Dec. 4: Cole assured the Yankees at their meeting that he has “no west coast bias” at an in-person meeting that lasted for more than four hours, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that the meeting with Strasburg went well, also. Specific dollars weren’t discussed, as the Yankees first endeavored to give Strasburg an overview of the organization and its pitching philosophies.
Dec. 2: The Yankees’ rotation was under fire throughout 2019, a year in which they came a couple victories short of their first World Series appearance since 2009. The reigning AL East winners are now focusing on upgrading their starting staff, as they’re seriously considering going after the premier starting pitchers on the market. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required), New York’s prioritizing right-hander Gerrit Cole – who, as a member of the Astros – helped knock the Yankees out of the ALCS. The Yankees are also interested in the No. 2 starter available, righty Stephen Strasburg, and they’ll sit down with him and Cole in California sometime over the next two days, Rosenthal reports.
Since the Yankees’ season ended, general manager Brian Cashman hasn’t made it any secret that they’ll scan the top of the market for starting help. However, as deep-pocketed as the Yankees are, it has been quite some time since they’ve gone to the lengths it would require to sign either Cole or Strasburg in free agency.
Cole is likely in line to obliterate the largest contract ever for a pitcher – the seven-year, $217MM deal David Price signed with the Red Sox entering 2016 – while the World Series MVP Strasburg could approach $200MM in his own right. Pacts like that could be problematic for New York if it wants to avoid severe luxury-tax penalties in 2020. In the estimation of Jason Martinez of FanGraphs and Roster Resource, the Yankees are already at roughly $215MM toward the luxury tax for next season, putting them over the first level of $208MM. The second and third levels of $228MM and $248MM, respectively, would obviously be much harder to avoid with Cole or Strasburg in the mix.
Owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke about possibly spending over the largest tax threshold Monday, telling the YES Network (via Tim Healey of Newsday): “It’s a big deal. It’s something we would certainly prefer not to do because there are June draft ramifications, there are numerous ramifications. But that is something I would consider.”
Indeed, if the Yankees were to go past $248MM, their draft slot would fall 10 places in 2020. However, Steinbrenner noted: “[The Yankees already have] a good rotation, but starting pitching, you can’t have enough. Like last year, that’s going to be my focus. You’ll have to ask [Brian Cashman] if he agrees with me or not. That’s all.”
The Yankees already have at least three rotation spots sewn up for next season. Luis Severino, whom injuries prevented from making much of an impact this year, will be back to join a group that boasts James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka as complements. There’s less certainty thereafter, though, with Domingo German on administrative leave for a violation of the MLB-MLBPA Joint Domestic Violence Policy, J.A. Happ coming off a rough season and Jordan Montgomery still trying to re-establish himself after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Yankees will take advantage of their financial might to sign Cole or Strasburg, but they’re at least mulling it.