Yankees GM Brian Cashman On How COVID-19 Protocols Are Affecting The Yankees

Lou DiPietro
June 30, 2020 - 3:38 pm

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has a way with words, and a way to use words to make levity of tough situations sometimes – and he had to do just that during a media conference call on Tuesday, in reference to the team’s ability to disseminate information this season if a player is unavailable due to anything COVID-19 related.

“Major League Baseball’s guidelines prohibit us from discussing anything COVID-19, because it’s not a work-related injury,” Cashman said. “We might not be able to speak to why someone is unavailable, because it’s my understanding that we might not be able to validate any COVID-19 circumstances. I believe that you’ll be left to try to figure that out, and you’ll have to user your journalistic superpowers as you do so well. That’s my understanding right now, but this is an emerging situation.”

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Just one of the many things that will make this season different, and perhaps more difficult to navigate, for both the media and the baseball teams alike as Major League Baseball gets ready to open up “Summer Training” later this week.

Although Cashman couldn’t speak to specifics on COVID-19, he did have good news: in the Yankees organization as a whole, only one confirmed case of coronavirus led to a hospitalization, but that stint was “very short-term” and the affected party has recovered.

“We’ve been very fortunate, and our prayers go out to those in the world who haven’t been as fortunate,” Cashman said on the call. “In our world, in some cases, people were tested because others were diagnosed, and those that came back positive were able to take action.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has led MLB to allow any player who chooses to do so for any reason to opt out of playing in 2020, but so far, the Yankees – both player roster and coaching staff – are intact.

“It doesn’t mean it’s not possible going forward, but as of right now, all indications are that our player pool is intact and we have no information about them possibly opting out,” Cashman said. “If that happens, we’ll adjust accordingly. There’s a lot to think through on this, and the health of our players, staff, and employees is paramount. There is a lot of personally-sensitive dialogue that has been had, and we encourage our staff to continue to have those conversations as necessary.”

As players get set to report – a process Cashman noted as “ongoing” because “departures from some places are easier than from others” – the GM has “no real anxiety” about what the next few days may bring after players and staff undergo intake screening, already perhaps seeing the screenings and their results (good or bad) as another fact of life for MLB in 2020.

“It’s the first hurdle of many that need to be cleared, and then it’s on to getting the group that clear the intake ready and prepared for a championship run, while we keep them as safe and educated as we possibly can,” Cashman said. “Because these protocols are in place, we’re getting access to medical experts and testing and resources that we may not normally have access to.”

The protocols he refers to are various parts of the lengthy COVID-19 influenced operations manual teams have been given, one that the Yankees’ GM is hopeful can work for baseball despite its depth.

“(Playing a full 60-game season) is the intent, and we’re about to find out (if it’s feasible),” Cashman said. “It’s a very extensive document, designed to put us in the best position to have success as a league. Like the rest of the world, the effort is to get back to something as close to what you had prior as soon as possible; I can’t predict how it will play out, but I can’t wait to try.”

This will be arguably the most challenging year for anyone involved in baseball on a multitude of levels, and of those challenges is getting ready to the season at a new locale – in the Yankees’ case, it’s at Yankee Stadium, a facility that is much smaller than the combination of complexes the team uses in Tampa for normal Spring Trainings.

“We love New York, but this wasn’t our first choice despite living NY – it’s not optimal compared to having the facilities we have in Tampa for that large of a contingent, but once COVID-19 started spiking in Florida, it forced a last-second pivot to New York,” Cashman said. “Our team has done a great job fast-tracking the facility to have it sterilized, and our team is working with stadium operations personnel to utilize every aspect of Yankee Stadium – we can use all three clubhouses to deal with social distancing, we can use the concourses and the stands, both bullpens, all the batting cages and tunnels underneath…we can even use the Great Hall for throwing programs, which we’ve done in the past.  We are discussing everything to take full advantage of the facility, and any aspect we can use, we will use.”

So, then, what will be the most challenging part for Cashman as an executive?

“I think it’s just how we’re going to handle the pandemic environment. We’re conditioned to deal with injuries, but if you have a game tomorrow and your starter shows up with symptoms, how do you adjust along the way? That sort of thing,” Cashman said. “There are new challenges and concerns with how to get players on or off the 60-man roster, which is why you don’t see a lot of non-roster prospects on the 60, in case all Hell breaks loose on your roster. We hope to wind up at the end with something we can be really proud of; the goal for all clubs is a championship, but we also want to maintain the health of our people and their families, and every day there’s new information.”

That plays into this thought as well, about how different the MLB trade deadline will be this year, with a shorter season and more teams making the playoffs.

“I’ll be honest – we’ve been drinking out of a firehose here trying to get in alignment with MLB protocols and getting everything ready, so I haven’t had a chance to daydream that far out. It’s easy to say now that it’s highly unlikely to have a crazy amount of activity, but once you settle in, those competitive juices kick in, and you’ll want to do everything you can to improve and reinforce your roster,” Cashman said. “You’ve already seen that with us with adding Matt Duffy, who wasn’t with us this spring. The risk you’re not used to dealing with is how the pandemic may take options off the table, but that’s something we’re all dealing with. This shortened season heightens the opportunity for anyone to take a shot at the title, and it opens up a lot of opportunities for teams to take advantage of that.”

However, no matter what one may think about the feasibility and/or need for professional sports amidst the ongoing pandemic, Cashman, to a man, is happy that MLB has the chance to provide both entertainment and employment to a country that could use a boost in both realms.

“We’re thankful to be working in an environment like ours, and we know that there are a lot of people who don’t have that opportunity. We know a lot of people rely on us, for their jobs and for a diversion from the world, and I’m thankful we have this opportunity to try.”