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Meetings not unproductive for Yanks

Meetings not unproductive for Yanks

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Yankees came to the Winter Meetings in hot pursuit of Johan Santana. After bumping into the same obstacles repeatedly, they called off the chase -- for now, at least.

Even though the Yankees didn't land their big fish, some smaller items were finalized and other potential moves surfaced during the stay in Nashville. That allowed club executives to board their flights on Thursday having decided that the venture south provided, at the least, useful information.

Returning to the Bronx, the Yankees believe they have a clearer picture for what they can do to further shape their organization before Spring Training. More importantly, in the case of a top-flight player like Santana, they also have a better idea of what is not likely to occur.

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"You have to go through the process to see if you can get anywhere or not," general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's certainly part of the process. You find out what you can't do, essentially."

In their navigation of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center's seemingly endless, meandering hallways, the Yankees eventually discovered that their choices for acquiring relief pitching -- a priority -- on the trade and free-agent markets are limited. As far as starting pitching, Cashman said he learned that there are almost no choices.

But even after dangling Phil Hughes and others for Santana, the Yankees left town with their top prospects intact and in pinstripes, able to call them their own and continue to project their development. That alone was one major reason why Cashman insisted he was not disappointed in the trip.

"I don't get high or low on any of that stuff," Cashman said. "You go in and try to attack your areas of weakness, and see if you can pull something out that you think makes you better. If not, you live to fight another day."

Indicative of the Yankees' movement outside of the Santana sweepstakes, which will leave Nashville without resolution, the club did complete some minor moves during the Meetings.

The Yanks swapped pitchers with the Nationals, acquiring hard-throwing, big-bodied reliever Jonathan Albaladejo for starter Tyler Clippard in a move that could benefit both teams. Albaladejo has a chance to be in New York's middle-inning mix, while Clippard could be a back-end starter for Washington.

The club also finalized a weeks-old agreement with backup catcher Jose Molina, inking him for two years and $4 million, but will continue to press on in an effort to supplement a swelled mix of internal bullpen candidates.

Many of those are cloaked as Minor League starting pitchers, as Cashman and manager Joe Girardi contemplate reviving the old Earl Weaver style of breaking in rookie starters as big league relievers. The Yankees already dabbled that way with Joba Chamberlain and Ross Ohlendorf, and there's little reason to think that Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez or Steven White couldn't be considered as the next surprise addition.

Winter Meetings

The Yankees did move forward by trying to fill bullpen needs on the free-agent market during the Meetings, sitting down with the representatives for left-hander Ron Mahay on Wednesday. Cashman has also said that the Yankees would like to re-sign Luis Vizcaino, but his agent, Bean Stringfellow, told Newsday that his client was looking at other clubs.

"I've talked to the Yankees, but we didn't really move the ball anywhere," Stringfellow told the newspaper. "There are other teams that I'm moving the ball down the field with. We're moving along as if the Yankees are not going to participate."

Cashman said that he also had some bullpen deals of smaller nature in the works, which could or could not be completed.

"It's a work in progress," Cashman said. "It probably wouldn't even be appropriate for me to assess it right now. It's an area of weakness that we need to focus on, and no matter how we address it, we have to see how it plays out when we get our guys together starting in February. But it's certainly an area that we've got to address.

"Definitely, the bullpen is a volatile situation, especially in the American League East. It makes it that much more volatile with the lineups in our league. Ultimately, my job is to try to get as many quality candidates for Joe Girardi to utilize as he sees fit. We're still sifting through that."

Deals done: The Yankees acquired Albaladejo, a 25-year-old righty, from the Nationals for Clippard late on Monday, a deal the team announced on Wednesday. A weeks-old agreement with Molina was also finalized.

Rule 5 Draft activity: New York lost one player in the Major League portion of the Draft, as San Diego selected Michael Gardner, a 26-year-old right-handed reliever who pitched last season at Double-A Trenton. In the Triple-A phase of the Draft, the Yankees took right-hander Bo Hall from the Milwaukee Brewers.

Goals accomplished: The Yankees set out to improve their pitching depth, and in a very small way, they did so with Albaladejo -- just the latest addition to a growing mix of big-bodied pitchers who throw hard. This week's Meetings turned out to be more about gathering information for the Yankees, which, in Santana's case, they had to absorb in a fashion they would have rather avoided.

Unfinished business: The pursuit of Santana was not a one-shot deal, and the Yankees would still love to add a quality starting pitcher to their rotation -- especially since Chamberlain, Hughes and Ian Kennedy will all be subject to innings limits. Reports indicate the Yankees may be willing to dangle Hideki Matsui to do so, and if that's the case, the Giants would be a fit that makes sense. Otherwise, Cashman believes he can head to Spring Training with the rotation the Yankees have now. The bullpen, however, is another story.

GM's bottom line: "There's potential stuff that could play out, but I've gotten to the point where I realize that I'm always skeptical. I assume they won't play out, but since they're still alive, I'll still do the dance." -- Cashman

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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