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Brian Cashman: the Yankees weren’t trying to win the AL East in late 2010

Feb 21, 2012, 3:00 PM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Getty Images

At the time it was going down it seemed pretty obvious that Joe Girardi and the Yankees, a playoff spot long-secured, were content to try to get healthy and optimized for the playoffs rather than to overtake the Rays for the AL East title.  But you don’t expect to hear anyone on the team admit it like Brian Cashman did the other day:

“I’m not taking away from Tampa Bay, but we didn’t try to win the division,” Cashman said. “We tried to line ourselves up for the playoffs and that worked. “The division title was rendered meaningless the way the set-up was. It really meant nothing more than a T-shirt and a hat.”

Kind of shocking to hear it such stark terms, but on the merits he was right. An extra road game or two and a worse first-round matchup is more than worth it in order to have your starters rested and healthy.

That all changes when the second wild card comes in and the team in the Yankees’ position — a very good team that just happens to be a game worse than their competition — is forced into a one-game playoff. Which, in 2010, would have been the Red Sox.

I still don’t like the idea of an expanded playoff on general stubborn principle, but it’s obvious to see how having one can definitely change the incentives and put a premium on winning the division.

  1. lardin - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:01 PM

    Captain Renault: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”

    • bigharold - Feb 21, 2012 at 7:07 PM

      Gotta love that movie.

  2. Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Wait, wait, wait. All this time you were yakkin and tellin us on how BAD the playoff expansion is, lecturing us on how it watered down the meaning of a 162 game season. NOW that we’ve been properly spoon fed this subject, indoctrinated and inoculated against the tragedy of a 2nd wild card playoff team, you’re going to reverse course and say: gee, maybe this 2nd Wildcard can be a good thing… and there we go… like lemmings off a cliff…

    • Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:11 PM

      In case anyone takes the above seriously, I am engaging in lighthearted ragging and hyperbole. 😀

      • El Bravo - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:19 PM

        …you may jest, but akin to most jokes, truth is ingrained therein.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:41 PM

        Watch it Bravo, he’s a cake eating Lemming. Us pie eaters can form our own opinions on matters such as this. So where are we now? Oh yeah, The expanded playoffs may actually be a good thing because they make winning the division an actual bonus.

      • Francisco (FC) - Feb 22, 2012 at 2:37 PM

        My only problem with this line of thinking is that MLB’s solution wasn’t to make winning the division more rewarding, it just made being a wild card much worse.

  3. sdelmonte - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    OTOH, given the overall quality of the AL, having just one team make it as wild card could mean three teams – the runners up in the East and the runner up in the West – are in a really tight race. So this year could be the sort of season when a team can’t just coast to the wild card.

    Though that might even be the case with two wild cards this year. If things go the way we expect, the only AL club that has a real cushion might be Detroit.

  4. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    I have a really bad headache this afternoon, so I usually have pretty derp thoughts at best in these instances. Can someone paraphrase a bit more for me here? Cashman purposely went for the Wild Card to rest starters?

    • umrguy42 - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:54 PM

      Well, I don’t know if Cashman made the calls, but I believe he’s saying the team did, yeah. I’m assuming that that would mean that they didn’t push as hard in some situations, didn’t worry as much about pitching matchups, etc. down the stretch – they weren’t going to face the Rays no matter what in the divisional round, and if they felt confident they could handle either of the other two playoff teams, what did it matter?

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:56 PM

        Takes a bit of the edge off of the competitives games fans pay to see. Understandable, but not professional. Cashman clearly feels safe.

    • stabonerichard - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:56 PM

      That is correct. The added benefit of winning the division (over the Rays in ’10) simply did not outweigh the benefit of resting guys, lining up starters for the opening round, etc.

      (And on top of that, finishing in 2nd place that year meant dodging Cliffy in the 1st round. And it worked, as Cliffy won 2 of 3 games to knock out TB, while NY made it out of the 1st round. Under the system at the time, it was not far-fetched to say the Yanks were actually incentivized to “lose” the division. Lovely system that is.)

