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With the GM meetings beginning, can Brian Cashman lay the groundwork for a pitcher?

Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts

Houston Astros starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts after an out against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning of Game 5 of a baseball American League Division Series in Houston, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.  Credit: AP/Eric Christian Smith

Brian Cashman has referred to the annual general managers' meetings as “a necessary evil.” He was only half-joking.

There is endless talk and speculation and rumors, and after the annual three-day get-together – this year’s edition starts Monday at the Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia  in Arizona – typically nothing concrete gets done.

But during these meetings -- which are attended by every GM in the sport and most of their top lieutenants as well as a slew of player agents --  important groundwork can be and usually is laid for moves large and small to come.

During last year’s GM meetings in Carlsbad, California, for example, Cashman became aware that the Mariners were open to moving lefthander James Paxton, who turned out to be his biggest offseason acquisition.  

“As I was sitting here right now, I didn't even know Paxton was available at this time last year,” Cashman said Oct. 24 in his 2019 season wrap-up news conference. “It wasn't until the GM meetings occurred out in Carlsbad. I learned that, and then a month later, we were able to pull that down.”

What will the Yankees pull down this time around?

The needs are headlined by what they always seem to be — pitching.

As of now, the Yankees have a decent-to-good rotation composed of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Paxton and J.A. Happ. But they would like an established ace to anchor the rotation, and as no Yankees fan needs to be told, some are available on the free-agent market. That group is headlined by Gerrit Cole and World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, who opted out of his contract with the Nationals.

The 29-year-old Cole, 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA the last two years with the Astros,  including 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 2019, is the winter gift just about every fan of the pinstripes is hoping for, and the Yankees indeed have interest. They had some of their top talent evaluators watching Cole down the stretch this season, doing much of that preparation for a potential meeting in the postseason but also as part of the Yankees’ beginning evaluations of the free-agent class.

The Yankees also saw plenty of Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler, two other top arms on the market who are potential targets, in the season’s second half.

Free-agent pitchers who likely won’t cost as much and could be in play include Cole Hamels, Julio Teheran and Dallas Kuechel, to name a few. Bullpen help also can’t be ruled out.

And, to return to the Paxton example, it is not yet known which front-line pitchers might be made available via trade. With  no evidence that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner is desirous of bestowing the kind of multiyear, big-money contract that it likely will take to land pitchers such as Cole or Strasburg -- that sort of contract could push the payroll into an area that would require the Yankees to pay the highest level of luxury tax -- a rotation upgrade in the trade market might be the safe way to bet.

Still, while organizational insiders were giving a “no chance” vibe last year at this time regarding some of the biggest names on the market, which was headlined by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, that has not yet been the case regarding any of this year’s free-agent class.

What Steinbrenner is willing to spend is not yet known — perhaps not even to him, as circumstances often change — and that's part of the overall unknown of this time of year.

“Engage the marketplace,” Cashman said after the season. “Evaluate what's available in the free-agent marketplace and then make the phone calls to the 29 other clubs to see what's available in the trade marketplace and act accordingly.”

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