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.