coming to an environment and a culture where you’re in first place and you expect to win," said Alex Rodriguez. "His responsibility changes dramatically here. We just want him to be Ichiro, have fun and do what he does. There’s no need for him to come out and try to do anything more.”
Yet there’s every reason for Ichiro to live and enjoy the moment, even though he’s no longer a “franchise icon.” That didn’t stop Mariners fans from giving him a huge applause before his first at-bat as a Yankee. Ichiro tried to downplay it, but later said it added to “a special day.” He’s in the Bronx to be just another player, one moved from atop to the bottom of the order and from right to left field, and unlike Seattle he will take up one locker in the Yankees clubhouse instead of two.
No problem, Ichiro insisted. He’s in pinstripes thanks to another one of Cashman’s covert operatives. The execution of the order and recognition that comes with the name “Ichiro” was enough to generate excitement during one of the most anticipated times of the regular season. Next to the art of the deal, it’s Cashman’s greatest quality.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC