Brian Cashman’s Latest Delicate Situation

Before last night’s Yankees-Red Sox game, Jorge Posada publicly said all the things one should say when one is hitting .165 and has been dropped to ninth in the batting order. “I put myself in this spot,” he said. “It’s not like I want to hit ninth, and it’s not like I want to hit .100-and-whatever I’m hitting. It’s just a matter of really coming out of it.” Even if a drop to ninth is to some degree symbolic — he’d batted eighth once this year, and most of his starts have come as the No. 7 hitter — Posada seemed to understand the reasons it had happened.

Later, as we now know, he asked out of the lineup, telling Joe Girardi an hour before the game that he needed a day off to clear his head. After the game, he also explained to reporters that his back had stiffened up on him — something he didn’t tell Girardi when he asked for the day off. Posada’s actions — was this his Scottie Pippen moment? — will be discussed for the foreseeable future, every time Posada’s spot in the lineup is changed. But just as interesting is how the Yankees handled all of this — and how they’ll handle it going forward.

The mere fact that Girardi would bat Posada ninth shows that the team is willing to make a change when a player — even a veteran like Posada — is struggling, even if it’s not great for PR. (Already, they’d made it clear during the offseason that they consider Posada a DH and not a catcher.) Girardi had said before the game that they’d moved Brett Gardner down in the batting order earlier in the season, and that it worked, though surely he understands the difference — if only in appearance — between batting a young player who is struggling ninth, and batting a veteran like Posada in that spot.

How the Yankees responded last night is equally telling. Brian Cashman took the unusual step of appearing on the Fox broadcast to provide an update on Posada’s situation. (To this point, it was only known that Posada had been scheduled to bat ninth, and was scratched from the lineup.) Cashman’s statement, in a nutshell: Posada asked out of the lineup, and that it wasn’t injury-related. Later, as the bizarre night unfolded, Posada’s wife, Laura, contradicted that statement on Twitter, but that’s almost beside the point. Cashman wasn’t exactly standing by Posada here. Technically, all Cashman did was state what he understood to be the facts of the story. But Cashman’s no fool: He understands that, to those watching the game at home, stating that Posada asked out of the lineup — and that no, in case you were wondering, he isn’t hurt — puts the burden of explanation on Posada, whom Cashman was sure to point out would address the media after the game.

And perhaps this situation wouldn’t be as meaningful if Posada was the only veteran on this team. But Alex Rodriguez is signed through 2017; there will come a point where he can no longer serve as the clean-up hitter. Derek Jeter has a player option that could extend his contract through 2014: Already Brian Cashman has suggested he’s considered what to do with Jeter defensively when he can no longer play shortstop, and already this season observers have questioned how much longer Jeter can bat lead-off. (We’ll mention Mariano Rivera here, too, though his late-career success puts him in a class of his own.) Perhaps Rodriguez hasn’t meant as much to the organization as Posada has, but Jeter, undoubtedly, has meant more.

Look, maybe Posada really just needed to clear his head. He’s a proud guy, and it’s possible that being bumped to the ninth spot in the batting order — on top of his terrible start to the season — drove home to him that he’s not the player he once was, and that, at 39, he may never be again. Perhaps that sort of thing takes more than a couple of hours to process, and that going forward, Posada will bat wherever he’s asked, or will sit without complaint if the Yankees decide that Jesus Montero is ready for the majors. And maybe he’s got a stiff back that he’ll need to rest.

Cashman and Girardi know that the organization needs to figure out how to handle these aging veterans. (Don’t feel bad for the Yankees, of course; they knew what they were getting into by signing key players through their late 30s and beyond.) But Cashman also knows that he can’t let his players — any of them, even the respected veterans who’ve meant so much to the organization — dictate how they’ll be used. That’s a delicate thing, and it won’t necessarily make Cashman a popular guy at every step along the way. (Cashman, who had to negotiate a contract with Jeter in the offseason, is no stranger to delicate situations.) Cashman’s response last night certainly didn’t make him popular with Posada, who wasn’t pleased that the GM made a statement in the middle of the game. (For purposes of this post, we’ll assume Cashman will be a part of this organization beyond this season.) Watching this play out over the course of a Saturday night — a night, by the way, that the Yankees lost their fourth straight game — had an unfortunate Bronx Zoo feel to it. But what happens going forward matters just as much as what’s happened already.

Brian Cashman’s Latest Delicate Situation