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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

CC Sabathia's health only complicates Yankees' pitching situation

CC Sabathia is taken out of the game

CC Sabathia is taken out of the game by Joe GIrardi in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. (Oct. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

An already troubling offseason got considerably worse Saturday when Brian Cashman revealed that CC Sabathia is headed for a check-up with Dr. James Andrews. The next thing often heard after a visit to his office involves some sort of surgical procedure, but not always. The Yankees no doubt will be holding their collective breath for those results.

Any serious problem with Sabathia would make him the first domino to fall on a staff that needs some attention this offseason. Although the pitching was considered a weakness when the season began, the Yankees had a 2.76 ERA in nine postseason games. Subtract Sabathia's abysmal ALCS Game 4 performance and it drops to 2.35.

If Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez or Curtis Granderson had even bothered to show up -- we'll leave out Nick Swisher because we don't want to hurt his feelings -- this October could have turned out much differently. But now that it's over, can the Yankees expect a similar pitching performance out of the same group next season? Will they even keep this same group together?

It won't be easy. Aside from Sabathia's elbow issues, Cashman has to contend with a pair of free agents in Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda.

The expectation is that Pettitte (who will turn 41 in June) wants to return, but figuring out a fair contract could be tricky. Obviously, he was a huge bargain this year at $2.5 million, and the six weeks he missed because of a fractured fibula after being hit by a one-hop smash was a case of bad luck rather than an old body. Pettitte's history with the club, and the fact that he's still a good pitcher, makes it reasonable to assume something will get done with him.

"Hopefully I can come to a conclusion here, one way or the other, within a month or so," Pettitte said of his future after the Yankees were eliminated Thursday.

Kuroda, who will be 38 next season, could be another story. He was willing to return to Japan last winter when his contract with the Dodgers was up and he's unsure if he plans to pitch in the United States in 2013. Also, friends say, he wasn't entirely comfortable with the daily media crush around the Yankees, which can take some getting used to for newcomers.

If so, he hid it well. Kuroda overcame a slow start to go 13-5 with a 2.92 ERA in his final 24 starts. That's ace quality, but at his age, can Kuroda do it again next season when he's coming off a career-high 2192/3 innings?

Another plus for the Yankees: Since leaving the Dodgers, Kuroda is interested only in pitching season-to-season, so he won't necessarily push for a multiyear deal, which he probably could get despite his age. Kuroda certainly earned his $10-million salary in 2012, and that performance will put him in line for a raise.

Beyond those three, it's a toss-up to see how the rest of the rotation fills out. The Yankees don't seem totally sold on Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova was bounced from his final regular-season start, which was handed to David Phelps.

As for Michael Pineda, he's a question mark coming off May surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder. The team's top pitching prospect, Manny Banuelos, had Tommy John surgery earlier this month.

Even the back end of the bullpen looks as murky as the front of the rotation. With legendary closer Mariano Rivera planning to return from knee surgery at age 43, he will need a new contract. And with Rafael Soriano expected to turn down his $14-million option in the expectation of signing a new multiyear deal, does he want to come back as Rivera's setup man again? Do the Yankees want to give him all that money to fill that role with David Robertson at the ready?

Soriano proved this season that he is a solid insurance policy for Rivera, and also a qualified heir to the closer's job when Rivera ultimately steps aside, presumably after 2013. Rivera keeps himself in great shape, but strange things happen, as they did on that warning track at Kauffman Stadium.

It's plenty to think about. And a clean bill of health for Sabathia would be a big weight off the Yankees' minds as they set their busy agenda for the rest of this offseason.

New York Sports