Cashman or Hunsicker: Who's The Better Fit?

The biggest catch among general manager candidates isn't even officially on the market yet. The Yankees Brian Cashman won't hit the market - if he hits it at all - for another ten days. With another strong candidate like Gerry Hunsicker, you have to wonder if Cashman is worth the wait and the risk.

The Phillies seem to be playing a dangerous waiting game. While other clubs scramble to fill positions, the Phillies look to be in no hurry to hire a new general manager. It's somewhat of an oddity, because there are some key decisions that need to be made on the way to molding the 2006 version of our beloved Phillies.

The best guess around baseball is that the Phillies are waiting to see what happens with Brian Cashman. The Yankees are working to re-sign their super star GM, whose contract runs out at the end of the month. You have to believe that the deal will get done. George Steinbrenner generally gets what he wants and he has said publicly that he wants Cashman. Yankee insiders saw Joe Torre's decision to return as somewhat of a sign that Cashman would also return. The two have a good rapport and have been able to stand strong against Steinbrenner. Others believe that Torre's return has nothing to do with Cashman and that the GM could in fact move on, especially if he's given more control with another club.

That's what the Phillies are banking on.

David Montgomery is hoping that his willingness to give complete control to a GM - namely Cashman - will weigh heavily on Cashman's mind while he talks money with the Yankees. Everybody knows that whoever is the general manager of the Yankees will forever have The Boss watching closely over their shoulder. Cashman has enjoyed more autonomy than other Yankees employees and Steinbrenner has seemingly backed off over the past few years, but he is always there. Casting a large shadow over the front office and dugout. Montgomery's shadow is much smaller and a whole lot less intimidating, which may be tempting to Cashman.

Still, the waiting game is dangerous.

If the Phillies don't get Cashman, their next choices are Gerry Hunsicker and Jim Duquette. Now, Duquette has left the Mets to head for Baltimore and Hunsicker has already interviewed with Tampa Bay about joining their front office under the new ownership team assembled there. If Cashman were to re-sign with the Yankees and the D'Rays snagged Hunsicker, the Phillies could be left out in the cold. We could be seeing Ruben Amaro, Jr. being introduced as the next GM of the Phillies. While there are worse choices, Amaro is clearly not the guy that the Phillies want. They feel a public relations need to go outside the organization and sign a much more high profile GM. Enter Cashman or Hunsicker.

Why all the waiting? With Hunsicker's ties to Philadelphia (he was born in Collegeville and attended St. Joseph's University) you have to figure that he would jump at the chance to run the Phillies. That's not to say that he'll sit back and wait for them if Tampa Bay were to offer him the job. After all, while the Devil Rays job may not be the most attractive, it would be an awesome challenge for Hunsicker to undertake. That alone could interest him. With the potential risk for losing Hunsicker, the question of whether or not Cashman is that much better than Hunsicker has to be asked.

Brian Cashman has spent eight seasons as the general manager of the New York Yankees. It's the longest tenure of any GM under George Steinbrenner. That may be Cashman's biggest accomplishment. In 1998, Cashman took over a club that had finished first or second in the division in each of the five previous seasons. In that span, they had made the playoffs three times, losing twice in the first round of the playoffs and beating the Braves to win the '96 World Series. It was their first round loss to Cleveland in 1997 that pushed Steinbrenner over the edge and he turned to Cashman to run the club. The new GM took over a club that had a payroll of just over $59 million, the highest in baseball. Cashman was able to add about $4 million to that total, but a spending spree in Baltimore pushed the Orioles to the top of the payroll heap. The following season, Cashman was able to add a whopping $25 million to the total and the Yankees were again at the top of the ladder. The Yankees have stayed at the top of the payroll list throughout the remainder of Cashman's reign and spent a huge $85 million more than the second place Red Sox did on player salaries this past season.

