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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees GM Brian Cashman stressing financial 'discipline'

Yankees general manager not looking to overspend to overtake the Red Sox.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks to reporters

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman speaks to reporters during the baseball GM meetings on Nov. 7 in Carlsbad, Calif. Photo Credit: AP/Gregory Bull

LAS VEGAS

If the Yankees wouldn’t outbid the Nationals for Patrick Corbin, and refuse to get involved in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes, is it reasonable to believe that Brian Cashman will open the Bronx vault to sign Manny Machado?

Based on what we’ve heard, the short answer seems to be maybe. Cashman revealed Monday that he’s been talking with Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano.

Heading into this winter, the assumption was that the Yankees — after staying under the luxury-tax threshold last season — were prepared to blow past any such restrictions in an effort to dethrone the Red Sox in 2019. What they couldn’t accomplish on the trade front, Cashman would remedy with Hal Steinbrenner’s checkbook.

But on the first full day of the winter meetings, the general manager repeatedly mentioned “discipline” as he looks to improve the roster. He bristled at the tired narrative of how the Yankees would be throwing around money if the late George Steinbrenner — and not his son Hal — were still in charge, saying the industry is much different now, with more variables to consider in running the business.

Cashman didn’t need to tell us, however. The Yankees’ actions, to this point, have made that clear. While trading for Giancarlo Stanton a year ago — and taking on nearly $265 million in salary — was right out of The Boss’ playbook, Cashman made sure the acquisition allowed the Yankees to stay under the $197-million tax threshold, a barrier that Hal didn’t want to cross.

Is that the reason why the Yankees weren’t able to knock off the Red Sox, who spent $235 million for this year’s World Series title? It’s not that simple, obviously. But what we’re not seeing from Cashman now is a GM hell-bent on making it rain Benjamins to topple the Yankees’ ancient rival.

“We’re very active,” Cashman said Monday. “But at the same time, disciplined about what we’re willing to do and what we’re not willing to do.”

There’s that word again. Frankly, no one besides the Yankees’ front office wants to hear about “discipline” in putting a team together, especially the one that plays in the Bronx. Just assemble a championship-caliber roster. Don’t talk to us about sticker shock. That’s for the club over in Queens.

Or so we thought. Just last week, the Yankees missed out on Corbin, the free-agent lefthander they had targeted. All along, it seemed that Corbin was destined for the Bronx. He grew up outside Syracuse as a Yankees fan and supposedly told friends he intended to sign there.

And yet it was the Nationals who lured Corbin with a six-year, $140-million contract that apparently was considered too rich for the Yankees. Cashman explained Monday that while he believed Corbin was the top free-agent starter available, he was unwilling to go to that extreme for him. After hearing what Corbin was seeking, Cashman didn’t make an offer.

“That’s not the level we were going to play in,” he said. “I’m comfortable with our assessments on it.”

That may very well turn out to be a smart move, but in this market, Cashman now is likely to wind up overpaying for a substitute such as J.A. Happ — if he’s not outbid for him, too. Cashman said he’s talked to Scott Boras about Yusei Kikuchi, a hard-throwing lefthander recently posted by the Seibu Lions, but he’s a considerable gamble compared to the other two.

As for that other Boras client, Harper, Cashman insisted Monday that the Yankees will not pursue him. Never mind the damage Harper’s lefthanded power would do in the Bronx. Cashman doesn’t sound interested in creating a hole for Harper to fill or handing him a blank check.

“The Harper stuff, I’m surprised you’re still asking,” Cashman said.

When it comes to the Yankees and big-money free agents, you always ask. It’s only lately, however, that everyone has been hearing no.

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