Revamped staff starts with CC, A.J.
Right-hander joins New York only days after club gets Sabathia
NEW YORK -- Two months have passed since Brian Cashman sat in the basement at Yankee Stadium and vowed, through clenched teeth, that he was "staying to change the story."
Derided in some circles for decisions that led, in part, to the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time since 1993, the general manager has all but ordered a full rewrite so far.
The Yankees landed their top two choices from the free-agent pitching market within the span of 72 hours this week, with A.J. Burnett joining the party on Friday and agreeing to terms on a five-year, $82.5 million contract.
Once again, Cashman has his man, two days after flying to the San Francisco area to pitch the Yankees' wares at new ace CC Sabathia. Cashman barely had a moment to exhale, even as he conducted a shoes-off briefing with reporters on Wednesday in Las Vegas, but he is due to have a very good weekend.
"I can sense the excitement and the confidence that's spreading around the entire organization about what we're getting done and what we may get done still," Hank Steinbrenner told The Associated Press. "A rising tide lifts all boats, and the confidence and the excitement right now among the team and the organization is contagious."
The drum beat in the Yankees' offices has concerned adding more and more starting pitching since the day the season ended on Sept. 28 in Boston.
The Yankees' pitchers for that day-night doubleheader at Fenway Park were Mike Mussina and Sidney Ponson, two contributors who will not be back to help New York's chances in 2009.
The Yankees have already crossed items off their holiday shopping list to plug those vacancies -- all that is left is the gift-wrap. No wonder those who call the old ballpark home are feeling so optimistic.
"A.J. Burnett has great stuff," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently. "I think he's matured a lot as a pitcher, as well. He's learned to control the running game a lot better.
"He attacks hitters and gets hitters out quickly, throws a lot of strikes, fields his position. I think he's much more complete as a pitcher than he was a couple of years ago."
The Yankees held Burnett in high regard, especially this season, when he was 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA in 35 games for Toronto. They had a tantalizing look at him when he went 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts against the Yankees. Just as importantly, Burnett is 5-0 lifetime against the Red Sox.
"He's a real good pitcher," Johnny Damon said after Burnett's 10-strikeout performance on Aug. 19. "I hope he opts out of his deal."
The right-hander, 32 in January, will slot in as the Yankees' No. 2 starter. Sources have indicated that would be of great appeal to Burnett, considering his level of comfort in allowing Roy Halladay to be the center of attention in Toronto's rotation.
Sabathia will be the big image in Yankees camp this spring -- both figuratively and literally -- whereas Burnett will be able to avoid some of the spotlight that would have been there had Sabathia not signed with New York.
With just one rotation slot remaining, it will be Andy Pettitte's call to accept the Yankees' one-year contract offer or decide that his pitching days are through.
Cashman visited with the free agent on Thursday, leaving the Bellagio in Las Vegas in advance of the Rule 5 Draft, and made it known that the Yankees still want Pettitte back -- but not at the $16 million price tag Pettitte earned in 2007 and '08.
New York's one-year, $10 million offer remains on the table for Pettitte, who stated numerous times that he intends to pitch in '09 and wants to be a part of the opening of the new Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees feel that to be a fair deal for Pettitte, who was 14-14 with a 4.54 ERA but just 2-7 with a 6.23 ERA from the July 31 trade deadline on.
If the Yankees choose to go from within, Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Dan Giese could earn mentions as fifth-starter candidates.
With Burnett locked in, the Yankees' success in landing their top two starting-pitching choices appears to ensure they will not lay out a big cash offer for a free-agent hitter.
Though Cashman met with first baseman Mark Teixeira in Maryland last week and called him a "special player," the Yankees have not made an offer to agent Scott Boras.
Neither have they done so with Boras' other marquee offensive client this winter, Manny Ramirez, even though Hank Steinbrenner has said that he would not mind having Ramirez -- dreadlocks and all -- in the heart of the Yankees' lineup.
More likely on the immediate front are the paused talks with the Brewers for outfielder Mike Cameron, rumored to be headed to New York in a swap for outfielder Melky Cabrera. Discussion of that deal with Milwaukee took a back seat on Friday as Cashman worked on the Burnett agreement.
A baseball source indicated that the two clubs could continue talking about adding a pitcher from the Yankees' 40-man roster, as well as discussing how much financial compensation -- if any -- the Brewers should relieve the Yankees of in dropping Cameron's $10 million commitment for 2009.
Despite committing approximately $243.5 million of future payouts over the span of three days, shocking much of a baseball marketplace that has spoken about financial restraint during an economic recession, the Yankees' spending is not hindering them in the short term.
When the 2008 season ended, the Yankees were relieved of some $86 million in payroll obligations, bidding farewell to free agents like Jason Giambi ($21 million), Bobby Abreu ($16 million) and Mike Mussina ($17 million). Sabathia and Burnett are earmarked to earn a combined annual average of $39.5 million.
Adding two ace-type hurlers like that will not qualify the Yankees for the scrimp-and-save coupon-clipper award, but it also will not drastically change their payroll for the upcoming season, barring another free-agent signing that further changes the landscape.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.