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To Yanks, pitching depth a key goal

To Yanks, pitching depth a key goal

INDIANAPOLIS -- As general manager Brian Cashman entertained a small group of reporters in the heart of the Yankees' Winter Meetings command center, a muted hotel television flickered with dated video of Nolan Ryan pumping fastball after fastball through the strike zone.

It seemed to be an appropriate reminder for the Bronx Bombers' suite, where they have landed with the same mission objective as they did approximately one year ago. Starting pitching is again the chief objective on the Yankees' wish list.

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"I think pitching, pitching, pitching, and then obviously left field," Cashman said, outlining his priorities for the week. "Those are the obvious areas that I think we need to focus on."

The Yankees probably won't have the same type of all-out spending blitz as they put together last offseason, when they doled out $243.5 million to CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but the march toward Spring Training has begun with an ice-breaking contract offer to Andy Pettitte.

The question all along was if the 37-year-old left-hander wanted to put the pinstripes back on for another season, and now that Pettitte has allowed agent Randy Hendricks to provide an affirmative response, the cat-and-mouse game of reaching an acceptable dollar amount can begin.

With the opening offer believed to be $10 million, Pettitte would give the Yankees a solid arm to slot in behind Sabathia and Burnett, but Cashman is by no means closing doors to other options.

He traveled to Indianapolis on Sunday evening aboard the private jet of agents Sam and Seth Levinson. En route to the crossroads of America, client Jason Marquis -- a free agent and a "tough" New York product who was 15-13 with a 4.04 ERA with the Rockies this past season -- was among the names discussed.

"I think we'll be open-minded to anything," Cashman said. "I don't think you should ever be comfortable that you have enough. ... There are definitely pitchers that are on the market that are worth having conversations with."

Depth is an important quality for the Yankees, who added Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre to their big league roster in-season in 2009 and had the opportunity for more -- the Seattle Mariners were shopping Jarrod Washburn, and New York was interested until the price would have been talented outfield prospect Austin Jackson.

Happy with his decision to shoot down that proposal, Cashman named Ivan Nova, Ian Kennedy and Zach McAllister as arms who may help create options to go along with Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain heading into camp.

The Yankees also face a decision with Chien-Ming Wang, who is expected to be non-tendered but could be re-signed. Cashman said that the Yankees are monitoring Wang's rehab in Taiwan and that he is expected to pitch in Major League games between April and June.

"He works extremely hard -- he's very structured," Cashman said. "At the same time, shoulders are tricky, too. Those are things we'll have to determine."

With a budget in hand, Cashman had promised to make contact with the Yankees' own free agents first before going to outside parties, and he held true to that by speaking with representatives for Pettitte, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

It appears unclear if the Yankees could bring both Damon and Matsui back, finances aside, only because Damon may need to serve as a designated hitter more than keeping Matsui would allow. The market might make that decision easy -- New York could probably offer two guaranteed years to Damon, but if another club is proposing three, the Yankees may let him go.

"It's all going to come down to the money I've got to spend as we prioritize the most important needs that are open, and how much money is left over after the priority needs get taken care of first," Cashman said.

At least one rival isn't thrilled about the Yankees' shape. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Monday that he doubted the Yankees would actually cut payroll, and he expects another tough fight in the American League East.

"They have a couple of things that make life difficult for us," Francona said. "They have a lot of money and they have smart people running what they are doing, so you have to acknowledge that. They are not going to go away. I hope they don't get better, but they're there, so we have to deal with them."

The Yankees' smaller needs appear to be in the bullpen and on the bench. The club subtracted one arm from its relief mix on Monday, dealing right-hander Brian Bruney to the Washington Nationals in exchange for a player to be named later, expected to be the Nats' first-round selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

Cashman said he felt comfortable making that move because of the amount of bullpen depth on New York's 40-man roster. The GM added that the volatile market for relief pitching would encourage him to put trust in players within the system whom the Yankees believe can do the job at a lower salary.

Additionally, though backup catcher Jose Molina is a free agent, Cashman said he would feel confident in handing the role of Jorge Posada's understudy to rookie Francisco Cervelli.

"Cervelli can do that job," Cashman said. "Right now, I'm not focused on backup catchers. We have Posada, and we have Cervelli. It doesn't mean that we won't look at it, but because of the money I have the ability to spend, that's a lesser priority right now."

Adding that he is working toward offering 2010 contracts to manager Joe Girardi's entire coaching staff, Cashman said that there is no particular urgency to complete further moves before leaving Indianapolis.

In anticipating another late-developing free-agent market, Cashman leaned on a usual standby comment in saying that if something makes sense, the Yankees would do it.

"We'd like to get our team set up in an efficient manner," Cashman said. "We have until pitchers and catchers [report] to do so. There's a lot of quality players who signed a week before Spring Training started last year. However long it takes, it doesn't matter, as long as the decisions turn out to be good."

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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