NEW YORK -- The Yankees are planning to be in the mix for the top free-agent pitchers in this year’s class, laying the groundwork to speak face to face with Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg in the coming weeks, as general manager Brian Cashman said that upgrading the rotation remains the club's top priority leading into 2020.
Speaking at the General Managers Meetings on Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz., Cashman confirmed the Yankees’ interest in Cole and/or Strasburg, adding that the club would also prepare to speak with “some surprise guys” on this year’s free-agent market.
“Of course we're going to talk to Strasburg,” Cashman said. “We'll talk to Cole. We'll talk to the higher-end guys, clearly, and have conversations there. We'll also talk about some surprise guys, I'm sure. … It's going to take two to tango, so we'll see where it takes takes us. It's hard to predict. But of course, anybody would have an interest in players like that.”
Either Cole or Strasburg, both of whom are represented by agent Scott Boras, would immediately solidify a rotation that was viewed as a weakness for the Yankees this past season. Even so, they won 103 games to celebrate their first division title in seven years before falling to the Astros in a six-game American League Championship Series.
“Players like Strasburg, players like Gerrit Cole, they're going to make informed decisions that are in their best interest,” Cashman said. “What's in the best interest for their families, stuff like that. It's not as simple as going after it and pulling it down. It's a lot more than just that. There’s family dynamics, there's financial dynamics, there's a lot of different things in play there.
“But obviously [they are] great talented players that have earned so many accolades along the way, and for good reason. They’re some of the premier pitchers this game has seen at this time, so it's a good time to be them. Certainly we'll have conversations from our perspective, and they'll either lead to further ones or lesser ones, depending on how the information flows, coming and going.”
With no further moves, the Yankees would project to begin 2020 with a rotation that features Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and perhaps Domingo Germán or Jordan Montgomery. Cashman also mentioned top prospect Deivi Garcia and No. 19 prospect Michael King as up-and-coming candidates to start big league games.
“We have a lot of exciting arms coming,” Cashman said. “But there's some exciting opportunities that exist in the marketplace via trade, as well as free agency. We'll see if any of those things navigate our way or not.”
Asked whether the Yankees could retain those free agents and still aggressively pursue big tickets like Cole or Strasburg, Cashman replied:
“That's why you have to wait and watch this stuff play out and see how the dust settles. Time will tell, you know, what our roster eventually looks like when we get through this winter, but it's a good strong roster as it is right now. I think we have Plan B's and Plan C's and everything else if things don't play out a certain way with any one individual. We have alternatives.”
While the Yankees appear primed to exceed at least the first luxury-tax threshold of $208 million, their budget for 2020 remains fluid. Cashman said that while he has had numerous conversations with ownership regarding that figure, he described managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner as being “always open-minded.”
“We've got some heavy investments, whether they're short-term or long-term, that collectively add up to a lot right now,” Cashman said. “We recently restructured Aroldis Chapman's contract so we still have our closer as we move forward, and so the bullpen looks pretty strong on paper.
“We'll evaluate all opportunities as we navigate going forward. It's hard to improve on a 103-win team, but we've got some guys that are free agents that were integral parts of our success. We'll continue stay in touch with their representatives, and also explore all opportunities that come from within as well as outside the organization, both free agency and trades.”