Yanks examine free-agent options

Yanks examine options, including Manny

NEW YORK -- With his ever-present dreadlocks and carefree attitude, Manny Ramirez was the perfect anti-Yankee, especially when the Washington Heights product tortured the club with his big bat during numerous encounters.

But with the slugging outfielder primed to offer his services to the highest bidder as a free agent, Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said that he could envision the idea of Ramirez being fitted for pinstripes.

"There's nothing we are not looking at," Steinbrenner told The Associated Press on Friday at the Yankees' Spring Training complex. "And personally, I like Manny. He's one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. He's a free spirit for sure, but he knows how to win. We like some of the other guys, too. We just don't know yet."

The Yankees have targeted starting pitching as their No. 1 objective, and are expected to make a strong push for the Milwaukee Brewers' CC Sabathia, as well as considering other free-agent candidates like A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets.

"Every team in baseball wants Sabathia," Steinbrenner said. "That's the bottom line. It's not a real secret. Pitching is in the forefront for everybody, not just us. That's why starting pitching is at a premium."

But New York would not be averse to adding a bat after injuries and inconsistency led to it producing only 789 runs in 2008, well down from projections and the Major League-leading 968 runs the Yankees scored in 2007. The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993.

Ramirez, 36, would certainly help provide offense and protection for Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, though it is not clear where he would play.

Even with the free agency of Bobby Abreu, the Yankees still have a depth chart that includes Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady and Melky Cabrera as potential corner outfielders. The Yankees need a first baseman with Jason Giambi not expected to return -- switch-hitting Mark Teixiera is a big-ticket free agent who could draw interest.

But Ramirez could be an intriguing addition. In one of the best midseason pickups in recent memory, Ramirez was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Boston Red Sox on July 31 and batted .396 (74-for-187) with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 games down the stretch.

After helping Joe Torre's club wrap up the National League West, Ramirez was also productive as the Dodgers moved on to the NL Championship Series, batting .520 with four homers and 10 RBIs in eight postseason games.

Instantly popular in Los Angeles, the Dodgers are expected to make an effort to re-sign Ramirez, though he will not come cheaply. Ramirez has hinted at a term of five or six years and said he'll likely sign with the team that produces the largest dollar amount.

"I want to see who is the highest bidder. Gas is up and so am I."
-- Manny Ramirez

"I want to see who is the highest bidder," Ramirez said after the Dodgers' NLCS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. "Gas is up and so am I."

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has not discussed what his club plans to offer, but an offer is likely to be made at next week's General Managers Meetings in Dana Beach, Calif.

The Yankees could potentially clear more than $80 million in payroll following this season. That would permit them to be major players on the free-agent market, with a large offer expected to be planned in the case of Sabathia.

The left-hander went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts for the Brewers after a July trade from the Cleveland Indians, including seven complete games, and could score a contract surpassing Johan Santana's six-year, $137.5 million deal with the Mets.

Sabathia has been said to prefer both the West Coast and the NL, two facts that would not work in the Yankees' favor. But the opening of the Yankees' new $1.3 billion stadium, and all of its player comforts, could be a draw for free agents.

Sabathia has not yet filed for free agency, but that is considered a formality. The Brewers have an exclusive negotiating window with Sabathia until Nov. 14.

In other moves, the Yankees added left-hander Wilkins De La Rosa and right-hander Eric Hacker to the 40-man roster on Friday. The 23-year-old De La Rosa was 9-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 32 games (11 starts) between Class A Charleston and Class A Tampa. Hacker, 25, a 23rd-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, was 9-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 26 starts with Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

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