TAMPA, Fla. -- For Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, the work began almost immediately after the team's American League Division Series exit at the hands of the eventual World Series champion Red Sox, with the baseball operations department challenged to analyze areas of deficiency and improve those results for 2019.Though
TAMPA, Fla. -- For Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, the work began almost immediately after the team's American League Division Series exit at the hands of the eventual World Series champion Red Sox, with the baseball operations department challenged to analyze areas of deficiency and improve those results for 2019.
Though managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner spoke openly about the need to upgrade the starting rotation and a desire to reclaim the American League East from the Red Sox, there was also an understanding that New York was coming off a 100-victory season -- its highest total since 2009 -- and that any upgrades might be incremental in nature.
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As such, the Yankees believe they are already prime postseason contenders, and Steinbrenner is leaving the door open for the possibility they can bust out the wallets for one more big splash -- potentially to dress megastars Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in pinstripes.
"Fans should keep an open mind that I'm never done until I'm done, and that's usually not until Opening Day," Steinbrenner said on Thursday at the Owners' Meetings in Orlando, Fla. "Proposals come to me every day with these guys, between the analytics guys and the pro scouting guys, and I'm going to consider every single one of them."
New York made a pair of quick strikes after the ALDS, keeping its band together by inking outfielder Brett Gardner to a one-year, $7.5 million pact and signing left-hander CC Sabathia to an $8 million deal for what is expected to be his final Major League season.
Cashman then executed a trade with the Mariners that installed 30-year-old southpaw James Paxton atop the rotation, giving the Yanks what they believe will be a potent one-two punch with ace Luis Severino.
"Selfishly, you want every box checked," Cashman said. "You want multiple aces in the front end and you want a killer bullpen in the back end and exceptional position players in all aspects with a strong bench ready to go at all times. That's an impossible task for the most part, but that's the effort."
Though New York entertained Machado with a December tour of Yankee Stadium and dinner on the Upper East Side, its next move was to re-sign left-hander J.A. Happ, who pitched exceptionally well after being acquired in July and agreed to a two-year, $34 million deal with an option for 2021.
"We did everything we wanted to do to really improve the pitching, because that's where I wanted improvement," Steinbrenner said. "As far as I'm concerned, pitching was a big problem in the Division Series, more so than anything else."
In January, the Yanks responded to shortstop Didi Gregorius' anticipated absence by signing free agent Troy Tulowitzki, who was cut loose by the Blue Jays after missing 1 1/2 seasons due to injuries. A powerful bullpen then grew more potent as the Yanks re-signed left-hander Zack Britton to a three-year, $39 million deal.
Cashman's heaviest offseason lifting appeared to conclude with the additions of infielder DJ LeMahieu (two years, $24 million) and right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino (three years, $27 million), plus the completion of a trade that sent right-hander Sonny Gray to the Reds.
"I think we have a chance to be a great club, and that's all you can ask for," manager Aaron Boone said. "I think the Steinbrenner family has always given us the opportunity to be a great club, and I feel like we have a chance to be that right now."
With pitchers and catchers set to report to Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, it remains to be seen if the Yankees have done enough to close the gap on the Red Sox, who grabbed the division by eight games with their historic season. Yet given their eventful winter, Steinbrenner bristles at the suggestion that his team has not been spending freely.
"If there's a narrative that we're not spending money and being cheap, it's just false," Steinbrenner said. "I mean, we're well above $200 million [in payroll]. We're at $220 [million] right now, and we're well above where we were last year. ... I think we've definitely got a better club than we did Opening Day last year, particularly in pitching, which is my biggest area of concern."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.