After Rafael Soriano tried on his pinstriped jersey for the first time at Yankee Stadium, Cashman spoke in a measured tone but did not hide that he had been overruled by ownership to finalize the reliever's three-year, $35 million contract.
"This certainly will help us try to win a championship, there's no doubt about that, so that's in the plus column," Cashman said. "But I didn't recommend it, just because I didn't think it was an efficient way to allocate the remaining resources we have. We had a lot of debate about that."
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine instead worked out the details with the 31-year-old Soriano, who will set up for closer Mariano Rivera but can opt out to become a free agent after both the 2011 and '12 seasons.
Cashman said that he did not agree with the financial strain of paying a setup man with closer-type money, as well as losing the club's first-round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft as compensation to the Rays because of Soriano's status as a Type A free agent.
"He's a tremendous player in what he does," Cashman said. "But for me, I'm pretty transparent in how I've evolved in building your team. Early on, we've obviously committed a lot of money to relievers and had some difficulties with that. And you've seen the success we've had over the last number of years."
In interviews preceding the signing, Cashman had been forcefully vocal about his stance, saying in one report that he had already told amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer to prepare for using the 31st pick of this year's Draft on a Yankees player.
Instead, that selection will be made by the Rays, and Cashman said on Wednesday that he believes the Soriano signing "compromises payroll, flexibility and efficient use of our resources." Cashman also said he had little influence on the structure of the deal or its opt-outs.
"I couldn't speak to that," Cashman said. "I think that was a byproduct of the discussion Scott Boras was having with the club. I couldn't speak to why the structure of the deal is the way it is. I did not negotiate this. I was involved, but I didn't negotiate it directly with Scott."
Although there was disagreement over the move, Levine told ESPN.com that "Cash is the best general manager in the game."
"In the end, there is one thing that we all agree -- that [Cashman] said, we all said --- [Soriano] makes the Yankees a lot better," Levine said. "That's what we have to do every day.
"Hal and Hank, myself, everyone has a sacred obligation to our fans to make the team better in any way we can," Levine said. "The Yankee brand is important. There are fans all over the world. From George Steinbrenner on, we have to put the best product we possibly can put on the line. Cash looks at it from baseball operations, as he should. We look at it as running a $5 billion company. Really, the issue came down to, does this make the Yankees better?"
The episode offered a reminder of Cashman's situation after the 2005 season, when the GM approached principal owner George M. Steinbrenner, frustrated by "splintering" between the New York and Tampa, Fla., factions of the front office and by a general lack of accountability for decisions that were made.
Ultimately, Cashman was promised full autonomy of the baseball operations department, charged with rebuilding the farm system and reducing payroll while the Yankees prepared to open the new Yankee Stadium and pursue more World Series championships.
Cashman said he did not feel that autonomy had been threatened by the Soriano signing.
"I just recognize it's certainly possible that if I have 10 recommendations, nine or eight get followed," Cashman said, "but not every one of them. It's certainly possible this won't be the first time and may not be the last time."
During a lighter moment of the Cliff Lee courtship in December, Cashman had joked that his job really feels more like the "director of spending for the New York Yankees." On a more serious note Wednesday, he elaborated that his position is to make suggestions to the Steinbrenner ownership group.
After Lee decided to go to the Phillies, Cashman's suggestion was to exercise patience and try to obtain a starting pitcher later in the year, noting a lackluster group of alternatives on the free-agent board. But the Steinbrenners instead decided to invest in a lockdown bullpen.
"You make your recommendations to ownership and then they choose what direction they prefer to go, given the circumstance," Cashman said. "My plan would be patience and waiting. They obviously acted. And we are better, there's no doubt about it."
Cashman said that though there were internal debates and discussions on the Soriano signing, the organization's chain of command was followed. The final call rested with Steinbrenner, which is the opinion that carries the most weight in the system.
"Listen, let me put it this way: I think 29 GMs would love to have their owner force Rafael Soriano down their throat," Cashman said. "I don't think that's something that anyone would want to complain about.
"I took a stance and I'm not running from that stance. It doesn't mean I was right, or that it's the best approach, but that's who I am and still am. But we're better for it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.