LAS VEGAS — This much Brian Cashman made clear on Day 1 of the winter meetings:
The Yankees will not be pursuing Bryce Harper.
They will, however, continue to be involved with the other big-ticket item of this year’s free- agent class: Manny Machado.
“I’ve had several conversations with Dan Lozano about Manny Machado,” Cashman said of the infielder’s agent. “So we are definitely focused in the marketplace in those areas of need and he obviously is available and solves that area of need. I’m not going to deny we’ve had a conversation or two.”
It’s a need that arose with the end-of-season news that Didi Gregorius will miss at least the first two months of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Interest in Machado, however, does not mean the Yankees will use unlimited means, both in terms of money and years committed to get him.
With the Yankees achieving owner Hal Steinbrenner’s directive to bring payroll under the luxury tax threshold last season, a megadeal in the range of eight to 10 years and surpassing $300 million to get Machado might be deemed too steep.
There’s also the issue of Machado’s postseason. The 26-year-old’s talent is unquestioned, but some of his on-field antics in October, as well as his comments about hustling, raised plenty of eyebrows.
“I think that the Yankees, right now on paper, are as good as the Red Sox,” said former Yankee Mark Teixeira, now an ESPN analyst. “I could argue if the Yankees play to their full potential, they’re as good as the Red Sox. You add Manny Machado to that team, it might put you over the edge. Now, the baggage is there, obviously.”
Speaking generally about the Yankees’ approach to the offseason, Cashman said: “We’re evaluating all opportunities that exist in the marketplace, both high end and low end, and see how they fit in our world and if they do.”
Harper, Cashman stressed yet again, is not a fit.
He rattled off Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Clint Frazier, Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury as outfielders he already has on the roster.
“We don’t have [an unlimited] amount of dollars to be playing with in any marketplace, so I think you want to ask about something that fits more [with our needs],” Cashman said. “I’ve always said, ‘Follow what I say.’ We’re looking for a starter, we’re looking for how do we address the loss of Didi? At no time at all, all winter, have I said I’m looking for an outfielder. So that Harper stuff . . . I’m surprised you’re still asking.”
Cashman, who also has said he’s looking for a bullpen piece or two, saw two potential rotation targets come off the free-agent board last week. Patrick Corbin agreed to a six-year, $140-million deal with the Nationals and Nathan Eovaldi re-upped with the Red Sox for four years and $68 million. The Yankees never made an official offer to either player.
Cashman has had talks with the agent for lefthander J.A. Happ since early November, and those discussions will continue. As of now, the 36-year-old lefthander is asking for a third year, a commitment the Yankees would prefer not to make.
The Yankees will keep looking at the remaining free-agent starters — a group that includes Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn and Wade Miley — and Cashman said he has spoken to Scott Boras, the agent for recently posted Japanese lefthander Yusei Kikuchi.
“We’ve stayed engaged throughout the marketplace on trades and free agency and we have our comfort levels,” said Cashman, who re-signed Gardner and CC Sabathia and traded for James Paxton.
Referring to the concern fans have expressed about the Yankees not breaking the bank to this point, Cashman referenced last year’s acquisition of Stanton and said, “We’re still capable of special things.
“We and they [fans] all want the ultimate prize sooner [rather] than later, but being less disciplined is not going to guarantee that,” he added. “Hopefully we’ll be able to add another piece. We’ve had some successful retentions and acquisitions in the earlier part of the winter. We’ve stalled as of late, but that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t yet to come.”