Brian Cashman has a go-to line when it comes to deals — whether they be ones involving the signing of a free agent or the kind made between teams that involve players and/or cash.
“It takes two to tango,” the Yankees general manager often says.
Cashman used that phrase at the start of last week’s general managers' meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona, and when the three-day event was over, he had not found anyone with whom to dance.
That's not surprising. That has become par for the course in recent years when it comes to the baseball offseason and significant deals getting done. Winters, for a variety of reasons, have become far more marathon than sprint.
“It’s so early in the process,” said Cashman, whose team went 103-59 last season and lost to the Astros in six games in the ALCS. “If you wanted to try and pull something down today [either on the trade market or free-agent market], you’d probably have to pay 10 times the sticker price.”
Cashman raised the eyebrows of some Yankees fans last week when he said, “It’s hard to improve on a 103-win team.” That doesn't mean he doesn't think he can. Or that he doesn't intend to try.
Cashman said his top priority is adding depth to his rotation, which is the case most offseasons.
Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are the top free-agent names in that department, and Cashman said “of course” he planned to engage the agent for both players, Scott Boras.
But the Yankees already have 2020 payroll commitments of about $212 million. Indications are that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner would prefer to keep the payroll under the highest luxury-tax threshold ($248 million), so paying top dollar on the free-agent market might not be the way Cashman goes to address that need.
There are free-agent options beyond the marquee duo who will be less expensive, with Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler among them. Cole Hamels, Julio Teheran and Dallas Kuechel also are potential free-agent options.
“Obviously, starting pitching is always something that we want to try to continue to look at and shore up,” Cashman said. “With that said, we still have internal personnel that we're excited to get back in the fold as we move forward. There's a number of different guys … we have a lot of exciting arms coming, but there's some exciting opportunities that exist in the marketplace via trade as well as free agency.”
Cashman characterized the rotation — which currently is composed of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ — as “strong.” As Cashman said, it could be bolstered by in-house pitchers such as Jordan Montgomery, who should be fully healed from 2018 Tommy John surgery, and 20-year-old righty Deivi Garcia, the organization’s top pitching prospect, who ended the season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Domingo German, all but certain to start the season suspended by MLB because of an alleged domestic-violence incident, is likely to be in the mix at some point.
“We have a good, strong staff right now,” Cashman said. “The fact of the matter is if all of our pitching is healthy, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, we can compete and be one of the stronger clubs on paper right now. But the job at hand is always to try to find ways to improve upon that. We’ll see. We’ll just be engaged [in the marketplace] and see where it takes us.”