Brian Cashman departed last week’s general managers’ meetings in Carlsbad, California, with roughly the same amount of work to be done on his 2019 club as when he arrived.
Rarely, if ever, do major deals get done during meetings that Cashman in the past has only half-jokingly referred to as “a necessary evil.” That doesn’t mean nothing gets accomplished, though.
They often serve as a launch point for bigger deals – on the free- agent and trade fronts – that get done later in the offseason.
“I have a sense of what’s available in the marketplace, both trade and free agent,” Cashman said of the recon work he got done. “I’ve been having free-agent meetings, clearly as many as I possibly can. And I’ve been knocking off as many club discussions as I can. So there’s a lot of players that are available. I think teams are more open-minded than ever to at least explore anything and everything. Which is tedious but exciting.”
Cashman, whose primary want and need remains starting pitching, met with the Indians and Mariners, two clubs that have available starting pitchers. The Indians are listening on Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer; the Mariners are willing to listen to offers for most of their roster, including lefthander James Paxton. None of those pitchers, it should be pointed out, will come cheap.
On the free-agent front, Arizona lefthander Patrick Corbin, who grew up a Yankees fan outside of Syracuse in upstate New York, is a top target -- and the feeling is mutual.
“I’d bet on that [happening],” one opposing team executive said last week.
Cashman would like to retain free-agent lefthander J.A. Happ, a trade-deadline acquisition who pitched well after arriving from Toronto. “He checks all the boxes,” Cashman said.
Nathan Eovaldi, who starred for the Red Sox in their October run to the World Series championship and who was hugely popular with Yankees teammates and staff during his time in the Bronx in 2015-16, is a free agent, and the possibility of a reunion can’t be dismissed. Along with a lot of other teams, the Yankees like free- agent lefthander Dallas Keuchel. Astros righthander Charlie Morton and Brewers lefthander Wade Miley could turn out to be options as well.
Cashman also would like to bolster his bullpen. Zach Britton and David Robertson are free agents and there is interest in re-signing one or perhaps both. With Didi Gregorius slated to miss at least the first two months of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Cashman also would like to improve the Yankees' infield depth.
Cashman has more money to spend this offseason than he did in recent years. The Yankees finally got the 2018 payroll under the $197-million luxury tax threshold – an edict of managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner – which means that for the first time, they won’t have to pay the luxury tax that gets redistributed. Still, ''more money available'' doesn’t mean ''infinite''; current indications are that Steinbrenner isn’t looking to surpass the threshold a year after getting under it. So those with visions of big-ticket free agents Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado dancing in their heads are likely to be disappointed.
“We’ll gravitate toward anything that makes sense,” Cashman said. “We’re always trying to be aggressive and we’re trying to be wise at the same time.”
The Yankees already have re-signed two of their own free agents, leftfielder Brett Gardner and lefthander CC Sabathia, who announced that 2019 will be his final big-league season. But to repeat an often-used phrase of Cashman’s, he has plenty of “boxes to check” for 2019, an offseason process that never moves quite as fast as he’d like.
“I’m here trying to do business,” he said before leaving Carlsbad. “One of my favorite comments is ‘just land the plane.’ I don’t like to be circling the freakin’ airport. If we can find matches . . . let’s just do it. Why wait?”