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For Brian Cashman, it's make-or-break time

Three and out.

That’s what it’s come down to for Brian Cashman -- three years to clean up a mess that took years to make, a mess he had at least some role in creating, and a mess that is going to take more than a mop and pail to resolve.

Some might look at this as a thankless task, with the general manager impossibly entangled and doomed to fail given how many aging, unproductive and overpaid players the Yankees are still locked into.

In reality, it is in fact a wondrous opportunity for Cashman to do what he has always secretly yearned to do -- create a Yankees team in his own image, with his own vision and his own players, and to finally build his own legacy.

For better or worse, the Yankees of the next three years will be Brian Cashman’s Yankees. No one else can take the credit, and no one else should share the blame.

It’s on him now. Let’s see what he can do with it.

Oh sure, Cashman was the GM for four of the five Yankees championship teams since 1996, but the truth is he didn’t really build those teams. He inherited much of it from a farm system built and overseen by Gene Michael while George Steinbrenner was suspended from Major League Baseball, and originally assembled by Bob Watson, his predecessor as Yankees GM.

But now the Core Four is no more. And Cashman has as close to a clean slate as he’ll ever have to work with.

The problem is, there’s a lot of work to be done, not much time to do it, and precious little wiggle room.

He’s got a returning third baseman (Alex Rodriguez) he quite publicly never wanted in the first place. He’s got a returning first baseman (Mark Teixeira) whose career seems to be in a death spiral. He’s got four starting pitchers coming back from serious injuries. He’s got a relatively inexperienced closer who’s about to become a free agent. He needs a new shortstop, a power bat in his outfield, and he’s still trying to replace Robinson Cano.

And he’s got practically nothing on his farm to plug into any of those roles.

Some would see the job ahead as incredibly daunting. Cashman better see it as inviting, even invigorating. Otherwise he may as well just collect his three years of paychecks and start preparing for his career in satellite radio, where ex-GMs seem to live forever.

Because this is Cashman’s chance to disprove what a lot of people seem to think about him, that he is nothing without The Boss’s checkbook.

This is his chance to prove that yes, he can develop talent, or at least put together a farm system to do it for him. And that he can spend money wisely, not just too well, and that when it comes time to make the tough decisions he can do that, too.

Firing the hitting coach, Kevin Long, and the first-base coach, Mick Kelleher, do not qualify as tough decisions. More like scapegoating. (Then again, last year’s scapegoat was the strength and conditioning coach, so at least he’s slowly moving up the ladder.)

What Cashman needs to do is re-instill a feeling of accountability in a franchise that has become far too complacent.

No one with the Yankees seems to bear any responsibility for failure anymore -- no one of consequence, anyway.

Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann formed a giant hole in the middle of the soft puffy doughnut that was the Yankees' lineup this year. Not one of them even got benched for lack of performance, partially because there was no one better to replace them.

Derek Jeter was almost a nightly liability at shortstop, and yet until the final month of the season he was almost never on the bench and very rarely the DH.

The Yankees went from bad (Brian Roberts) to terrible (Stephen Drew) at second base. And when they finally found a decent stopgap (Martin Prado), his season got cut short by injury and illness.

The starting pitching was surprisingly good, despite losing CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka to injuries for the bulk of the season. And so was the bullpen, but those arms quickly wore down through overuse.

Cashman can’t guarantee that any one of those problems, with the exception of the retiring Jeter, will be solved in 2015.

But you can bet he will be given the resources to figure it out. Because as he said Friday afternoon, “Over the next three years, doing something drastically different is not going to be the case."

Meaning the Yankees will fill their holes the way they always have -- by stuffing them with Steinbrenner cash.

This winter I doubt you’ll hear any talk of “budget constraints," or voluntary payroll ceilings, or any whining about subsidizing the rest of the league via the luxury tax.

Because this is the way the game is played now. Not many teams can spend the $200-plus million on payroll the Yankees can, but a lot more of them can hold onto their own players thanks to increased cable TV revenue -- another gift from The Boss -- and as Cashman said, rebuilding “is not part of the program here."

The Yankees aren’t going to mortgage the present in exchange for a rosy future. “We’re not willing to lose a ton of games and give up experienced players for draft picks and live to play another day," Cashman said. Because even though the owner’s first name is Hal, the last name is still Steinbrenner, which is not German for “patience."

“Everything around here is short term," Cashman said. “We’re always in a win-now mode. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I’ve had enough conversations with the family to know that next year’s goal is to be the last team standing."

Same as last year’s goal.

Cashman now has three years to achieve it -- a three years that coincides perfectly with the remaining years on Joe Girardi’s deal, which probably means that if things don’t change between now and 2017, the two of them will be swept out together, and a new regime with the same goals will be installed.

This is Cashman’s chance to build a Yankees team he can truly call his own. Whether that team is a winner will determine whether the next three years of Brian Cashman’s Yankees career are also his last three years.