LAS VEGAS -- The Yankees identified upgrading their starting pitching as a priority entering the offseason, and as general manager Brian Cashman departed from the Winter Meetings on Thursday morning, there was confidence that his visit to Sin City had achieved that objective.
Over a four-night stay at the Delano Las Vegas, Cashman set the groundwork for a new agreement with veteran left-hander J.A. Happ, which is pending a physical but expected to be finalized shortly. The deal is likely to be for two years at $34 million, with a vesting option for the 2021 campaign valued at $17 million.
"He's somebody who did a great job for us," said assistant general manager Michael Fishman. "We're hopeful on bringing him back here. He's continued to pitch well for us all year. We made a lot of progress here with him. Hopefully we can have him back here for 2019."
Combined with last month's acquisition of left-hander James Paxton from the Mariners, the Yankees believe they have upgraded a rotation that they viewed as deficient following the American League Division Series. Though agent Scott Boras would love to bait Cashman into bidding for outfielder Bryce Harper, the Yanks are now focusing their attention on the bullpen and middle infield.
While the tantalizing possibility of dressing infielder Manny Machado in pinstripes continues to fuel Hot Stove chatter, Cashman said that he has spoken with many other options as the club weighs how it will address the absence of shortstop Didi Gregorius early in 2019.
"I've talked to [agent] Danny Lozano about Manny, I've talked to the agents for Freddy Galvis. I've talked to everybody, from high end to low end," Cashman said. "This marketplace is deep on second basemen. I have a shortstop that we're playing at second in Gleyber Torres, so how does this play out?
"Do I swing Gleyber back to shortstop and import a second baseman, or do I leave Gleyber at second and play on the more shallow pool of available shortstops? That's the stuff we're trying to figure out right now and assess price tags, whether it's just a pure defender or someone that's got more upside on both sides of it with defense and offense."
With Zach Britton and Player Page for David Robertson having filed for free agency, the Yankees are aiming to maintain the strength of their bullpen. Having spoken with both Britton and Robertson since the season's end, New York has shown interest in Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller and Joakim Soria, among others.
"We've had discussions on various relievers, both on the free-agent market and the trade market," Fishman said. "It looks like that market on the free-agent side is starting to move; we're hearing about some players coming off the board. We're having those discussions now. That's an area we're looking to address."
Then there is the case of Sonny Gray, whom the Yankees intend to trade before Opening Day. Cashman said that 11 teams have made proposals for the right-hander, some offering big league talent. A prospect return is also possible for the 29-year-old, who will be a free agent after 2019.
"I'm definitely getting matches for him," Cashman said. "There's been a lot of interest. Nothing has moved my needle enough to find that sweet spot yet."
BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
1. Shorstop/second base
A sit-down with Machado appears to be in the future, as the superstar gauges interest from the Phillies, White Sox, Yankees and several mystery teams. Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has said that he wants an explanation for Machado's comments during the postseason, when the 26-year-old said that he was "not the type of player that's going to be Johnny Hustle." The Yanks also have been connected to Cincinnati's Scooter Gennett.
2. Right-handed pitching
The markets for Britton and Robertson may be too pricey for the Yankees, though both have said that they wouldn't mind returning in a non-closer situation. Ottavino's reps have met with the Bombers; a 33-year-old Brooklyn native, the right-hander recently told MLB.com's Statcast™ podcast that he would "whiff Babe Ruth every time." Reunions with Miller or Adam Warren remain possible.
3. Starting pitching
The Happ agreement crystallized after the pursuit of Indians ace Corey Kluber hit a snag, but the Yanks remain interested in starters, considering some uncertainty with Carsten Sabathia's health as he enters his final season. Cashman has referred to Japanese left-hander Yusei Kikuchi as "somebody that's worth talking about." A three-way proposal that involved the Mets' Noah Syndergaard made for fun chatter, but it is considered unlikely at this point.
RULE 5 DRAFT
The Yankees made one selection in the Rule 5 Draft, taking right-hander Adonis De la Cruz from the Mariners' Double-A roster in the first round of the Triple-A phase. De la Cruz, 23, was 3-4 with a 4.71 ERA and 75 strikeouts over 57 1/3 innings (34 appearances) for Class-A Clinton this past year.
Right-hander Nick Green was selected by the D-backs from the Yankees in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. In the Minor League phases, catcher Chris Rabago (Royals), right-hander Gilmael Troya (Phillies), right-hander Anyelo Gomez (Red Sox), outfielder Mark Payton (Athletics) and right-hander Alexander Vargas (Cubs) were selected from the Yanks.
GM'S BOTTOM LINE
"If something doesn't make sense today, it doesn't mean it won't make sense tomorrow. All I can keep telling you is, you know where my current focuses are. But at the same time, we're a fully operational Death Star." -- Cashman, addressing the Yankees' interest in Harper