Brian Cashman rarely uses the word "comfortable" in describing his feelings about anything related to his job, thinking it can lead to complacency.

But the general manager acknowledged Tuesday the Yankees will dive into free agency, which starts Thursday, with far more comfort than they would have if CC Sabathia had not been extended.

"He's certainly the most important piece as we entered this process," Cashman said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon when he addressed Sabathia's new contract, as well as his own, and other topics.

Cashman's new contract, a three-year deal, was considered to be a mere formality. Both he and the Yankees, as soon as the season ended, expressed a desire for his tenure as GM, which started in 1998, to continue.

Cashman coming to terms did not contain the down-to-the-wire drama of reaching an agreement with Sabathia, who appeared all but certain to opt out of the seven-year, $161-million contract he signed before the 2009 season. But Cashman and other members of the Yankees hierarchy worked hard over the weekend and deep into Monday to beat the 11:59 p.m. opt-out deadline that night, eventually reaching an agreement that, with the sixth-year vesting option, will pay Sabathia $142 million.

"I think we're in a position now to take our time to explore and digest as well as pursue but at our own pace, but not have to be in an overemotional or overreactive state because we're desperate," Cashman said. "CC provides us a lot of security. That's why he makes what he makes, and why we committed what we did.

"It also allows us to evaluate the landscape in a more conservative way than we would have had to if we didn't have him here moving forward."

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Cashman said his approach, to both the free agent and trade markets, would be about "pitching, pitching, pitching."

He would like to add depth to a rotation that, as of now, has Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes behind Sabathia. Cashman is not averse to bringing back Freddy Garcia, a free agent, but he will also look at a free-agent market that is weak in starting pitching. But, as the GM noted, he can do so without having to make a move and thus overpaying.

"I think securing CC in that way allows us to be very open-minded and cautious in our approach ," Cashman said.

The top free-agent pitcher available is Rangers lefthander C.J. Wilson, about whom there is hardly universal feeling within the organization.

Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda headline the next level of available starters.

The Yankees have been scouting Japanese star Yu Darvish, who could get posted this offseason, for four years, though they will proceed cautiously based on previous costly errors made with Japanese stars Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.

"We're more prepared today than we have been in the past in terms of how we evaluate players over there and the risks we're willing to take," Cashman said, without specifically addressing Darvish, who is still under contract with the Nippon Ham Fighters. "I think we're in a much better position entering the 2012 season to make better decisions than we have in the past."

Of Jesus Montero, who had a .406 on-base percentage and four homers in 18 September games, Cashman said the 21-year-old could fulfill several roles, including backup catcher.

"I think he can be catching for us, DH'ing for us or be a lethal bat off the bench for us," he said. "It depends on how the rest of the roster looks."

There is close to zero- percent chance the Yankees pursue either of the top bats set to become free agents, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.

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"As we enter the process, I don't anticipate a bat being a need at all," Cashman said. "Pitching, pitching, pitching, that will be the main thrust of this stuff. On the offensive side, I don't think that will be a priority."