For all of that money, Cashman has brought the Yankees a division title in each of his eight seasons. They've gone to the World Series five times with three wins. In the other three seasons, they were beaten in the ALCS by Boston (2004) and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Angels (2002). Naysayers can point to the fact that the Yankees haven't been to the World Series since 2001 when they lost to the Diamondbacks, but it's hard to argue with their success. After all, the Phillies would love to have that sort of track record as would any team.

Gerry Hunsicker spent nine seasons at the helm of the Houston Astros. He took over a club that was coming off back-to-back second place finished in the NL Central. He took over a payroll of just over $31 million and actually cut that by $5 million in his first season (1996) and again, the Astros were second in the NL Central. Adding $6 million to the club's salary for the '97 season, the Astros went on to win three straight division titles only to fall to fourth in the division in 2000. By 2001 though the Astros rebounded and again won the division and followed that with three straight second place finishes. The bottom line is that Hunsicker delivered five playoff teams, four of which were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. In 2004, Hunsicker's Astros went to seven games before losing the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals.

After the 2004 season, Hunsicker left the club after an alleged dispute with owner Drayton McLane. Still, the 2005 version of the Astros held a heavy fingerprint of Gerry Hunsicker's time with the club. Many players that he brought into the organization - Willy Taveras, Morgan Ensberg and Roy Oswalt just to name a few - were huge contributors to the Houston club that is preparing for their first ever World Series game. It was Hunsicker who brought Andy Pettite to the Astros and in turn, Roger Clemens followed. And yes, it was Gerry Hunsicker who engineered the deal that sent Billy Wagner to the Phillies, with Hunsicker knowing all the time that Brad Lidge was waiting in the wings and ready to take over the job.

The accomplishments don't match Cashman's but neither did the payroll. The highest Astros payroll under Hunsicker was $75 million in 2004, which ranked 12th in the majors. That payroll wasn't even half of what the Yankees spent in the same season and yet the results of the two clubs were the same, with both clubs being ousted in their respective League Championship Series. Even this past season, the Astros club - assembled largely by Hunsicker - had a payroll of just under $77 million, while the Phillies had a $95 million tab for their player salaries. Just imagine what Hunsicker could have built had he had the extra money that the Phillies had given Ed Wade to work with over the past couple of seasons.

The availability of Hunsicker makes waiting for Cashman far too risky. Nobody even knows for sure whether or not Cashman will be available and if he is, the Phillies are one of a number of teams that will likely be calling to lure him to their town. The Phillies in a bidding war for a general manager surely has to be one of the signs of the apocalypse. Meanwhile, the Phillies could likely make an easy and successful run for Hunsicker, spending far less money to get a GM with qualifications that near rival Cashman. Plus, hiring Hunsicker would likely bring Billy Wagner's signature on a contract proposal that the Phillies presented to their reliever earlier this week. While it was Hunsicker that traded Wagner, the Phils' closer holds a high respect for Hunsicker and has all but lobbied for him to get the job.

Keep an eye on Tampa Bay. And Arizona. And perhaps even Washington as they all look at which GM candidates are going where and look to make their own moves. Keep an eye also on New York and Boston. If Cashman reups with the Yankees, the scramble for Hunsicker could turn ugly and it could happen quickly. It certainly won't benefit a slow moving franchise, waiting to see how things play out. Of course, another scenario could present itself in Boston if Theo Epstein doesn't sign to extend his contract that also expires at the end of the month. Yes, this Halloween could be interesting, but it could also turn very scary for the Phillies, who are watching and waiting to see how things play out.

Team Payrolls for Yankees, Phillies and Astros

YEAR Cashman's Yankees Wade's Phillies Hunsicker's Astros
2005 208,306,817 95,522,000  
2004 184,193,950 93,219,167 75,397,000
2003 152,749,814 70,780,000 71,040,000
2002 125,928,583 57,954,999 63,448,417
2001 112,287,143 41,663,833 60,387,667
2000 92,938,260 46,947,667 52,081,667
1999 88,130,709 30,516,500 55,289,000
1998 63,159,898 36,085,000 40,629,000
1997     32,935,000
1996     26,894,000

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