STAMFORD, Conn (AP) — Having just about finalized new contracts to keep Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman headed to the winter meetings on Sunday night targeting a new player.
“Pitching is everything,” he said. “Pitching, pitching, and pitching, so I’ve been focusing on pitching. I really need to take care of pitching.”
And New York’s No. 1 priority is Cliff Lee. Texas wants to re-sign the left-hander, who led the Rangers to their first World Series appearance. The Yankees will try to use their financial might in an attempt to lure him to New York, where he would join a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett.
Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, is expected to intensify talks when the winter meetings start Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Yankees are ready for negotiations.
“That’s really up to Cliff Lee, his wife, his family and his agent,” Cashman said. “We’ll be ready to be there and rock-and-roll whenever they say we’re ready to talk.”
Cashman traveled to Arkansas last month to meet with Lee and his wife. Still, Cashman doesn’t feel as much pressure to sign the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner as he did two years ago heading into talks with Sabathia.
“Want to, but not have to, because I have a No. 1,” Cashman said. “We didn’t have a No. 1 before. I’d like to add another one if I could.”
For the second time in three days, Cashman climbed down Stamford’s 350-foot, 22-story, Landmark Building while dressed as an elf as part of a Christmas promotion. He confirmed that in between rappelling, he helped work out new deals for Rivera and Jeter.
Rivera agreed to a $30 million, two-year contract, and Jeter accepted a $51 million, three-year deal on Saturday. Cashman would have started Lee negotiations, too, had that been Braunecker’s desire.
“I’ll talk right now,” Cashman said. “I would have talked on the building if we had time.”
Cashman’s participation in the event even had a touch of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry. Santa Claus was played by Brian Van Orsdel, a Red Sox fan who helped him through several practice runs Friday. Cashman then encountered a man playing “The Grinch” who wore a Red Sox jacket.
Cashman played into it by stopping halfway through and revealing a Yankee jacket, which drew loud cheers from the crowd on frigid Broad Street. As he was escorted to the tree-lighting ceremony in a fire truck, several spectators urged him to sign Lee.
At times in the Jeter talks, agent Casey Close and Cashman appeared to express frustration.
“We’ll have a press conference about that,” Cashman said. “Everybody’s professional. Just like this, it takes a lot of work to get it right, and just like that, it takes a lot of work to get it right. And obviously we’ll be in a position to announce how we got it right soon.”
Both deals were subject to physicals. Cashman felt confident both sides will be able to move past the tension from the previous month.
“We got a lot more work, to be honest,” Cashman said. “That’s why I’ve got to get on a plane tonight. I could have flew tomorrow morning but I’m going to get down to Orlando tonight because I got to hit the ground running first thing tomorrow.”
Cashman also said would he like to have Andy Pettitte back. The left-hander has not said whether he will retire.
“We’ll just keep putting our team together,” Cashman said. “If Andy says he wants to be a part of it, then we’ll start talking back with him just like we’ve done in the past.”
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