Yanks will exhale before major decisions
CC's opt-out, Cashman's future among most pressing concerns
NEW YORK -- CC Sabathia dutifully trudged to his locker in the minutes following the Yankees' season-ending 3-2 loss to the Tigers in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Thursday, taking a seat and politely responding to questions he can't yet answer.
Sabathia's first three years as an employee in the Yankees organization are complete, and that will bring him to the opt-out clause that he has shunned talking about throughout the course of the entire season.
It is Sabathia's opportunity to tear up what was once a seven-year, $161 million deal and try for more on the open market, and while the left-hander said several times that he loves pitching in New York, he also could not definitively say he'd be a Yankee in 2012.
"I can't even wrap my head around that right now," Sabathia said. "I'm just thinking about what I didn't do to help us win. In the next couple days, next couple weeks, I'll think about that and see what happens."
The deal Sabathia agreed to before the 2009 season is scheduled to pay him $23 million annually through 2015, and the left-hander has already set down roots in the New York area, constructing a large home in leafy Alpine, N.J.
"I love it here," Sabathia said. "There's nothing like pitching in the pinstripes and nothing like pitching in front of the fans in the Bronx. I've had a great experience."
But starting pitching is currency that keeps the baseball world humming, and even if Sabathia intends to finish his career in New York, there's no reason why the left-hander couldn't score himself a pay bump from the Yankees.
"Obviously, he's our ace, so he ranks highly [on the priority list]," general manager Brian Cashman said. "I can't predict how everything goes. We'll take this thing one day at a time. The winter's come upon us, but I'm not prepared to talk about the winter, unfortunately."
Cashman's contract runs only through the end of October, so his situation is also unsettled at this time.
Yankees president Randy Levine recently gave Cashman a vote of confidence and said the Steinbrenner family wants him to return, with negotiations on a new contract expected to begin shortly after the ALDS hangover wears off.
"I'll sit down with ownership," Cashman said. "Obviously, they're going to be very disappointed, and rightfully so. We'll deal with that on another day."
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez is under team control through 2017, so he's not going anywhere. But that in itself is a point of concern; the future potential of the 10-year, $275 million deal that Hank Steinbrenner tossed Rodriguez's way after the '07 season looks quite murky.
"No question -- I have a lot to prove," Rodriguez said. "I'm going to come back with a vengeance, and this team will, too."
Rodriguez, 36, battled through what he called one of his most frustrating seasons, hampered by injuries to his right knee and left thumb. He was just 2-for-18 (.111) in the ALDS, striking out three times in Game 5.
"Whatever happened this postseason is on me," Rodriguez said. "Let's make that crystal clear. There's no excuses, what happened in these five games. I was healthy enough to do whatever I had to do."
Cashman backed Rodriguez in the wake of the elimination loss, saying that he did everything he could to get back into elite form on a limited timetable.
"He gave the best effort he could," Cashman said. "This guy's a hard worker, and he cares. He wants to be successful, and more times than not, he is. He's hurting like the rest of us are here now."
Other notable decisions include catcher Russell Martin, who is under team control and will be expected to return, and a club option on right fielder Nick Swisher. The Yankees hold a $12.5 million option on the enthusiastic fan favorite.
"I'm not really thinking about that right now," Swisher said. "It's kind of one of those things where it's out of my hands. ... I don't ever want to worry about that stuff. I just go out there and play my game. I love this place. They know that."
Though his postseason moves drew criticism from some corners, the biggest vote of confidence manager Joe Girardi could have received came in the form of a three-year contract extension he signed last October.
"I'm not disappointed in any one of our guys," Girardi said. "Not one of them. I'm proud of every one of those guys and what they bring to the table every day. Some days, you just get beat."
Girardi's job is in no jeopardy, as he steered the Yankees to an AL East title in a season when most pundits were picking the Boston Red Sox, getting the most out of what looked to be a leaky pitching staff.
"I thought Joe did a great job," Cashman said. "This team, I don't think by anybody -- including myself -- was picked to have the best record in the AL. And we didn't really change that roster much at all, other than promotions. We found a way to slot people in and make them believe in themselves."