Marcus Stroman, Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ playoff rotation

Postseason reliever? (MLB Gifs)

Of all the people to start a mini-controversy, Brian Cashman isn’t one you’d expect.

Yahoo Sports ran a fun profile on Cashman and how he has staying power as Yankees general manager unlike any of his predecessors. As part of the profile, Cashman was asked about the Blue Jays requesting Clint Frazier in offers for Marcus Stroman at the deadline. Here was Cashman’s response:

“We were interested in Stroman but we didn’t think he would be a difference-maker,” he said. “We felt he would be in our bullpen in the postseason.”

Cashman was likely defending Frazier and his decision to keep the still-developing outfielder and not trying to rouse controversy, yet the comment unnecessarily brought up Stroman as the counterweight. That’s why the comment drew intrigue, including from Stroman himself.

The right-hander retweeted posts that compared him favorably to the Yankees’ crop of starters. The competitive and talented Stroman rightfully took the chance to defend himself.

Cashman’s comment, however, seems reasonable on its face. With Luis Severino’s excellent return to the rotation, the Yankees have a solidified top three for October. James Paxton has pitched as well as just about anyone since the trade deadline, while Masahiro Tanaka has regained confidence in his splitter, which bodes well for his October hopes.

The Yankees don’t seem sold on the need for a fourth starter in October. J.A. Happ may start Game 4 of a series, or the team may bullpen the contest with Happ involved. Even if Domingo German were still with the team, he wasn’t going to lock down a fourth starter role. Heck, Tanaka may not act like a full-length starter.

As for Stroman, he’s been good for the Mets, though he hasn’t maintained his All-Star level. He’s pitched to a 3.86 ERA (4.45 FIP) and an 84 DRA- over 53 2/3 innings, seeing a rise in strikeouts somewhat outweighed by more walks. The Mets have gone 7-3 in his starts, for whatever that’s worth, and they have him under contract for another season.

Could the Yankees have used Stroman? Obviously. We stated that at the time of the trade deadline. He would have not only slotted into the rotation immediately but locked into a spot for 2020. He has the mentality to compete and excel in October after years in the AL East. The right-hander would have helped paper over the injuries that hurt the Yankees in the second half.

But Cashman and the Yankees chose to gamble by not acquiring another starter. Gamble on Severino getting healthy, on Paxton, Tanaka and the pitching staff turning things around. The Bombers had to walk a tightrope with their pitching staff in August and September, hoping to stay just healthy enough.

It wasn’t just Stroman. The D-backs reportedly asked for Frazier and Clarke Schmidt for Robbie Ray. The Yankees don’t want to sell low on Frazier, or they may have a plan to give him a consistent chance to have an MLB role. Either way, they valued him over pitching upgrades that would have helped the team immediately. That’s one of Cashman’s most difficult tasks: weighing the future vs. present as the team competes year after year.

Stroman or Ray or whatever starter Frazier brought back in a trade might have been a reliever in October, yet perhaps an extremely valuable reliever at that. The team didn’t have any backup plan for injury or if, hey, a pitcher was sidelined indefinitely with a domestic violence inquiry.

The Yankees are talented enough to win anyway. Is Frazier worth a backup plan? No. But trading him might have been worth that security blanket in addition to adding a contributor for the 2020 roster. Cashman opened himself up for second guessing on July 31 and again now, but he’s never one to take public reaction into account. He’s going to stay the course, Stroman, Frazier or otherwise.


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  1. RetroRob

    It was a slightly unusual comment considering it came from Cashman. It’s also likely true, meaning it’s what they believed at the time. In the end, they did want Stroman, but they didn’t at the price asked. I do wonder if this was meant more as a shot at the Mets, who sometimes will take shots at the Yankees. It’s Cashman saying: “Yeah, you got him, but we didn’t really want him, and he’s hasn’t been all that great, confirming our belief he’s not a difference maker.” More likely, we’re all overthinking what was a straightforward comment from Cashman.

    If there’s been any damage done here it’s by Stroman, who desperately wants to pitch for the Yankees. Taking a shot at Cashman generally does not end well. It might even confirm perhaps a fear the Yankees have about Stroman’s personality. That’s he’s a little too high-strung.

  2. Wire Fan

    Frazier is a depth piece next year. And given the injury risks with the entire starting OF and the lack of other MLB ready OFs in the upper minors, he is a necessary one.

    But he is a hot mess defensively, and for a bat first player, he wasn’t exactly tearing up AAA (which he should be). I don’t see how he has earned even a bench spot on a championship caliber team. And on top of that with guys like Voit, Sanchez, Stanton and maybe Andujar, there are a ton of righty bats to cycle through the DH

    I imagine Gardy will be back next year and Tauchman (out of options) will be the 5th OF to begin the season. Frazier will start out at 6th on the depth chart.

  3. The Original Drew

    I know Frazier hasn’t gotten the playing time that most fans think that he deserves (waves at camera vigorously) and that has made fans think that the Yankees aren’t as high on him as we are, but clearly the Yankees value him enough to not trade him away for a clear upgrade in the rotation. This might bode well for him for the 2020 season.

  4. CountryClub

    I’m sure he believes it. But, it was an odd comment to make public. That said, it’s probably pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

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