Despite the enormous behind-the-scenes pressure George Steinbrenner is exerting on his front office to deliver another pennant, general manager Brian Cashman proved once again last week that he cares about the Yankees' future and is willing to stand up to The Boss, if necessary.
According to an American League source, Cashman turned down the Royals' offer of Jermaine Dye for Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano. The Yankees would've had the right fielder they needed and solved the problem of what to do about Paul O'Neill but such a deal would create a ripple effect that would be felt in 2002 and beyond.
Cashman and lieutenants Mark Newman and Randy Levine, and even Joe Torre, have privately acknowledged the Yankees are in a transition year that if 2001 brings another World Series, great. If not, there's prosperity around the corner.
The franchise's real future begins next summer, when O'Neill and Tino Martinez are gone, just like Scott Brosius and David Justice, and someone has determined how to wriggle out of the two-year, $18 million handshake deal that's been promised to Chuck Knoblauch.
Like the core that blossomed in the early and mid-90s, the curtain is almost ready to rise on the next Yankees' nucleus: Soriano, Johnson, Drew Henson, and Derek Jeter in the infield, Jorge Posada behind the plate, Marino Rivera in the bullpen, and a starting rotation anchored by Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, Ted Lilly, and Randy Keisler.
Of course, no one diminishes Roger Clemens' continuing greatness, and he figures to keep pitching at least through 2003. But The Rocket will be 40 by then, and the Yankees are assuming retirement will be a strong temptation.
It's the younger players who'll lead the new-millennium Yankees, which is precisely why Cashman backed away from Dye and the Royals despite being summoned to Tampa, Fla., last weekend by Steinbrenner on just an hour's notice. Cashman calmly explained that Johnson must remain in pinstripes, no matter what the outcome in 2001.
That's called mature, long-range thinking, and what's so impressive about Cashman is that he's protecting a future he might not be a part of.
Incredibly, Steinbrenner has yet to discuss a new contract for his GM, whose three-year deal expires Oct. 31. Cashman has told friends he wants to stay, but it'll take a sizable raise over the $330,000 he's making, and if The Boss is reckless enough to let this matter spill over into November, Cashman will test free agency, just like a player.
The Dodgers, who have yet to name a permanent replacement for Kevin Malone, have made it known they'll seek out Cashman, and if the price is right and Steinbrenner somehow blames his GM for an early-round loss in the playoffs he'll leave.
So, given Steinbrenner's short-term vision, why did Cashman decide against Dye?
"Because no matter what happens to me, I don't want to be remembered as the Yankee general manager who sold the future of the franchise down the river, just for the sake of one more championship," Cashman was saying the other day.