Don't overlook Yankees at winter meetings, Cashman says

Brian Cashman talks with the media during batting

Brian Cashman talks with the media during batting practice before Game 4 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. (Oct. 17, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

Brian Cashman disagrees with the premise that the Yankees won't do anything "big'' this offseason.

In his eyes, they already have, retaining starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. On paper, that gives them one of the best 1-2-3 starting combinations -- with CC Sabathia leading the way -- in the American League.

"I think Pettitte's a big thing, I think Kuroda was a big thing,'' Cashman said Friday. "I think we're having a successful early campaign to our winter because we've been able to acquire/attain some real high-caliber, high-end starting pitching on one-year deals. And if you look at the marketplace -- and it's not a great marketplace -- I'm not sure if anybody's doing better than that right now. So I think we're doing really well early in the process.''

The process will continue at the annual winter meetings, which start Monday in Nashville, Tenn.

After participating in Stamford's Heights and Lights Holiday Tree Lighting event for a third straight year Sunday night, Cashman will fly to Nashville Monday morning.

After the season ended, Cashman sent no mixed signals that the early part of his offseason would be spent working on pitching. That included taking care of a contract for 43-year-old Mariano Rivera; his one-year deal worth $10 million -- plus incentives -- became official Friday.

What's next?

"Bench, rightfield'' were the first two things out of Cashman's mouth when asked his current priorities.

Nick Swisher is expected to land a multiyear contract elsewhere and the Yankees will need a replacement. They've had dialogue with Ichiro Suzuki and Raul IbaƱez -- two of their own free agents -- and although both players have expressed a desire to return, they're also drawing interest from other teams.

In the case of Ichiro, even if the Yankees do reach an agreement, they will be looking for a righthanded-hitting outfielder. One player whom they like "a lot'' for that role, one talent evaluator said, is Scott Hairston.

Insurance for the left side of the infield is critical. Derek Jeter, 38, will be coming off surgery on his fractured left ankle and Alex Rodriguez, 37, is coming off a fifth straight season in which he had to spend time on the disabled list.

"It's an area that I will focus on,'' Cashman said.

But all within the constraints of getting the payroll to $189 million by 2014, perhaps an obstacle in signing a player such as Marco Scutaro, whom the Yankees like a great deal for the reserve infielder role. They've also discussed Stephen Drew.

A new infield name to keep an eye on could be Jack Hannahan, non-tendered by the Indians on Friday.

The winter meetings used to mean big-game hunting for the Yankees, but they haven't been linked to any big names in the marketplace.

"We're capable of doing a lot of different things,'' Cashman said, aware that not expanding the budget to retain catcher Russell Martin, a player the Yankees wanted to keep, suggests otherwise.

"We're not out of the multi-year market, we are not out of thinking big, looking at something big . . . We'll be aggressive when we want to be in the right circumstances. But it's in our best interests to stay as flexible as possible, given a lot of reasons, and that's obviously a big one.

"But we're still capable of a lot. People should still be leery of us and afraid of us as if we're the stalking horse, and that's good. I want them to think that.''

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