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Cashman Says Yankees’ Focus Is ‘Pitching, Pitching, Pitching’

The New York Yankees will focus on “pitching, pitching, pitching” as they seek to improve their starting rotation and bullpen during the Major League Baseball offseason, General Manager Brian Cashman said.

Cashman said hitting isn’t a concern for New York, which had a major league best 222 regular-season home runs this year while ranking second to the Boston Red Sox in runs scored and runs batted in. By contrast, Yankees pitchers combined for a 3.73 earned run average to rank 11th of 30 major league teams.

“As we enter the process this winter, I don’t anticipate a bat being of need at all,” Cashman told reporters on a conference call yesterday. “Our main focus and efforts are going to be to continue to support and reinforce the pitching rotation and bullpen.”

Cashman’s comments probably rule out attempts by the Yankees to sign first basemen Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, the top sluggers in this year’s free agency class.

Fielder ranked second in the majors during the regular season with 120 runs batted in and was fifth with 38 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers, one more than Pujols had for the St. Louis Cardinals. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees finished second and third in the majors with 41 and 39 home runs respectively.

“Offense is not an issue that we’ll be focusing on,” Cashman said. “It will be the pitching. I feel our offense is very, very strong.”

Free Agents

C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle and Hiroki Kuroda are leading pitchers entering free agency.

Wilson finished the regular season with a 16-7 record and 2.94 ERA for the Texas Rangers, who lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals. Buehrle went 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA for the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kuroda finished the year with a 13-16 mark and 3.07 ERA.

The Yankees two days ago agreed to an extension with All-Star pitcher CC Sabathia that could keep him in pinstripes through the 2017 season. Locking in Sabathia was a key part of the team’s strategy, Cashman said.

“He’s certainly the most important piece as we entered this process,” Cashman said. “CC provides us a lot of security.”

While the Yankees re-signed Sabathia, they had eight players become free agents, including starting pitchers Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, and catcher Jorge Posada, who has been with the team since 1995. Free agents are allowed to sign with any team starting at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.

Burnett to Stay

A.J. Burnett will probably remain in the starting rotation and New York is open to re-signing Colon and Garcia, Cashman said. Burnett had a 5.15 ERA in the regular season this year to rank 94th in the major leagues.

The Yankees, who had an opening day payroll of about $202 million that was the highest in baseball, won the American League East this year with a 97-65 record and fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Detroit Tigers.

Cashman yesterday signed a three-year contract extension. The 44-year-old’s previous three-year, $6 million contract expired two days ago. Financial terms of his new deal weren’t disclosed.

Cashman joined the Yankees in 1986 as a 19-year-old intern. He was 31, baseball’s youngest general manager at the time, when he took over from Bob Watson in February 1998, two years after the Yankees won their first title in 18 years.

In Cashman’s 14 seasons in the team’s front office, the Yankees have won 11 AL East division titles and World Series championships in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Cashman’s career winning percentage of .605 (1,369-895) is the best of any major league general manager with at least five seasons of experience since 1950.

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