Steinbrenner made a rare appearance at the Yankees' Minor League complex, where several players have arrived in advance of next Tuesday's official report date for pitchers and catchers.
Cano, 30, is in the final season of his contract with the Yankees, who picked up his $15 million club option in late October. A four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner, it has been suggested that Cano could command as much as a 10-year deal at top-of-the-market dollars if he were to reach free agency.
The Yankees have declined to pursue contract extensions in the past with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, among others, waiting for the contracts to elapse before opening talks on new deals. Steinbrenner's comments hint that they may deal differently with Cano, who is represented by agent Scott Boras.
Steinbrenner has spoken openly about trying to reduce payroll below $189 million in 2014, hoping to take advantage of luxury tax incentives in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Theoretically, they could attempt to sign Cano to an extension and still come in under $189 million.
"Is that our goal next year? Yes, to be at that number, that's our goal," Steinbrenner said. "But as I said last year, it depends on some of our young players stepping up and getting the job done. It has to happen."
The Yankees spent most of the offseason re-signing several players from the 2012 roster, hammering out agreements with Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $15 million), Andy Pettitte (one year, $12 million), Rivera (one year, $10 million) and Ichiro Suzuki (two years, $13 million).
Given those expenditures, Steinbrenner said that he does not agree with the perception that the Yankees have not been spending this winter. He said that the Yankees will have a similar payroll to 2012, showing that they want to win.
"That was a little disappointing," Steinbrenner said. "There was nothing cheap about Kuroda's contract or Pettitte's contract. Sometimes I've got to scratch my head, but it is what it is."
New York's lone major acquisition outside the organization was third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who will debut in pinstripes after signing a one-year, $12 million contract in December.
"I've always liked Kevin," Steinbrenner said. "He always seemed like a good leader, a hard worker and a very enthusiastic -- loves the game -- kind of guy, and that's the kind of guy we want."
Steinbrenner said that he believes the Yankees are fielding a "championship-caliber team" for 2013, but added that the team remains in the market for a right-handed-hitting outfielder. Currently, non-roster invitees Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera would compete for that job.
"Assuming we can stay away from injury, one of the things I do like is the age," Steinbrenner said. "I like the experience. We've got a lot of good young players as well. That's always the mix that I want to shoot for. ... There's no doubt, we have some older players, and older players are usually more prone to injuries than others, so that's always a concern."
Steinbrenner also said that the latest performance-enhancing drug allegations swirling around third baseman Alex Rodriguez are "a concern, but it's out of our hands" while the matter is being investigated by Major League Baseball. Rodriguez has denied involvement with Anthony Bosch and the now-shuttered Biogenesis clinic in Coral Gables, Fla.
"We will cooperate with MLB in any way we can, any way we're asked to," Steinbrenner said. "But other than that, there's not much to say. I don't know any more than you do."