Archive for Thursday, October 19, 2000

All the right moves

Cashman’s midseason transactions helped Yankees turn season around

October 19, 2000

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— They are the Magnificent Seven, called in to rescue the New York Yankees, a modern-day cavalry charging to protect the precious World Series trophy.

On June 30, the two-time defending champions were just 38-36, a very un-Yankeelike three games out of first.

But the transformation had begun.

"When we left spring training, we thought we had a good-enough club. By mid-June, we recognized changes had to be made," general manager Brian Cashman said Wednesday, a day after the Yankees won their third straight AL pennant.

"We went about it to see how we could shore up in the least costly way possible when it came to players and dollars."

The results were impressive.

David Justice hit 20 homers, Glenallen Hill 16, Jose Canseco six.

Denny Neagle went 7-7, Dwight Gooden 4-2, a total of 11 wins that proved critical.

Jose Vizcaino and Luis Sojo stepped in when Chuck Knoblauch's elbow went haywire.

The Yankees were 82-58 with a nine-game lead on Sept. 10 following a three-game sweep at Boston. After that, they coasted, then plunged, losing 15 of their final 18.

"We've been counted out," manager Joe Torre said. "You get the same old questions about turning it on and off, and I know it wears thin a little bit. But I felt comfortable with this team, once we clinched."

Gooden, a former Yankee, was signed on June 11 after Tampa Bay released him; Vizcaino was acquired from Los Angeles in a trade nine days later.

While New York baseball was focused on John Rocker's return to Shea Stadium, Cashman completed his biggest deal, getting Justice, the future league championship series MVP, from Cleveland on June 29 for outfielder Ricky Ledee and pitchers Jake Westbook and Zach Day.

"It started with a discussion with Mark Shapiro about something else," Cashman recalled, referring to his call to Cleveland's assistant GM about getting a World Series ring to a former Yankee.

"He asked what your needs are, said what their needs were," Cashman said. "They volunteered, 'Would Justice fit your needs if the price was right?"'

Cashman was in Tampa, Fla., at the time, meeting with owner George Steinbrenner and his top advisers.

"The knights of the round table, I call them," Cashman said. "I came in and said 'How about Justice?' The Boss said, 'I like him.' Gene Michael said, 'He's a professional hitter."'

After 48 hours of talks with Cleveland GM John Hart, the deal was complete, shocking fans who saw a deal for Juan Gonzalez collapse and talks for Sammy Sosa stall.

"I think Sosa's name took the headlines so often ... but it was a perfect fit for what we like to do," Torre said.

Next up, the Yankees concluded they couldn't wait for David Cone's slump to end and that they couldn't get Curt Schilling from Philadelphia. Cashman spent 10 days on the phone talking with Cincinnati GM Jim Bowden.

On July 12, the day after the All-Star game, the Yankees acquired Neagle from the Reds along with minor league outfielder Mike Frank for pitchers Ed Yarnall and Brian Reith, infielder Drew Henson and outfielder Jackson Melian.

Nine days later, at the urging of agent Tom Reich, the Yankees got Hill from the Chicago Cubs for pitchers Ben Ford and Ozwaldo Mairena.

Hill hit 10 homers in his first 51 at-bats with the Yankees.

"I didn't envision everybody stepping up and playing as well as they had," said Cashman, who has seen the team win three pennants in his three seasons as GM. "The offense had seemed to come untracked. At the end of April, mid-May, June, we were 11th or 12th in runs scored, batting average and on-base percentage. That's not us. Our offense has always been fourth or fifth in those categories the last few years."

On Aug. 7 came the move that changes the Yankees most, in terms of personality. Sojo, their backup infielder as they won World Series titles in 1996, 1998 and 1999, was acquired after Pittsburgh put him on waivers.

Sojo walked into the Yankees' clubhouse and players started smiling.

"He stirs things up, makes guys smile, keeps it loose," Knoblauch said. "You have a good time with him off the field in the clubhouse. With all the additions we've made, he certainly has been, I guess, one of the most key up to this point."

That same day, Cashman surprised Torre by acquiring Canseco on waivers from Tampa Bay. The move was made to block other contenders from getting the slugger.

In the first round of the playoffs, Canseco was on the roster against Oakland, making it eight newcomers out of 24, but the slugger was dropped from the Seattle series.

Unlike past years, there is a feeling that no matter what, this could be an end of an era.

First baseman Tino Martinez and third baseman Scott Brosius had subpar years, Cone was awful and Paul O'Neill broke down in September, failing to get any extra-base hits from Sept. 6 until Game Five of the division series against Oakland.

Against Seattle, O'Neill drove in three runs in the clincher, his first three-RBI game since Sept. 2.

"You lose players every year," Torre said. "It is going to be sad because you know not everyone is coming back."

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