Who Will the Yankees Get This Offseason to Bolster Their Pitching Staff?

Bob KlapischFeatured Columnist INovember 12, 2019

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)   General Manager Brian Cashman and Manager Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees during batting practice before Game Four of the American League Division Series against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on October 9, 2018 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Red Sox defeated the Yankees  4-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

It doesn't take great detective work to figure out what New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is up to this week at the GM meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.

If you're looking at this mini-convention through the prism of a transaction wire, don't. Not a lot gets done that'll end up as a back-page headline. Wait at least until next month's winter meetings for your tabloid fix.  

But the relative quiet shouldn't fool you, either. There'll be plenty of stealth activity.

Like most everyone in the industry, Cashman will be talking to agent Scott Boras to learn more about the winter's jackpot: right-handers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.

Among the teams expected to pursue Cole and/or Strasburg, none generates a more intriguing narrative than the Yankees. They have MLB's deepest war chest, which means they can pay Cole or Strasburg whatever their asking price might be. And make no mistake, the Yankees are hunting for big arms.

That isn't quite the company line, of course. A few weeks ago, Cashman absolved his pitchers for the American League Championship Series loss to the Houston Astros. Team owner Hal Steinbrenner issued the same pardon days later, telling Dan Martin of the New York Post: "I also think (the starting rotation) did a good job in the postseason. In the end, it was primarily a lack of timely hitting that was our downfall, resulting in too many guys left on base. My opinion."

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

But while the bosses were giving cover to the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino, pitching coach Larry Rothschild was summarily fired. He was replaced by Matt Blake, who had been promoted to be the Indians' director of pitching development only days before. Considering the Yankees also lured Tanner Swanson from the Twins to be their major league catching coach, you're left with only one conclusion: Cashman knows pitching indeed was an issue in 2019.

Blake and Swanson are both young and fluent in advanced analytics. They'll both help. But nothing would match the firepower of Cole's 98 mph fastball or Strasburg's evolved changeup, two put-away weapons that exceed anythingor anyoneon the Bombers' current staff.

It's no wonder that Giancarlo Stanton told TMZ this week, "You can never go wrong with Cole and Strasburg," suggesting the Yankees should sign both of them. 

Well, sure. Who wouldn't scoop up King Kong and Godzilla in a rotisserie league draft? The question is, how much would it cost? Even Steinbrenner's ATM has a limit.

Here's where the internal conversations in the Bronx get serious.

The Yankees suspect Strasburg would be more inclined to return to the Nationals. Even if he doesn't, he'd likely have only marginal interest for pitching in New York.

That makes Cole the No. 1 target, assuming Boras doesn't ask for, say, a 10-year contract.

That's a big if.

Cole, 29, is in the sweet spot of his career. The Yankees would love to have him, but according to one person familiar with their thinking, there's little chance that their bidding would go beyond seven years.

Would he limit himself? That's another big if.

Cole likely could do better with Angels owner Arte Moreno, who could tempt the right-hander not just with cash and an absurdly long commitment, but with the prospect of a southern California homecoming and teaming up with Mike Trout.

Moreno has made one mistake after another in free agency over the years, and there's nothing to suggest that he won't end up bidding against himself again. But regardless of what lengths he'll go to sign Cole, the Yankees are determined not to get into a money war. Their belief is that unless they overwhelm Borasnot just outbid Moreno or anyone else, but destroy the competitionthen Cole's basic instinct would be to avoid New York.

That would force Cashman to Plan B, which would be a pursuit of the more attainable Madison Bumgarner or Zack Wheeler. Both free agents have strong selling points.

Although he's already in his late prime, Bumgarner has a proven record in the postseason and would be the Yankees' best Game 7 asset against a Cole-caliber opponent. Wheeler has never pitched in a playoff game, but he has five years in the New York market as proof of his resiliency. And despite being nearly the same age as Bumgarner, Wheeler has thrown almost 1,100 fewer innings, which would bolster his case for a multiyear contract.

The biggest difference, however, is their upside potential. Wheeler would slot in as a No. 3 starter, while Bumgarner is a potential ace.

If there's anything the Yankees learned from the Astros and Nationals this October, it's that it takes several aces, not one, to win a ring. Cashman plowed forward with none, and it looks like he's finally acknowledging it.

That isn't to say the Yankees' only unfinished business relates to the pitching staff. They need to find a shortstop to replace Didi Gregorius, who was not extended a qualifying offer. The possibilities include sliding Gleyber Torres over from second base, which D.J. LeMahieu would then handle. 

Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggested the Yankees should "call the Indians and ask about Francisco Lindor." That theme runs concurrently with the coming logjams at third base (Gio Urshela or Miguel Andujar) and at first base (Luke Voit or Greg Bird or maybe even Andujar).

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Two other developments merit Cashman's attention as well. Aaron Hicks' recent Tommy John surgery means the Yankees will need a center fielder for at least the first half of the 2020 season. That suggests the job will belong to Brett Gardner.

Meanwhile, Stanton's recent rash of injuries likely disqualifies him from further full-time action in left field. The Yankees will have to consider limiting him to DH-only activities to keep him from falling apart over the remainder of his contract. And no, Stanton isn't opting out.

"We got to bring a championship," he told TMZ.

How soon does that happen? It's been a full decade. Let's see how much the Yankees pay to end the drought.

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