Brian Cashman didn't cross an item off his winter to-do list Wednesday, but he did take steps toward doing so, having a business lunch with Joe Girardi's agent in Manhattan.

Cashman and Steve Mandell dined, according to a source, at Valbella in the Meatpacking District, discussing Girardi's continued employment as manager of the Yankees.

There was no immediate comment on the details of the get-together, but the Yankees, from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to Cashman, very much want Girardi back.

A potential obstacle could be the Cubs, who fired manager Dale Sveum on Monday and have an interest in Girardi, whose three-year, $9-million deal with the Yankees officially expires at midnight Oct. 31. ESPN on Wednesday characterized the Cubs' interest as "serious."

Girardi is assured of getting a substantial raise; it's just a matter of from whom: the Yankees, Cubs, Nationals or a team that hasn't yet declared itself.

Mike Scioscia of the Angels is baseball's highest-paid manager at $5 million per season, with Jim Leyland of the Tigers next at $4 million. Cashman indicated Tuesday, though in general terms, that the Yankees are prepared to put Girardi in that exclusive neighborhood.

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"We're going to give him a real good reason to stay," Cashman said.

Girardi, a Peoria, Ill., native who grew up a Cubs fan, has downplayed his Windy City connections.

"Our home has been here, my kids are engrossed in schools here," Girardi said over the weekend. "I haven't lived there [Chicago] since 2006 . . . I have two brothers there, but my father's gone, my mother's gone. So there's not as much there as there used to be."

Cashman would not comment when asked if the Yankees would give Girardi permission to talk to another team.

Indications are he would like to manage the Yankees for a seventh season and beyond, but Mandell may counsel his client to at least explore the market to see how high the price might go.

Still, as one talent evaluator said, "Who willingly gives up manager of the Yankees?" one of the esteemed jobs in sports.

Cashman said Tuesday of Girardi, "I think he likes it here," which he hasn't disputed.

"I've really enjoyed my time in New York, whether it was a player, coach, broadcaster, manager," Girardi said. "For someone who wasn't sure about New York the first time I came, it's a wonderful place."

Any decision, Girardi said, won't take long.

"I wouldn't think it would go too long," he said. "It's not my personality to drag things out."