Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia arrives for spring training at George...

Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia arrives for spring training at George M. Steinbrenner field in Tampa. (Feb. 14, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. - CC Sabathia could have put the story to rest but, given several chances to do so, did not.

The pitcher, who last season stated unequivocally that he would not exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, equivocated Monday.

"I have no idea," he said of opting out. "Anything is possible."

The noticeably slimmer Sabathia, down 25 pounds from last season (he weighed in at 290 Monday), can opt out of his seven-year, $161-million contract after three years.

And this is Year 3 of the deal.

The Yankees have been down this road before, and it wasn't pleasant. Alex Rodriguez opted out of his then-record $252-million contract after the 2007 season and parlayed that into a 10-year deal worth $275 million, a contract done by Hank Steinbrenner.

General manager Brian Cashman said yesterday afternoon that he included the opt-out as an incentive to get Sabathia to pick the Yankees as a free agent in December 2008. At the time, Cashman thought the Angels might make a late monetary push to get Sabathia, a California native whom the Yankees thought wanted to play close to home.

"I did everything in my power to get him off the board," Cashman said.

In 2007, Cashman was firm in saying he would not negotiate with A-Rod should he opt out. He was overruled by Steinbrenner.

Asked if he is ready to take a similar stance regarding Sabathia, Cashman smiled and shook his head.

"You live and you learn," he said to laughter. "And I've learned a lot."

Referring to Sabathia's clause, Cashman said: "It's something that's certainly a possibility. It's something he had earned during the discussions, something I threw in there, without a doubt, to try and make him feel comfortable about coming here. But obviously, that's something for later on."

Sabathia, 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA last season and 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA in his two years as a Yankee, certainly felt that way in discussing the issue two different times Monday.

"I said that [I wouldn't opt out] but, like I said, I'm here to help the team win," Sabathia said when reminded of how resolute he was last season about not exercising the clause. "I don't want to talk about that all year, so this will probably be the last time I address it."

Pressed, Sabathia repeated: "I'm here."

Sabathia's agent, Greg Genske, did not return a call.

Speaking later in the afternoon to reporters, Steinbrenner said he thinks it is "very, very unlikely" Sabathia will pitch anywhere else.

Sabathia has established fairly deep roots in the New York area - he owns a huge home in New Jersey - and repeatedly has said how much he enjoys playing for the Yankees.

He could be hoping to get his deal extended at some point during the season - an extension that might put him at or above the $25 million per year his close friend Cliff Lee will make with the Phillies - but Cashman said he doesn't foresee a change in the team's policy of not redoing deals.

"I always leave that little window open that could always change, but I don't anticipate it changing," he said.

Either way, Cashman isn't sweating the issue.

"He loves it here," he said. "But liking it here and having contractual choices are two different things. I can assure you, I don't want to speak for CC; he does love it here and loves playing for the fans of New York and all those things. But that's separate and distinct from having earned opportunities that he can think about another day."

Up until the first opt-out question, the primary topic in Sabathia's first meeting of spring training with reporters was his weight loss. Sabathia, who had surgery after the season to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, said losing the weight was something he discussed last season with the team's strength and conditioning coordinator, Dana Cavalea.

"I want to try and pitch as long as I can, hopefully another eight to 10 years," said Sabathia, 30. "This is the first step to try and do that."

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