Yankees' offseason begins with options on Cano, Granderson, Aardsma

Curtis Granderson celebrates his second-inning three-run home run Curtis Granderson celebrates his second-inning three-run home run with Robinson Cano during a game against the Boston Red Sox. (Oct. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Day 1 of free agency contained little in the way of surprises for the Yankees.

But the time between now and when pitchers and catchers report in February is guaranteed to have plenty of them as GM Brian Cashman retools his roster under orders to try and get the payroll down to $189 million by 2014.

Free agency officially kicked off in the hours after the Giants completed their four-game sweep of the Tigers in the World Series on Sunday night and, as expected, the Yankees on Monday exercised the club options they held on second baseman Robinson Cano, centerfielder Curtis Granderson and reliever David Aardsma. Both Cano and Granderson will make $15 million next season. Aardsma will be paid $500,000.

Twelve of their players became free agents, headlined by Hiroki Kuroda, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Ichiro Suzuki, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. The others are Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones and Derek Lowe.

Players can start signing with other clubs after midnight ET on Saturday.

Though Brian Cashman hasn't laid out his offseason priority list -- such as last year when he tabbed extending CC Sabathia's contract as Job 1 -- it still comes down to the same thing, which the GM acknowledged recently by phone.

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"Pitching's always the name of the game," Cashman said. "It's always the most important thing."

The Yankees' staff has plenty of question marks, starting with Sabathia, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow last week. The lefthander is expected to be ready for Opening Day 2013.

The Yankees would like for Kuroda to start game No. 2, as the righthander more than earned his one-year, $10-million deal by going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA. Kuroda, 37, likely will want at least somewhat of a raise.

But there was buzz during the World Series that regardless of offers from the Yankees, or anyone else, the former Japanese star would like to finish his career in his native country.

One Pacific Rim scout speculated the Hiroshima Carp will make a run at Kuroda, as they did last offseason when the Dodgers made it clear they weren't interested in retaining the righthander.

Also on the list of priorities is the retention of Martin, a favorite of manager Joe Girardi and the pitching staff. But Martin, who turned down a three-year extension worth in the range of $20 million last offseason, could be looking for too big a payday for the Yankees' tastes. Still, the odds are on the catcher returning.

Ichiro, who flourished in the Bronx after the Yankees acquired him in July, would like to return, though it isn't yet certain how mutual the interest is. The Yankees liked what they saw but re-signing a 38-year-old as a full-time rightfielder -- because Swisher is almost certainly gone -- doesn't make the roster younger, another offseason goal. The team would be more comfortable with Ichiro as a fourth outfielder.

The Yankees would welcome Pettitte and Rivera back but are unsure of the veterans' plans. Pettitte said he planned to inform the Yankees of his decision "within a month" of the ALCS loss to the Tigers, and Rivera told Cashman recently a decision would be coming "soon."

Rafael Soriano has an opt-out in his contract he is certain to exercise as he's looking for closer-like money and he'll go wherever he can get it, be that the Yankees or elsewhere.

It's a relatively weak free agent class -- forget about Josh Hamilton in right as an option -- so Cashman will have to get creative.

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