Mussina turns 38 next month, but he remains a key part of the Yankees rotation for next season. Besides Mussina -- 15-7 last year with a 3.51 ERA -- the Yankees will also have 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang at the front end of their staff.
Mussina's return to New York was also important considering the dicey situations surrounding two other starters. Left-hander Randy Johnson and right-hander Carl Pavano are both expected to be part of the Yankees rotation in 2007, but they come with health issues.
Johnson, 43, is coming off back surgery and while his early progress has been positive, the Yankees are unsure if the Big Unit will be ready by the start of Spring Training.
Pavano is coming off a 2006 campaign spent entirely on the disabled list due to a myriad of injuries that started in the spring and continued throughout the season, including an incident in which Pavano hurt his ribs in a car accident he never reported to the team.
"It is what it is," Cashman said of the current state of the rotation. "Nothing I do this winter is going to change the money we have invested in two spots in that rotation."
Johnson will make $16 million in 2007, the final year of the two-year extension he signed when traded to New York in 2005. Pavano is entering the third year of a four-year, $40 million deal he signed as a free agent. So far, he's made just 17 starts in two seasons.
"Hopefully, on the back end of [Pavano's] contract we'll get what we paid for," Cashman said in a conference call Monday. "But because of the money invested, we have to count on [them], we have to hope for the best and expect it. We're keeping our fingers crossed there."
That's why it was so important to bring back Mussina, who is 92-53 with the Yankees since joining the team in 2001 as a free agent.
"I know Mike Mussina, my manager knows Mike Mussina, our coaching staff knows Mike Mussina," Cashman said. "We know how he prepares, we know the commitment that he provides to put himself in a position to be successful, and he has been successful for quite some time. He's consistent. I can't stress that enough."
In six years with the Yankees, Mussina has averaged more than 31 starts, 200 innings and 15 wins per season.
"That's a big deal in a large stretch of time," Moose said.
While Cashman and the Yankees will be looking for pitching at next week's Winter Meetings in Orlando, he didn't rule out in-house candidates. Earlier, Cashman discussed a move to the rotation with right-handed reliever Scott Proctor, who was a mainstay in the bullpen with a 6-4 record and 3.52 ERA while appearing in 83 games, the most in the American League.
First things first: While the Yankees likely won't come back from Orlando with a big-name starting pitcher, Cashman remains focused on bringing in a full-time first baseman, preferably one who hits right-handed to balance out the lineup.
Jason Giambi, who started 64 games at first, will spend most of his time as the designated hitter next year. Andy Phillips, who started 49 games at first, remains a candidate but is coming off a tough 2006. He slumped badly at the plate in July and barely played after the Yankees acquired Craig Wilson near the trading deadline.
"I'd like to find someone who we can call an everyday guy there," Cashman said. "Other than the days [manager Joe Torre] wants to give somebody else a blow and not lose Giambi's bat in the lineup."
Several published reports have the Yankees talking with free agent Shea Hillenbrand.
Melky's Topps: The Topps Company announced the 48th annual Topps Major League Rookie All-Star Team on Monday following balloting by Major League managers. Among the 10 players selected was Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera, who hit .280 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs last season.