TAMPA, Fla. — Brian Cashman has been doing this long enough to know that what on the surface seems to be true isn’t always the case.
So when the Yankees’ general manager hears all of the chatter about his club possibly having one of the best bullpens in baseball this season — if not the best — although he agrees with the reason behind the hype, he doesn’t engage in it.
“Everybody talks about the bullpen, and I understand why, but I’ve been around the block enough to know the baseball season doesn’t always play out the way you anticipate,” Cashman said by phone. “Who knows? Maybe the strength of this team will be the rotation and not the bullpen. That’s why you try to accumulate as much talent as you can.”
Cashman, whose club went 87-75 in 2015 and lost at home to the Astros in the American League wild-card game, went about accumulating talent this offseason in a different manner from previous years. After the organizational mandate — dictated from above by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner — to not significantly add to the payroll with an eye on eventually getting under the luxury-tax threshold, all acquisitions came via trade.
At the top of that list, in terms of star power, was Aroldis Chapman, obtained in a trade with the Reds. The Yankees got the closer cheap, relatively speaking, because of an alleged domestic violence incident last Oct. 30. Prosecutors, believing they did not have enough evidence for a conviction, declined to bring charges. MLB continues to investigate the situation and, per its new domestic violence policy, still could hand down some kind of discipline.
Meanwhile, Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are expected to dominate the late innings.
Asked if that prospect excites him, Cashman said, “What will excite us is if we can get to those guys with the lead.”
Which could be the rub.
The rotation has the look of a solid group, and perhaps a very good one, led by Masahiro Tanaka and followed by Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and CC Sabathia. But questions accompany each one.
Can Tanaka, who missed time because of injuries each of his first two seasons, stay healthy for the entire year? Ditto for Pineda, whose career high in innings is the 171 he threw in 2011. Eovaldi was healthy all of last season until right elbow inflammation felled him the last 3½ weeks of the regular season (he would have been available out of the bullpen for the Division Series had the Yankees beaten the Astros).
Sabathia, 36, went 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA last season but, aided by a new brace on his troublesome right knee, seemed to find something down the stretch, going 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his last five starts. Sabathia, who entered a 30-day alcohol rehab program on the eve of the wild-card loss, has said it’s been several years since he’s felt this good going into spring training.
The questions surrounding Severino have nothing to do with injury, just experience. As much as the righthander impressed after being called up in August, going 5-3 with a 2.89 ERA, the 21-year-old’s big-league career is only 11 starts old.
“There are questions, and they’re fair, about the ability of this staff to stay healthy,” said Cashman, who tried to trade for another high-end starter throughout the offseason. “If they do, there’s a lot to be excited about.”
Cashman addressed a lack of starting depth in the minor leagues by acquiring hard-throwing righthanders Luis Cessa and Chad Green from the Tigers — it cost the Yankees lefty reliever Justin Wilson — but the offseason wasn’t all about arms.
As part of the ongoing charge to make the roster younger and to address what has been a gaping hole since the departure of Robinson Cano in free agency, Cashman dealt for the Cubs’ Starlin Castro. Castro, who turns 26 next month, is a three-time All-Star, most recently in 2014. He lost his starting shortstop job to rookie Addison Russell last season but embraced a position switch to second base on Aug. 11 and performed well down the stretch, posting a .353/.373/.588 slash line. Still, he became expendable after the Cubs signed Ben Zobrist, and the Yankees grabbed him in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and infielder Brendan Ryan.
Cashman’s first move of the offseason was to acquire Aaron Hicks from the Twins in exchange for catcher John Ryan Murphy, giving the Yankees a switch hitter who can play all three outfield positions.
“This roster on paper is a stronger roster on paper than what ended 2015,” Cashman said. “We’re much more balanced.”
As currently constructed, is this a playoff team?
“I think this is a team that, as it’s constituted, if it stays healthy and performs up to its capabilities, is a contender for the postseason,” he said. “But that’s easy to say. You have to stay healthy and perform. We’ve seen a lot of stories where that doesn’t happen.”