NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman has thick skin. One can’t hold his job for more than two decades without it.
You want to criticize him for a move he made? Bring it on. The Yankees general manager knows he’s not batting 1.000 with his trades or free-agent signings, because nobody does.
“We try to bunch together more good than bad,” Cashman said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to have some bad.”
During Thursday’s annual postmortem press conference at Yankee Stadium, Cashman was asked if he or Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner had any regrets about passing on three top starting pitchers who have changed addresses over the past few years: Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Patrick Corbin.
Clearly displeased with the phrasing of the inquiry, the GM pushed back.
“I didn’t pass on them,” Cashman said testily. “Why would you characterize it that I passed on them?”
All three pitchers were indeed on the Yankees’ radar before landing with new teams, causing Cashman to dispute the idea that he “passed” on them.
With Verlander, it was his contract and the impact on the Yankees’ luxury tax situation. In Cole’s case, Cashman was engaged in talks with the Pirates before Pittsburgh took what many considered to be a lesser deal from the Astros. And Corbin? The Yankees met with him and they had interest, but not enough to outbid the Nationals and their six-year, $140 million offer.
So while all three situations are, in Cashman’s words, “ancient history,” they felt like fresh wounds as the GM defended his decision-making process.
“I didn’t think it was a fair framing that we passed on things; that’s not true,” Cashman said a few hours after the press conference. “If I accept that, then I’m accepting that narrative. I’m not going to.”
Cashman’s narrative Thursday was one of a championship-caliber team that ran into a similarly great team in the American League Championship Series. Criticize the pitching all you want, but it was the Yankees’ lack of situational hitting that cost them against the Astros.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t lose that series because of our pitching,” Cashman said. “It’s my job to correct it so there’s not a false perception that gets created. We weren’t a player or two away. We were a play or two away from going to the World Series.”
The Yankees did pitch better than the Astros in the ALCS, but the presence of Verlander and Cole in Houston uniforms left many wondering how the series might have looked with either one of them in pinstripes. Or even with Corbin, who helped the Nationals reach the first World Series in franchise history in his first year in Washington. If the Yankees had signed Corbin last winter, would that have pushed them past Houston?
“If we sign Corbin, we don’t sign DJ LeMahieu, Zack Britton or Adam Ottavino,” Cashman said. “Every decision kicks into the next decision. Everything affects everything else.”
Cashman’s exchange with the reporter had a Tom Cruise-Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" feel to it. I kept waiting for the GM to be asked if he had ordered the Code Red.
Such fireworks never came, though the question was posed for a second time: Semantics aside, does Cashman have any regrets over not securing one of those three big arms?
“I don't regret our process,” Cashman said. “I think we have a strong, healthy process that leads us to make whatever offers we're making at the time and for good reason and [it’s] something we can be comfortable with. You don't get everything you want at all times. But I think what we’ve done is do a lot of great things along the way.
“I can sleep at night with the process we have in place. It has served us well and put us in a position to take a legitimate shot at a championship.”
That process has undeniably led to some excellent acquisitions, from this winter’s signing of LeMahieu to the unheralded trades for Luke Voit, Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela.
There have been misses, too, such as the decision to sign J.A. Happ last winter rather than Lance Lynn, who had a bounce-back season for Texas after leaving the Yankees.
Lynn’s presence might have erased the need for the Yankees to throw a bullpen game with their season on the line in Houston, though to be fair, Domingo German also would have taken care of that had he not been placed on administrative leave under the league’s Domestic Violence Policy, something far beyond the Yankees’ control.
“Lynn resuscitated and became something we hadn’t seen and something analytics hadn’t predicted,” Cashman said. “Clearly, that falls into the missed opportunity boat -- something we didn’t see coming.”
Following another disappointing postseason exit, the most obvious question people are now asking about the Yankees is whether they’ll do whatever it takes to sign Cole this winter.
• Every team's free agents this winter
Cashman and his staff will begin assessing the free-agent and trade markets next week in their pro scouting meetings, and while the GM admits that “No. 1 starters would improve any roster,” it’s far from certain that he will go above and beyond to sign Cole, who is expected to land the biggest pitching contract in the game’s history.
“I think it's very important not to get emotional,” Cashman said. “When you start addressing areas, you start making mistakes because you're emotional. That's a challenge, but it's one that we're up for.”
The offseason will present its typical questions, but Cashman pointed out Thursday that there are far more answers on his roster as it’s currently constituted.
“The winter program will be no different than others,” Cashman said. “It's going to be the type that you look at the areas of weakness. With a 100-win team, it isn't as much.
“We'll continue to do that dance and see where it takes us. If there's something that's available that we seem to be able to match up with and push through on, we’ll be aggressive.”
The Yankees have had plenty of success over the past three seasons, reaching the ALCS in 2017 and ’19 while winning 100 games in each of the past two years. Without a World Series ring to show for them, however, those seasons aren’t remembered for anything other than the final result.
Still, as Cashman said on Thursday, most teams “would love to be in a position” the Yankees find themselves in, so he’s “not going to lose sight of those facts as we navigate what's next, whatever that happens to be.”
The GM Meetings begin two weeks from Monday.
Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.