Meetings let Yankees lay groundwork

Meetings let Yanks lay groundwork

LAS VEGAS -- Brian Cashman stood by the window of his Bellagio suite this week, looking out as daylight washed over the Strip. With a shake of his head, he admitted that Las Vegas isn't really his kind of town, as gambling doesn't strike his fancy.

A shame, indeed, because the Yankees' general manager could have put his poker face to work. Cashman proceeded to sidestep all reports that the Yankees have signed CC Sabathia, even though it was baseball's worst-kept secret that they have reached an agreement in principle. That move alone makes the Yankees the big movers and shakers at these Winter Meetings.

"Until you're sitting in front of the press corps introducing somebody officially, I wouldn't be in a position to acknowledge or say, 'Yes,'" Cashman said in a briefing with reporters on Wednesday. "There's a lot of layers in the process, so until that process is completed, I'm prevented from saying too much. Legally, I've got to protect myself. You're never done until you're done, and so we're not done."

Sure, a physical examination still awaits, as well as a regal news conference at the old Yankee Stadium. Sometime in the very near future, Sabathia will hoist a size-XXL pinstriped jersey and tell the world why he leaned over to Cashman early Wednesday morning and said he wanted to become a Yankee.

But the Yankees have plenty of other business to attend to while that process plays out, and as the club's traveling party checked out of the hotel and made the trek to McCarran International Airport, several other aspects of their winter plan remained in play. Cashman boarded a flight early Thursday, leaving town in advance of the Rule 5 Draft to meet with free-agent left-hander Andy Pettitte.

The groundwork Cashman laid this week in Las Vegas will help to set up future events as the club continues to pursue starting pitching options.

A five-year contract proposal for free-agent right-hander A.J. Burnett is in the works, and the Yankees also maintain interest in fellow righties Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets. Locking in Sabathia to a seven-year, $161 million pact is a huge step in replenishing their rotation, but the Yankees always knew they would need more than one big pitcher, even if they have landed the largest target out there.

"We obviously have a need to improve our starting rotation, period," Cashman said. "It's not just one -- it's more than one. My intent this winter is to try to improve the club obviously any way I can, but the main focus is going to be the rotation."

Reports surfaced on Thursday that the Yankees also may be moving closer to a long-rumored deal with the Brewers for center fielder Mike Cameron. New York would give up 24-year-old outfielder Melky Cabrera in the pact, though a trade did not appear imminent as the two clubs continue to discuss players involved as well as financial terms.

The Yankees have maintained that they could be comfortable heading into the regular season with Cabrera and rookie Brett Gardner lining up to compete for the Opening Day job in center field, but acquiring a player like Cameron would lend the Yankees another veteran bat as well as an above-average defender.

One holdup appears to be Cameron's contract -- he is due to earn $10 million in 2009 -- and how much money New York would be responsible for paying. With the baseball world still hearing the ringing from Cashman thumping sacks of cash on Sabathia's doorstep, the Yankees will have a difficult time convincing the Brewers to help them financially.

With so much of their available funds earmarked to acquire starting pitching, the Yankees have kept only a loose connection with the market for top free-agent hitters like Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez.

Cashman has derided the idea of the Yankees acquiring both the top pitcher and the top hitter on the market as fantasy, but few expected Cashman to pack an overnight bag and rush to the Bay Area in the middle of the Winter Meetings, either. That may have been the only move the Yankees made with some thought to fiscal responsibility.

"Commercial," Cashman said, when asked how he flew. "We're not the Red Sox."

There are limits to what the Yankees can do, of course, and they are not playing with Monopoly money. But so far, they are playing by rules that are much less hard and fast than the rest of the neighborhood -- except for Cashman's travel. Armed with strong funding -- thanks to their new stadium and forecasted healthy revenue streams -- they can go where other teams can't this winter.

Deals done: Officially, none. But the Yankees have reached an agreement with Sabathia and agent Greg Genske on the parameters of a historic seven-year, $161 million contract that gives the team the ace it has coveted.

Rule 5 activity: The Yankees did not select any players and lost four in the Major League phase of Thursday's draft. Infielder Reegie Corona (Mariners), left-hander Zach Kroenke (Marlins), right-hander Jason Jones (Twins) and right-hander Ivan Nova (Padres) were selected from the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster. The Yankees also had two players selected in the Triple-A phase, losing lefty Andres Santos (Pirates) and righty Josue Selenes (Athletics).

Goals accomplished: It was worth the trip just for the Yankees to finally wrap up their man in Sabathia, who was given a six-year, $140 million offer to ponder on Nov. 14 and still scored one extra year and $21 million for making the club wait. The Yankees have also engaged with almost every starting pitcher on the market as they attempt to expand their rotation beyond just Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain.

Unfinished business: Now the debate about whom the No. 2 starter will be can begin. Burnett comes with a hunger for a fifth year contractually, a department the Yankees appear willing to enter if that will keep him from going to the Braves. But they also like Lowe's sinkerballing style and could add him as well, or just retain Andy Pettitte for the rotation's back end. If they can add three starting pitchers this winter and bump Phil Hughes to the Triple-A rotation, so be it. The deal for Cameron has gone through ebbs and flows over two months but also may find resolution soon. After winning 89 games and missing the playoffs in '08, the Yankees are operating like a team on a mission.

GM's bottom line: "Believe me, I'd like to get everything that we need done taken care of and out of the way, and feel good about our team moving forward. But unfortunately, you have to go through a lot of steps and a lot of failures and conversations to get to that point." -- Cashman

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