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Cashman sees a team in transition, but one that's nonetheless ready to compete

TAMPA - The life of a baseball general manager revolves around negatives, not positives, according to Brian Cashman, one of those harried general managers. During every hour of every day, Cashman thinks more about what could go wrong with the Yankees than what could go right. By behaving like that, Cashman and his staff are always prepared when something goes awry.

After Cashman explained that he was "wired" to think negatively, not positively, he spoke about what the Yankees are trying to achieve in 2017 and beyond. With a starting rotation that is expected to include two young, unproven pitchers and with the likelihood that twentysomethings Greg Bird and Aaron Judge will start at first base and right field, the Yankees are injecting youth while also trying to remain competitive.

"We're in a transition," Cashman said, "but we're not waving a white flag while we're in a transition."

Because of Cashman's predilection for expecting the worst, the Yankees signed Chris Carter as protection if Bird, who missed all of 2016 after should surgery, isn't ready to be the full-time first baseman. For a one-year, $3.5 million deal, the Yankees have a security blanket of a player who tied for the National League lead with 41 homers and who led the league with 206 strikeouts. Carter will swing and miss a lot, but he should also connect often enough to make the deal a worthwhile investment.

As Cashman discussed areas where the Yankees can improve, he mentioned Jacoby Ellsbury, who has hit .264 with a .326 on base percentage in his first three seasons with the team. Cashman said he believes Ellsbury is "capable of more because we've seen it." While Cashman didn't criticize Ellsbury, it's apparent that the Yankees expected more from a player who they signed to a 7-year, $153 million deal.

In addition to Ellsbury, Cashman also cited Michael Pineda, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius as players the organization believes can still exceed their recent performances. Pineda has been a conundrum because his sometimes superb repertory, his swing and miss percentages and his strikeout totals are evidence of a pitcher who should be better than a 4.82 earned run average. But Pineda has failed miserably in two-out situations, allowing batters to hit .325.

"I need to be better at finishing," Pineda said. 

One day after Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' managing general partner, said, "Look, we come to win a championship every year," Cashman said the Yankees have "the potential to be a championship caliber team" if their players stay healthy and if they receive stellar performances from their core players.

Obviously, Cashman was simply saying what every general manager, even those who drift toward negativity, typically utter in the spring. Cashman realizes the transitioning Yankees have some concerns and some question marks, but he said they could blossom into a "team to be reckoned with and not to be taken lightly."  

Because the Yankees are relying on a batch of young players and because the likes of Gleyber Torres, James Kaprielian and Clint Frazier could contribute in the near future, Cashman was asked if he was more excited about this season or about 2018 and 2019.

"I'm hoping I'll be here in 2018 and 2019," said Cashman, who is in the final year of his contract. "That means I better focus now."