As Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations for the New York Yankees, Mark Newman wears many hats. Part of the Tampa contingent in a front office that splits its personnel between Florida and New York City, Newman oversees everyone from the heads of player development and scouting to the team’s director of international scouting. With experience in player instruction, a firm grounding in scouting principles and a keen interest in statistical analysis, he owns one of the most well-rounded front office skill sets in baseball. Newman recently chatted with Baseball Prospectus about mining for talent abroad, working with The Boss and other topics.
Baseball Prospectus: When the Yankees first hired you 18 years ago after your coaching career at Old Dominion, what were the organization’s goals? Have they been achieved?
Mark Newman: A man named George Bradley hired me–he was a highly respected scout. The team was looking for direction. They wanted someone to manage on-field instruction programs, and I had experience in that area. More than that, though, they were looking for organization, to be on the same page level-to-level. There was a re-emphasis on discipline, which was something that was a Yankee hallmark. In the late 80s, early 90s we weren’t very good, so that was a good time to come here. I was walking into a great, storied franchise falling on lean times. It’s been interesting to see, to be a part of the changes, to see the growth taking place over a number of years.
BP: Of course with the Yankees you have the issue of a management structure split between two cities, with entire staffs operating out of both New York and Tampa. How do you make this approach work and still get everyone’s voices heard on key decisions?
Newman: Geography I don’t think is a big thing. Companies have offices all over the world. For our part, we feel we’ve made it work. [General Manager Brian Cashman] and I have worked together for a long time, we’ve both been in a variety of roles. He was an intern, came up through player development, I was coordinator of instruction, and we’ve gotten along well throughout–we have a high level of mutual respect, and we’re friends. What we’re trying to get now is more streamlined in the way we do things. That should make it easier for us to operate. As it is we communicate three, four, five times a day, all year long.
BP: You mentioned your friendship with Brian Cashman and working between the two offices, with different people. Specifically when talking about George Steinbrenner, he’s often going to have strong opinions about certain issues, and get heavily involved in making decisions, even on-the-field decisions. How do you and the rest of the Yankees front office deal with such strong opinions, and such forceful personalities?
Newman: All things in life are at times messy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have plenty of people with strong opinions, from [Gene] Michael–who deserves tremendous credit for his work in the last 15, 20 years–to Brian, to Gordon Blakely and others. We all have different backgrounds, which makes it very interesting. In general, that can be a huge benefit: We have a more organized, more rational approach to how we use all these various opinions. They all exist, we want them to exist. Cash is really acting as a clearinghouse for those opinions. He deals with the Boss on player personnel issues–(Steinbrenner)’s still intimately involved in those decisions. He’s backed off to a degree, but there isn’t a player that we acquire, or a trade that we make that he doesn’t have the final right of approval.
George Steinbrenner is the greatest asset the Yankees have. He can be and is a demanding guy to work for, but so what? I’m a coach, I grew up a coach, I know all great coaches are demanding, and he was like that when he coached football at Purdue–I was too. You’re talking about 33 years here as the owner. When he got here the Yankees were selling a million or so tickets–this past year we went over 4 million. Now, he’s working on a new stadium, and he has a successful TV network. People talk about the Yankees and tradition, but they weren’t so great when he bought them. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to where we are.
BP: Switching gears, do you have an overarching principle of team building that you like to follow? For instance, Branch Rickey used to favor aiming for quality out of quantity. Having fewer minor league teams, plus the draft, has changed teams’ ability to have a huge numbers of players on the farm. Are there other areas where the Yankees can leverage their financial advantages to gain a similar edge on other teams?
Newman: It’s interesting you raise the Branch Rickey principle. In 1949, there were four times as many pro players, and half as many major leaguers. Now it’s no longer possible to find quality in quantity, so that puts a greater pressure on our scouting people to be right. The benchmark is that we must do everything we can to help us be right. One, we have to help athletes improve physically, to get bigger, stronger, faster, quicker, more agile. Two, fundamentally, they need to learn how to catch, pitch, throw, run the bases. Three, they have to develop emotionally, in terms of how they understand the game, as well as emotional intelligence. Overall, we use broad structural programs that touch athletes in all three aspects. We spend an awful lot of time designing individual programs to account for the idiosyncrasies of each player, whether it’s a 16-year-old Dominican player we sign to young major league players who are still developing.
BP: International scouting is an area where the Yankees have had some good success. Certainly a lot of that credit should go to the team’s scouts who do all the legwork. But how much of that goes back to the wild west days of scouting, where there was no draft, and scouts had to use all their wits and charm to get the players they wanted, along with making the best cash offer on the spot?
Newman: We’ve done a much better job internationally than in the draft. Why’s that statement true? One of them has to do with that wild-west idea, yes. We can bring to bear our assets, and we’ve had good people there with Gordon Blakely, Fred Ferreira and others. We have misses too, because we’re so aggressive. (Robinson) Cano was one who’s worked out, and he was relatively inexpensive.
BP: How much of the misses in the draft can be attributed to the Yankees just drafting from a low slot every year?
Newman: We did a study where we looked at 10-year slices of the draft, to see where players end up based on where they’re drafted. The lion’s share of major league regulars and upper-level players are drafted above the 20th pick– below 20th, 25th it gets more difficult. We made some choices that didn’t work out. We also signed some major league free agents, and that cost us some high picks. The last few years, 2003, ’04, ’05, I think we’ve done better.
BP: Have you built a long-term draft database then with other pieces of data, then? That could give you more insight–how far a player advanced, whether he was drafted out of high school or college, a whole range of parameters…
Newman: Our draft database is a work in progress. Our data analysis guys are running around trying to build this up. You have to adjust for where you pick in the draft, individual hit rates, how many rounds should you include before the data become less meaningful because so few players are making it that low down. It’s a matter of recognizing that there are degrees of success. There’s the player who becomes a major leaguer, there are players you may trade, others may help you develop because they have good makeup and could help others develop, as a teammate or maybe a future manager or instructor. It’s complicated stuff–trying to evaluate defensive play objectively gives me a headache. This gives me a double headache (laughs).
Coming soon, Part II, where Newman talks about baseball’s luxury tax, how to objectively evaluate scouts, and the double headache that is defensive analysis (including the great Derek Jeter Divide).