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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Cashman successful with smart, efficient plan

Yanks' GM will pass the test posed by Granderson's broken arm

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TAMPA, Fla. -- No to Alfonso Soriano. No to Vernon Wells as well. Unless both come gift-wrapped at hugely discounted prices, the Yankees should take a pass. This is a time to stay the course.

General manager Brian Cashman has come too far to turn back now. His vision of the Yankees is one built on player development, on being smart and efficient, and on not overreacting to every crisis.

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He's succeeding. The Yankees are respected throughout the industry for the quality of their scouts and the talent of their instructors. There's a bounty of young talent coming, some of it possibly later this season.

Will this next generation of Yankees be as good as Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera? No, probably not. That's OK, too.

If the Yankees have a productive farm system, they'll always have the cash to fill other needs through free agency. Or maybe that farm system will give them the chips they need to trade for an impact bat or a 200-inning starter.

For two offseasons, Cashman has stocked his roster with free-agent bargains in an attempt to steer the payroll down as baseball approaches a tough luxury tax on Opening Day 2014.

But there are reasons for doing this beyond money. Big-ticket free agents are for adding that final piece to a roster. Every organization must produce its own core of talent. That's true for such smaller-market teams as the Royals and Rays, but it's also true for the Red Sox and Yankees.

Curtis Granderson's broken right forearm is a test for Cashman -- because Granderson's absence, regardless of whether it's for eight weeks or 10 weeks or whatever, has the potential to hurt.

With the departures of Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, et al, with Alex Rodriguez's future uncertain and with the best prospects perhaps a year away, the Yankees have no idea how good they're going to be in 2013.

The Yankees were already dealing with a smaller margin for error. They're counting on certain guys -- Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Ichiro Suzuki -- to be healthy and productive. Cashman filled in nicely around the edges with one-year deals for Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Matt Diaz and others.

Another franchise might call it a transitional year, another step back toward a different way of doing business. That's what it may end up being, but that would be bitterly disappointing.

The Yankees are judged not by progress or getting close, but by how many championships they win. Anything less makes the season a failure, and no other team has these expectations every single season.

Cashman understands and accepts how life in charge of the Yankees works. He also understands the economics. Unlike the days when he used a sledgehammer -- $100 million here, $80 million there -- to construct his roster, he has shopped for bargains, getting guys who he believes have the makeup and the productivity to get the Yankees back to the postseason.

This has been a tough 12 months for his player-development system thanks to a string of injuries and poor performances. This is normal. Even the best scouts are wrong 80 percent of the time.

Sandy Johnson, the legendary talent evaluator who signed, among many others, Sammy Sosa, was once asked if he had a special feeling about the 150-pound teenager.

"I sure did," Johnson said. "I also had a special feeling about 20 or 30 other guys."

On the other hand, there's no other way to build a franchise.

Even with a winter of modest spending, the Yankees have a payroll of around $208 million. Does that sound like a franchise that has gone cheap?

But they have less than $100 million in salary commitments for 2014, so Cashman's dream scenario would be that his best kids -- among them Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Gary Sanchez -- take steps forward and that his 2014 roster will have more clarity. And if he needs to throw millions at a Tim Lincecum, he'll have the cash to do it.

For now, though, he ought to hang in there with what he has unless a young star -- Chase Headley? Homer Bailey? -- becomes available. Even with all the losses, the Yankees are good enough to make the playoffs for the 18th time in 19 seasons. They're also more vulnerable than they've been in years, but there just are no other answers.

This isn't the time to surrender a bunch of prospects for an older player. Regardless of what happens in 2013, Cashman's plan makes sense. Sometimes the money obscures how good his baseball operation is. It's good enough that the Yankees will not be diminished by this new blueprint. They'll just be succeeding a different way.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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