      So I’ve been a huge proponent of adding an additional wild card team, for a couple key reasons…

      1) It restores true meaning to the division races. Once again, winning the division will *always* be significant, which has not always been the case during the WC era.

      2) It will keep more teams in the hunt past July. No matter how you slice it, more fan interest across the overall baseball landscape can only be a positive thing for the game as a whole. And since baseball’s economic system is wide open, allowing large market clubs to lap the majority of the league when it comes to revenue generation/spending on payroll, I like that opening up another playoff spot brings more teams into the mix, to help offset a bit of the $$ advantage.

      And BTW, even after adding another WC team, MLB still has the most exclusive playoff field of any of the major pro sports. So I just don’t buy into the “watering down the field” nonsense. To me it’s a nice balance when all factors are considered.

      The main thing I don’t like is that the opening WC round will now be a 1-gamer. I’d have preferred a best-of-3, with the entire series played at the home park of the WC team with the better record. That would help with scheduling/travel logistics, so that the playoffs don’t drag out too much, and it would make sure there’s competition all the way down to the final 2 WC spots. While also making the advantage of winning your division even that much greater.

      But close enough. Bud did OK with this thing.

  5. drewzducks - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    In a related story, the 2010 Yankees apparently weren’t trying to win the World Series either.

  6. normcash - Feb 21, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    “We tried to line ourselves up for the playofffs and it worked”. Except for the part where they lost
    to the Tigers in the ALDS…..

    • stabonerichard - Feb 21, 2012 at 4:03 PM

      That was the next season. In 2010 “losing” the division worked like a charm — the Yanks got to dodge Yankee-killer Cliff Lee in the 1st round while also setting up a matchup with the team they’ve completely owned. Meanwhile, Cliffy shut down the Rays in the 1st round.

      That year was a perfect illustration of the flaws of the old system.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Feb 21, 2012 at 4:04 PM

      Good thing you can read, since Cashman was talking about 2010 and not 2011…

    • Francisco (FC) - Feb 21, 2012 at 4:05 PM

      2010 Norm, 2010…

    • djpostl - Feb 21, 2012 at 6:30 PM

      Herp. Derp.

  7. tropboi11 - Feb 21, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    That was his excuse for being 2nd to the one tenth of their salary Rays, cant wait to see what his excuse will be next year when the Rays take pennant!

    • djpostl - Feb 21, 2012 at 6:31 PM

      No rocket scientist. Avoiding Cliff Lee in a short series was the goal. Go ask those same Rays how it worked out for them.

      Thanks for playing.

      • indaburg - Feb 22, 2012 at 6:45 AM

        Hey, brain surgeon. Since the Yankees ended up losing to the Rangers 4-2 in the Championship series, it really didn’t work out all that well for the Yankees either.

  8. The Dangerous Mabry - Feb 21, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    True. Under the new system, those two contenders for first place may battle it out to the last day, while a substantially worse team can rest up in preparation for their playoff game against whichever doesn’t make it. It doesn’t matter where you draw the cutoff, once you have wild cards and the like, you can always draw up a scenario where someone can coast. The more teams you have in your playoffs, the more mediocre that coasting team can be.

    • stabonerichard - Feb 21, 2012 at 8:10 PM

      Jayson Stark shot down that notion quite a while ago.

      “For those fearful the second wild card would mostly be some crummy team that didn’t deserve a spot in the Octoberfest, history says otherwise. Because the 1995 season was strike-shortened, I started that look with 1996 — and found that those 30 second-wild-card entries would have averaged 89 wins, and 11 would have been teams that won 90-plus. Meanwhile, only one of 30 second wild cards over the past 15 full seasons would have been a team that won fewer than 85 games (the ’97 Angels, who won 84).”

  9. plmathfoto - Feb 21, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    Next thing you know he’ll admit they tanked the last game of the season to screw the redsox by pitching all minor leaguers and scrubs…

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