How Brian Cashman Explains the Inexplicable: “We’re Kicking the Can Down the Road”

When the Yankees called up second-base prospect Rob Refsnyder on July 10th, the team explained that his arrival was a short-term situation based solely on the fact that the Yankees were facing two left-handed starters heading into the All Star break. After Refsnyder remained with the team after the All-Star Break and even started against a tough right-handed starter (Hisashi Iwakuma), however, many (fans and media alike) concluded that Refsnyder was the team’s new starting second baseman.

This conclusion was quickly proven wrong on Sunday when the Yankees demoted Refsnyder, opting to keep Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan as the team’s middle infield options. When pressed for an explanation, general manager Brian Cashman explained:

I don’t want to designate a player and get to July 27 and have an injury or a trade and wish I hadn’t designated the player. Like the end of spring, you want to keep everyone in play. . . .  I didn’t want to be forced to make a decision to cost us a player, so we just kicked the can down the road.

Upon hearing Cashman’s explanation, I had a number of questions:  If Refsnyder was going to be demoted, why did he start against Iwakuma?  Why would the Yankees be so concerned about losing either Drew or Ryan?  Were the Yankees demoting Refsnyder because he was likely to be included in a trade?  How could starting Refsnyder be any worse than Drew?

Aside from these initial questions, Cashman’s explanation gave me a serious case of déjà vu.  This is because “kicking the can down the road” has been an oft-used phrase by Cashman when explaining the inexplicable.

May 1, 2011: To Flip Bondy of the Daily News, on the early positive returns of free agents Bartolo Colon, Russell Martin, and Eric Chavez:

So far it’s been working out. It’s either they’re the solution to the problem, or they’re allowing us to kick the can down the road until we find something we’re really excited about.

May 5, 2011. To Mike Francesa of WFAN radio, responding to a question about whether he felt good about the decision to sign Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia:

Better be lucky than good. Those guys have been gifts from the above. Gene ‘Stick’ Michael talked to me a few times when I was coming up [in the Yankees front office] under him about prospecting and just getting as many nuggets out there and sifting through the prospect pan and eventually some gold will show up. Whether it is short term gold or fool’s gold or eventually who knows, but it’s allowing us to kick the can down the road a little bit until some of our younger staff gets a little more experience or puts in a position to make a trade or these guys are really some difference makers.

May 9, 2012. To Tyler Kepner of the New York Times, discussing the season-ending injury to closer Mariano Rivera:

We’re lucky he kicked the can down the road for this long before he had any injuries at the big-league level.

April 23, 2013. To Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, addressing the surprising early season success of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay:

Unfortunately, we’re not where we want to be. But it’s nice to kind of kick the can down the road a little bit, in terms of the doomsayers, and give it some time to allow the injured to get healthy and get back.

In reality, by repeatedly explaining that he is “kicking the can down the road,” Cahsman is tacitly admitting that the given situation is tenuous but that any decision will not be made until he is absolutely forced to do so.

In terms of the decision to demote Refsnyder, Cashman is basically saying, “We know that the Drew/Ryan combo is not the solution at second base, but since we are winning, we will hold off on committing to any change until we start losing or until we are unable to secure another upgrade via a trade.”

Cashman is opting to be reactive rather than proactive, which is generally not a blueprint for long term success.