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At GM Meetings, Brian Cashman Discusses Aaron Judge and Yankees Needs

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LAS VEGAS — Because the Yankees’ general manager since 1998, Brian Cashman is alleged to lead. He will not be used to following. But by way of keeping the superstar right fielder Aaron Judge, who’s free to sign with whichever team he desires for the primary time in his profession, Cashman suggested he could be doing more following.

“Optimally, in the event you could wave a magic wand, we might secure Aaron Judge and retain him and have him signed and blissful and within the fold as soon as possible,” Cashman said on Tuesday at Major League Baseball’s annual general managers’ meetings, held this yr in Las Vegas. “But he’s a free agent. He’s earned the best to be a free agent. So he’ll dictate the dance steps.”

After claiming the American League East with 99 regular-season wins but losing — again — to the Houston Astros within the playoffs, the Yankees have several holes on their roster to fill. Asked for the Yankees’ needs this winter, Cashman rattled off a number of areas.

“We don’t have a right fielder,” he said. “We don’t have a left fielder. I’d at all times wish to improve the pitching. We’ve got some kids pushing in on the infield, so there’ll be, I might think, probably a variety of exciting opportunities that might play out next spring in the center infield.”

The precise fielder emptiness was created by Judge, 30. The left fielder emptiness was created by Aaron Hicks — with $29.5 million owed over the following three seasons — struggling this yr and Andrew Benintendi — acquired before the Aug. 2 trade deadline — becoming a free agent.

The Yankees’ rotation is in solid shape with the returning foursome of the ace Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes (a breakout All-Star), Luis Severino (whose $15 million club option for 2023 was picked up) and Frankie Montas (who struggled on the mound and with a shoulder injury after arriving in an Aug. 1 trade). As Cashman said, though, the Yankees could at all times use more help there and within the bullpen, which has several players eligible free of charge agency (Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Chad Green) and others prone to miss a bit of next season (Scott Effross and Michael King).

(By the best way, the presumptive A.L. Cy Young Award winner, Justin Verlander, whom the Yankees have had interest in before; Carlos Rodón, an All-Star with the San Francisco Giants last season; and Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ star and two-time National League Cy Young Award winner, headline a stellar class of free-agent starters.)

The young players Cashman referred to were the rookie infielders Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza in addition to the Yankees’ top prospect, Anthony Volpe, all of whom are natural shortstops. After the Yankees’ final game of the postseason, second baseman Gleyber Torres — who has regressed in some ways in recent times — and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa — who played above average defense but then sputtered and was benched within the playoffs — sounded unsure if the Yankees would bring them back next season.

With star shortstops available this winter like Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson, Cashman said the Yankees already had individuals who could handle the position (Kiner-Falefa) and others who’re pushing for a probability to (Peraza, Cabrera and Volpe).

“We’re going to be open-minded,” Cashman said. “There could possibly be a variety of conversations that lead us down paths that we wouldn’t have expected. I’m not saying we might trade any of our children. Just depends how things play out.”

Cashman did explicitly state a desire to re-sign first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who exercised the opt-out clause in his contract that had one yr and $16 million remaining but was expected to receive the one-year qualifying offer of $19.65 million. Rizzo’s strong defense and left-handed power bat fit well in a Yankees’ lineup that was largely made up of right-handed hitters.

Within the regular season, the Yankees led the foremost leagues with 254 home runs and had a strikeout rate of nearly 23 percent, the Sixteenth-best mark in M.L.B. and an improvement from recent seasons.

To chop down on this, the Yankees made a concerted effort to retain infielder DJ LeMahieu, trade for and re-sign Rizzo and trade for Benintendi. But still, in the course of the A.L. Championship Series, wherein the Yankees were swept by the Astros, they struck out 50 times compared with the Astros’ 25.

Cashman pointed to the Yankees being without LeMahieu (who remains to be considering surgery on his injured foot) and Benintendi (hand injury) — two players who ranked in the highest 25 in M.L.B. in lowest strikeout rate — as a reason for the team’s struggles against the Astros’ talented pitching staff. He said improving that in 2023 was “definitely a degree of emphasis.”

He added later: “It’s an area of weakness. We’ve definitely struck out way an excessive amount of within the postseason. However it’s also a byproduct of losing some those that would have prevented that in the event that they were healthy.”

Cashman himself was operating on the G.M. meetings and not using a contract. His five-year deal expired Oct. 31. But he continued on the job because he said Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, expressed interest and intent in keeping him, and Cashman desired to stay.

The rationale a recent deal wasn’t accomplished, Cashman said, was that he had “some greater things that should be taken care of,” like re-signing coaches, scouts and other front office members, and navigating the Yankees through the free-agent market and the Judge courtship. “Work first, contract second,” Cashman said about himself.

But, after all, the identity of Judge’s next major league home might be a dominant theme this winter across baseball and most acutely within the Bronx.

In spring training, Judge turned down a contract extension that might have guaranteed him $213.5 million over seven years. He also declined to barter in the course of the season. That bet paid off: After several injuries in previous seasons, Judge played in 157 of the Yankees’ 162 regular-season games, produced among the best offensive seasons in history, put himself in prime position to win the A.L. Most Beneficial Player Award (which might be announced next week), smashed an A.L.-record 62 home runs, played strong defense and was a team leader.

Cashman said he didn’t have a 2023 payroll figure from Steinbrenner yet and called it “a developing story” since the “right-field situation will tell us quite a bit, too.”

In 2022, the Yankees had a $259 million payroll, the third-largest in M.L.B. As of Tuesday, that they had a projected payroll of $204 million in 2023, in accordance with Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Re-signing Judge may take an enormous or record-breaking contract. And until the Yankees determine whether or not they can keep Judge, their winter plans — and backup options — can have to attend.

Cashman said the industry typically gets out of the starting gate in “a tortoise-like fashion.” Although he pointed to the Mets’ five-year, $102 million pact to retain closer Edwin Díaz the day after the World Series ended on Saturday as proof that quick deals might be done if each side are willing, Cashman said he theoretically still had time to get a greater feel for the trade and free-agent markets.

Asked what he couldn’t do as he awaited more clarity on Judge’s free agency, Cashman said: “I can’t sign a right fielder, right, that’s not Aaron Judge? I’m not going to do this within the near term.”

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