Yanks may try to upgrade pitching at Meetings

Yanks may try to upgrade pitching at Meetings

NEW YORK -- Pitching remains the Yankees' main focus as they prepare for the start of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, but their urgency to upgrade seems much lower than it has been in recent years.

Unlike last December, when Brian Cashman was ready to engage in a full-court press to make sure that Cliff Lee would be wearing pinstripes by Opening Day, the Yankees have no clear-cut target on the pitching front.

"There's not a primary, obvious stated target that everybody knows about," Cashman told reporters on Friday in Stamford, Conn., where he practiced rappelling down the 22-story Landmark Building in preparation for Sunday's holiday ceremonies.

Their main objective entering the winter months was to make sure CC Sabathia would remain at the front of their rotation, a task they accomplished by the close of business on Halloween night.

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With Freddy Garcia also set to re-enter the fold in a back-end rotation slot, the Yankees have a certain level of comfort in knowing they have set starting options in Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Hector Noesi.

"There's a lot of players out there that I would be interested in acquiring, but I prefer trying to do that under the radar if you can," Cashman said. "The realistic aspect of actually being able to conclude something [during the Winter Meetings], I don't have high hopes."

It also seems to be shaping up as a quiet winter. Believing their roster to be essentially set, they can still use their time in Dallas to search for upgrades, be it on the trade or free-agent market, but their situation seems much different this time around.

"Right now, if you're asking me, 'Do I expect to do something in the next week?' [The answer is] no," Cashman said. "But I've had enough conversations where I could wind up doing something today. A lot of work has been done. A lot of conversations have been had. If somebody bends or adjusts, then I'm ready to make a recommendation for us to make a move."

Below is a look at the club's offseason checklist:

Club needs

Starting pitching: Yes, Cashman said that the team's No. 1 objective was "pitching, pitching, pitching," and he wasn't talking about the bullpen, where David Robertson, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera still pack a terrific late-inning punch. Still, don't expect the Yankees to be shelling out top dollar for the likes of C.J. Wilson, though they'll monitor the market for Mark Buehrle and could consider trading for the Cubs' Matt Garza.

Nova arrived on the scene faster than expected behind Sabathia, and the Yankees predict stardom ahead for him. But they expect a much better season out of Hughes, whom they'd love to see approach his 2010 form, and know that it would be a very tall order to construct a rotation without Burnett -- partly because of his contract, but also because of the innings he provides. Cashman has done a good deal of talking up Noesi's strong winter-ball campaign, and if Noesi can't slot into the starting five, perhaps he could be dangled as trade bait instead.

Right-handed bat: Cashman said that he is sure "offense is not a problem" with the Yankees, despite what happened in the playoffs against the Tigers, but there are still some needs to fill. They would like someone who can mash left-handed pitching and play the outfield, and don't seem opposed to bringing back Andruw Jones to fill that role if the price is right.

Left-handed reliever: Joe Girardi spent most of the season with Boone Logan as his lone left-handed option out of the bullpen, and though Logan's performance improved late in the season, they would like to be able to add more depth in that role. While Pedro Feliciano is under contract for 2012, he is unlikely to throw a single pitch, so the Yanks could justify going after another option in that department.

Catcher: The Yankees have Russell Martin under team control for 2012, so this is largely a formality, but they can offer him arbitration or begin work on a new contract. Would the Yanks consider a multiyear deal for Martin? Perhaps -- after all, Cashman does glowingly compare him to Thurman Munson.

Who they can or need to trade

RHP Dellin Betances: The Yankees would love to hold on to the New York native, but don't be surprised if teams come asking for the hard-throwing hurler to help anchor a potential package. Betances got a taste of big league ball in September, but his control remains an item that requires attention.

Burnett: It's not likely, but Cashman did say he'd consider offers for anyone on the roster who doesn't have a no-trade clause. Burnett has a partial no-trade in his contract and earns a weighty $16.5 million salary annually, so the Yankees couldn't count on getting much in return. But they'd listen.

C Francisco Cervelli: The emergence of Jesus Montero, as well as Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez behind him, seems to suggest that Cervelli could be an expendable part this winter. The concussion symptoms that plagued Cervelli's September have cleared up and he is expected to be ready for Spring Training.

Montero: Cashman has thus far resisted all offers to trade Montero, and his strong September makes it even more likely that he'll be wearing pinstripes in Jorge Posada's old designated-hitter role come spring. Still, Cashman was willing to trade Montero to Seattle for Lee in 2010, so he's not untouchable if the right player comes along. For example, if the Mariners ever wanted to talk about Felix Hernandez (don't hold your breath).

Noesi: He's young (25 in January), has been throwing in the high 90s in winter ball, and might just have enough polish to convince a club to give him a shot in their big league rotation. Then again, the Yankees might wind up being that team offering Noesi a chance to crack a starting five in 2012.

IF Eduardo Nunez: The Braves have already been reported to have asked about Nunez this winter, though the Yankees have resisted. They're very high on Nunez's potent bat and believe that if he plays more consistently, his fielding woes will clear up. Problem is, Nunez continues to be blocked by big stars at all three of his infield positions.

Top prospects

Montero, LHP Manny Banuelos, Betances, Sanchez, Romine, OF Slade Heathcott, RHP Adam Warren, RHP David Phelps, SS Cito Culver.

The Yankees' farm system has come a long way in recent years, to the point where the Yanks know they have big chips to deal if the mood strikes them. But Cashman has more often than not been protective of those pieces, resisting the urge to plow them into trades for instant big league fits. That's the way they'd prefer it to be, but the Yankees have the depth to reverse that course at any time they like.

Arbitration-eligible

RHP Joba Chamberlain, OF Brett Gardner, Hughes, Logan, Martin, Robertson.

Payroll summation

The Yankees' budget is somewhat flexible -- remember when Hal Steinbrenner dug in and found another $180 million for Mark Teixeira? -- but they are heading in looking to hold steady in the neighborhood of the $207 million they spent on the 2011 club. The Yanks are pleased to be keeping most of their roster intact and have some room for improvements, but they don't seem inclined to break the bank for pitchers like Wilson or Japan's Yu Darvish. Cashman once joked his job was more like being the Yankees' "director of spending," but that doesn't really seem to apply right now.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.