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Bet on Yanks to go all in on pitching

Bet on Yanks to go all in on pitching

NEW YORK -- The Yankees haven't exactly been watching the phone waiting for CC Sabathia's call, but their odds of garnering a response from the game's top free-agent pitcher may increase at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas from Dec. 8-11.

By the time general manager Brian Cashman checks into his Bellagio suite on Sunday, more than three weeks will have passed since Sabathia first looked at what would be a record-breaking contract for a pitcher -- a pact reportedly surpassing six years and $140 million, putting the big left-hander in pinstripes.

While Sabathia's agent, Greg Genske, has played his cards close, the Yankees have not limited their pursuits to just the 28-year-old ace. Cashman admits "significant interest" in Sabathia and called him the No. 1 free-agent pitcher available, but New York's focus remains on upgrading beyond just one arm.
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Having identified adding two of their three top starting pitching choices from the free-agent market as an ideal scenario, that will put the Yankees in place for both A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe. While no official offer has been made to either pitcher, Cashman figures to be in contact with the pitcher's agents, Derek Braunecker and Scott Boras respectively, in Las Vegas.

In the closing days of the regular season, Cashman and manager Joe Girardi both spoke optimistically about wooing free agents to New York, but both cautioned that it would be a two-way street. That prognostication has come true, and even though Cashman said it is still "early in the process," the Yankees are hoping that flexing their financial muscle will help to smooth over some of the holes they need to fill.

"We're going to do what we do every year, and that's try to field a championship team," co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said recently. "That's not going to change. We know that we've got some weaknesses, and we're going to fix the problems as best we can. If that means spending money, obviously that means spending money. The philosophy has not changed."

But throwing around some cold, hard cash may not be the end-all solution. With Sabathia not leaping immediately at the record pact from the Yankees, it is believed that Genske will wait to see at least what the marketplace offers for his client, who may not have New York at the top of his list.

A California product who is thought to favor the West Coast, Sabathia also thoroughly enjoyed his experience pitching for the Brewers in the National League, noting how he could wear his spikes in the dugout every game because he never knew if he'd be involved somehow.

If the East Coast is an issue, Girardi said that he would be more than happy to help a free agent tour New York on a sell job, pointing out the professional side of pitching in the new Yankee Stadium as well as the personal side of area schools, leafy suburbs and acclimating families to the tri-state region.

That's all a bit premature, however, until the Yankees determine if their offer matches the player's interest. They don't know yet, though there may be more to report once the teams and agents mill within viewing distance of the Bellagio's famous dancing fountain show.

"That's why you go through the process," Cashman said.

The pitching bottleneck has not stopped the Yankees from seeking activity on other fronts. Last month, first baseman Nick Swisher was acquired from the White Sox in a package deal involving Wilson Betemit, providing the Yankees with additional versatility.

If Opening Day was right around the bend, Cashman said the Yankees could pencil Swisher in at first base, but he also has the ability to play all three outfield positions -- part of the reason that Cashman had been hot on a trade for Swisher since the General Managers Meetings early in November out in California.

While Swisher is not intended to fill the center-field void currently expected to be split between Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner, he provides Girardi with another flexible option just in case the Yankees make a push to add yet another hitter.

Cashman has promised to remain engaged with the entire free-agent market, though the Yankees project as long shots to be in hot pursuit of sluggers Mark Teixeira or Manny Ramirez.

Even with approximately $80 million in salary coming off the books from 2008, the Yankees' intent is to make their biggest investment on starting pitching, believing that their inconsistent offense from last season was a fluke and will be corrected.

That could come through better health from performers like Jorge Posada -- who began a throwing program on Monday -- Hideki Matsui and even Alex Rodriguez. Also of value would be a more consistent approach from key players like Robinson Cano, who is showcasing his tweaked hitting form in the Dominican Republic.

In this late-developing Hot Stove season, the Yankees have been content to play it patient, up to this point. But there's no telling what could happen once the action meets the bright lights of Vegas, where the Yankees figure to come ready to play.

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

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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }