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Hal Steinbrenner will seriously consider upgrades to Yankees' rotation

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner smiles as he listens

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner smiles as he listens to a question while speaking with reporters in the lobby of the hotel hosting the owners meetings on Nov. 18, 2015, in Dallas. Credit: AP/LM Otero

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner’s offseason priority is to upgrade the rotation, he said, but that might not be as simple as signing a big check.

While declining to comment specifically on the team’s interest in righthanders Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg — the best free-agent starting pitchers available this offseason — Steinbrenner said, “all options are open as far as I’m concerned.”

“Anything that rolls around across my desk, I’m going to be looking at real seriously,” Steinbrenner said in an interview with the YES Network that aired Monday night. “[The Yankees already have] a good rotation, but starting pitching, you can’t have enough. Like last year, that’s going to be my focus. You’ll have to ask [Brian Cashman] if he agrees with me or not. That’s all.”

It is Cashman’s focus, too, he said last month at the general managers’ meetings, when he acknowledged that he would talk about Cole and Strasburg with their mutual agent, Scott Boras.

Whether Steinbrenner will be willing to make the sort of financial commitment needed to obtain one of those pitchers — each is expected to draw about $250 million — isn’t clear. With about $210 million already on the 2020 payroll, the Yankees have exceeded the first luxury-tax threshold. The next one is at $228 million, the third at $248 million. Passing that last level comes with heavy penalties: a 42.5% tax on overages, plus a team’s top pick in the June amateur draft dropping 10 spots.

“It’s a big deal,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s something we would certainly prefer not to do because there are June-draft ramifications, there are numerous ramifications. But that is something I would consider.”

Steinbrenner also talked up the Yankees’ rotation in its current state, sans an external ace.

“Overall, I like our rotation right now,” he said. “If it was Opening Day 2020 tomorrow, I’d be a lot more comfortable than I was a year ago at this time.

“We know that [James] Paxton is the guy we traded for, the guy we thought he would be. We’re going to get [Luis] Severino back, [Jordan] Montgomery back. We got [Masahiro] Tanaka, [J.A.] Happ, [Jonathan Loaisiga] and maybe Deivi [Garcia, a prospect] at some point this year. So, it’s a good rotation.”

Steinbrenner absolved the rotation from blame in the Yankees’ abbreviated October this year, saying a lack of timely hitting played a greater role.

“I think our biggest problem in the postseason, despite what anybody may say, wasn’t the starting pitching,” he said.

Adding Cole or Strasburg or anyone else would be an attempt to get over their recent hump. The Yankees’ season ended in the American League Championship Series against the Astros, who also beat them in the ALCS in 2017. They haven’t so much as been to a World Series in the past decade, and they have won it just once in the past 19 years.

“We were absolutely good enough to beat [the Astros],” Steinbrenner said. “We enter every October with the mindset of winning a championship. We failed to do that. There’s no way to sugarcoat that. We’re all disappointed for our fans’ sakes. Had some good games in there, had a great Division Series. But in the end, in October, we failed.”

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