Looking at the Yankees’ recent history and their present business model, it would be unwise to assume Hal Steinbrenner is about to hand a blank check to either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg this winter.
That’s not to say they defending AL East champs won’t be spending money. The Yankees always do. And there’s zero doubt that you’ll hear Cole or Strasburg or both frequently connected to the Bronx.
As luck would have it, Scott Boras is the agent for both pitchers, and to him, there is no bigger buzz kill than a bidding war that doesn’t include the Yankees. But is Brian Cashman really prepared to go the distance in Boras’ dream auction?
Is it motivation enough that the 103-win Yankees fell short of the World Series for the 10th consecutive season, their longest stretch without an appearance since the 1910s? Or that Cashman is home watching three elite starters he missed out on — Cole, Justin Verlander and Patrick Corbin — battle for a title many thought the Yankees would claim?
You have to wonder. Cashman has been more strategic with Steinbrenner’s money of late, letting the Nationals outbid him for Corbin last December before sprinkling it around to J.A. Happ, DJ LeMahieu, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino. He also expressed no remorse for failing to land any of the elite starters mentioned above, vigorously disputing the suggestion that he “passed” on them when a reporter used that word during Thursday’s official Bronx break-up news conference.
“I don’t regret our process,” Cashman said. “If we have a strong process and we put our best foot forward, then you live with it. I’m living with it. I can sleep at night. The process we have in place has served us well and put us in a position to take a legitimate shot at the championship, and that’s despite some of the options that went elsewhere.”
The only time Cashman got a little boxed in during the animated exchange was his explanation on Verlander, who was acquired by the Astros in August 2017 with a guaranteed $60 million left on his contract. This was one of the very few instances in which Cashman made a concession to cost; he reiterated that the Yankees wanted to stay below the $197 million luxury- tax threshold in 2018 to not only avoid paying the penalty but reset their rate.
With all due respect to Cashman, that is pretty much the definition of taking a pass on Verlander, regardless of the economics, and the Yankees have to wear that one.
As for Corbin, they already had traded for James Paxton and didn’t put the same value on him (six years, $140 million) that the Nationals did.
In Cole’s case, the Pirates liked the Astros’ trade package better, and Cashman wasn’t about to pay more in prospects.
Would any of those pitchers have guaranteed No. 28 for the Yankees? Impossible to say. Cole and Verlander lost their first two starts in the World Series. Corbin pitched in relief in Game 1, is set to start Game 4 and could be used out of the bullpen again in the series.
Even though some of the Yankees’ relievers said they were gassed after the ALCS ended, Cashman wouldn’t cop to any flaws in the Yankees’ pitching philosophy, so it will come down to another cost-benefit analysis this winter as far as rotation upgrades.
“We’ll continue to do that dance and see where it takes us,” he said. “And if there’s something that’s available that we seem able to match up with and push through on, we’ll be aggressive.”
Looking ahead to 2020, and factoring in a very rough estimation of arbitration raises, the Yankees already are on the hook for $196 million, with the luxury-tax threshold nudging upward to $208 million for next year. Cashman also has to decide what he wants to do with Aroldis Chapman, who can opt out after the World Series, and free agent Didi Gregorius.
Steinbrenner probably doesn’t feel too great right now about Cashman convincing him to take on $295 million in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, so could that impact the owner’s willingness to green-light another $250 million for Cole? Or does a lesser investment in a free-agent starter such as Zack Wheeler make more sense?
“He wants to make good, sound, educated decisions with predictable outcomes,” Cashman said of Steinbrenner. “And so you know, I don’t see this winter being any different. Is he going to be investing heavily in this roster, as he always does? The answer is yes.”
Anyone who has watched Cole this season would tell you he’s been the most predictable outcome in the sport. I’m certain Boras already has the 100-page binder that reinforces it. But has Cashman grown more comfortable “investing heavily” among a number of other players and OK with rationalizing why another ace got away?
Nobody knows the answer to that yet. Not even Cashman. Recent history suggests, however, which way the Yankees could be leaning.