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Cashman turns attention to starting pitchers

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman went into the offseason with a specific list of needs, and he's spent the last two weeks methodically crossing them off.

Cashman's latest move, signing DH Nick Johnson, will become official after Johnson passes his physical. That move came on the heels of re-signing lefthander Andy Pettitte and trading for centerfielder Curtis Granderson.

What's next? Or, rather, what's left?

A starting pitcher.

"We've talked about that,'' manager Joe Girardi said Thursday, speaking before news of the Johnson signing had broken. "I don't think you can ever have too much starting pitching.''

The front end of the rotation is set with CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Pettitte, but Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes is likely to be in the bullpen in 2010. Hughes will have an innings limit; Chamberlain will not.

Cashman will try to plug the starter hole within a budget he said is "hard and set,'' meaning the Yankees probably will wait out the market for a bit to see what prices make sense.

That was evident in the Johnny Damon negotiations. The price agent Scott Boras was asking - two years, $26 million - didn't make sense for the Yankees, whose offer was two years and $14 million. They passed on Boras' counter-offer of two years and $22 million, already having settled on Johnson.

Among the free-agent starters most mentioned in regard to the Yankees are Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, two pitchers who have had injury issues. Sheets, at the moment, is not on the Yankees' radar because it isn't clear when he'll be healthy.

They will continue to monitor other starters still on the market such as Jason Marquis, Doug Davis and Joel Piñeiro but won't overspend. A trade for a starter can't be ruled out, either.

As far as acquiring position players, the Yankees were interested in Mark DeRosa, but that interest has cooled considerably.

"As I say every year, we're leaving no stone unturned, we're examining all our possibilities,'' managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said Thursday. "Free agents, trades. We'll continue to do that until it's done.''

Notes & quotes: When the Yankees' season opener in Boston was moved from Monday, April 5, to Sunday night, April 4, it created a scheduling quirk that gave the teams two days off between the series' first and second games (Tuesday was an off day). But the Red Sox announced that Game 2 will be played April 6 and Game 3 on April 7. So now both teams' schedules will have April 5 and April 8 as off days. The Yankees start a three-game series at Tampa Bay April 9 . . . The Sporting News named Mariano Rivera as its Pro Athlete of the Year, the fourth time the Yankees have been involved in the honor since its inception in 1968. Ron Guidry (1978) and Joe Torre (1996) were individual winners and the Yankees received the award as a team in 1999.

With Ken Davidoff

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