NEW YORK – It was during last winter’s General Managers Meetings that Brian Cashman first noted James Paxton’s availability, as the Mariners offered indications that they were prepared to swap the left-hander. The Yankees hope that this year’s visit will prove to be as fruitful on the starting pitching front.
As the GM Meetings concluded on Wednesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., Cashman departed by having “checked in” on the respective statuses of free agents Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler, with plans to engage the representatives for Madison Bumgarner in the near future.
“There's a lot of high-end guys, and there's guys that aren't considered in that category but still could benefit your club,” Cashman said on ESPN New York’s "The Michael Kay Show." “We're checking the boxes by engaging the agents that represent all of these types of players, then also talking to the available trade market, trying to see if we match up with anything on the opposing clubs that are in existence. So we'll see, but it's an area of focus for us, clearly.”
Cole and Strasburg in particular were hot topics during Wednesday’s session, as agent Scott Boras held court with the media for approximately 50 minutes at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. Boras drew laughter as he quipped: “If this were Major League Christmas, we’d be looking at 30 stockings that wanted a lump of Cole.”
The Yankees have a complicated history with the 29-year-old Cole, who finished second in balloting for the AL Cy Young Award on Wednesday after posting a 20-5 record and 2.50 ERA with a Major League-leading 326 strikeouts in 33 starts for the Astros.
The Yankees originally made Cole their first-round Draft selection out of high school in 2008, only to lose the hurler to his UCLA commitment, then they were unable to convince the Pirates to accept their trade proposal over Houston’s prior to the '18 season. Cole’s Astros, of course, ended the Yanks’ season in a six-game AL Championship Series.
“I think everybody, when they talk about the Yankees, I think everyone views them as a 'now team,'” Boras said. “They view them as a club that is very capable of being really, really successful over a four-year or so period, and certainly they're in a great place to take advantage of that. To the levels they want to take advantage of it, to the probabilities they want to, I can say this: I certainly have some ideas that might increase their probabilities.”
While Cashman has said that he believes situational hitting was the reason that the Yankees did not advance to the World Series, he acknowledged the importance of adding innings to a rotation that projects to feature Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and perhaps Domingo German and/or Jordan Montgomery. Paxton and Tanaka are eligible for free agency after the 2020 season.
"The easy thing right now is to focus on some of the big names, and I promise you, we'll be doing that,” Cashman said on ESPN New York. “But we'll also be touching on some mid-level and some lower unknowns that might manifest themselves into some interesting conversations down the line. Trust me, I know one thing, we are going to stay connected and get as much information as we can.”