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Could Crawford be the Yankees' leftfielder of the future?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Carl Crawford gets a

Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Carl Crawford gets a hit to drive in a run during a spring training. (March 7, 2007) Photo Credit: AP

TAMPA, Fla. - While the Yankees spend the final weeks of spring training finalizing their plan for leftfield in 2010, the long-term answer might have been right in front of them yesterday.

The Rays' Carl Crawford seems headed for free agency now that both sides have agreed to table negotiations on a contract extension until after the season.

Crawford, 28, who has hit .297 and averaged 50 stolen bases in his seven full seasons, is an excellent leftfielder. Inside the visitor's clubhouse at George Steinbrenner Field yesterday, he laughed at the possibility of joining the Yankees. It's not the first time he's heard such a theory, but he wasn't ready to add any credence to it, not with a full season ahead of him with a talented team.

"I'm still with the Rays,'' he said. "I just like to think about the things they're doing here. My mind is still, 'I'm going to be a Ray.' I don't even think past this year. I don't even want my mind to think that far. I still have to focus on playing the game. You guys know how tough it is.''

Crawford is making $10 million this season, and given the Rays' payroll limitations, he understands the possibility exists that he could be playing elsewhere next season. He just doesn't want to think about it yet. "I handle the stuff that's in front of me,'' he said, "one day at a time.''

Facing a lefthander in Carlos Hernandez last night, the Yankees played Curtis Granderson in centerfield and Randy Winn in left. Manager Joe Girardi recently began using Granderson in leftfield with Brett Gardner in centerfield against righthanders, a defensive look the Yankees have been thinking about ever since they acquired Granderson from the Tigers in the offseason.

Cancer-free

Former Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles, who has been a regular guest instructor for years, said he feels good two years after prostate cancer surgery.

Nettles, 65, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2007 but held off surgery until the following April so he could attend spring training.

"I was laid up for a couple weeks,'' Nettles said. "I was pretty weak after they removed it. I've been checked every six months since then and it hasn't come back. They think they got it all.''

Nettles said he got tested only because his brother had just learned he had prostate cancer and the doctor told him it can run in the family. He said his brother also is doing fine.

 

Extra bases

Javier Vazquez allowed one run - a homer by Carlos Peña - and two hits in three innings in the Yankees' 6-4 win. Making his third exhibition start, Vazquez increased his pitch count to 60, with 38 for strikes . . . Determining the fifth starter remains the priority for the moment, but Girardi said before the game that he plans to have set roles for the relievers by the time they break camp, citing how well his bullpen performed last season after Phil Hughes emerged as the eighth-inning reliever . . . Chan Ho Park made his Yankees debut with a 1-2-3 inning.

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