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Yankees bide their time, then bring back Pettitte

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- At one of the quietest winter meetings in recent history, where only ESPN cared that No. 25 strolled through the lobby en route to begging the pathetic Giants to take him back, the New York Yankees watched mostly from the sidelines. General Manager Brian Cashman kicked a few tires (notably Ted Lilly) but left the sprawling Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort with no new additions for his rotation. That's because he was waiting for Andy Pettitte.

When Pettitte's agent, Randy Hendricks, said Wednesday his client was going to play in 2007 rather than retire, it was a clarion call for the Yankees to get their offer ready. The deal was done Friday (one year, $16 million with a 2008 option) and it was all about the money. The lure of being home in Texas wasn't such a big factor to Pettitte anymore.

Houston offered $12 million and was going no higher than $14 million. That's why the Astros were dancing with the White Sox over Jon Garland in an effort to replace Pettitte.

Assuming Pettitte's left elbow doesn't bark as it has the last couple of years, the outlook for New York's rotation is completely different with him in it. Now the Yankees have three reliable starters in Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Pettitte. And by midseason, there's always the chance they add Pettitte's workout buddy, Roger Clemens.

And they still have Randy Johnson, who made 33 starts and somehow went 17-11 last year despite a 5.00 ERA. The Big Unit is coming off back surgery and will be 44 by the time next season ends so you can put him at No. 4 in pencil only.

As for No. 5, there's talk of the return of Carl Pavano but he's been nothing but a $39 million mistake because of shoulder trouble. Cashman didn't go fullbore after Lilly or Gil Meche probably because he didn't want to repeat the dubious moment in club history when he signed Pavano.

Japanese import Kei Igawa, whom the Yankees have until Dec. 28 to sign, can be eased in at No. 5. Even if he doesn't sign, Cashman was thrilled to point out here that "we have inventory" of young pitching talent for the first time in years.

The Yankees saw flashes last year from Jeff Karstens and Darrell Rasner and are intrigued by hard-throwing 23-year-old Humberto Sanchez, acquired from the Tigers in the Gary Sheffield deal. Sanchez was 10-6, 2.63 last year between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo with 129 strikeouts and 47 walks in 123 innings.

They're positively salivating over 20-year-old right-hander Philip Hughes, their No. 1 pick in 2004. He was 10-3, 2.25 last year at Double-A Trenton with equally ridiculous strikeout/walk totals (138 Ks, 32 walks in 116 innings). Catcher Jorge Posada insisted Hughes had the best stuff in spring training last year. A repeat of that performance come March in Tampa might get him a pass over Triple-A Scranton and an instant ticket to the Bronx.

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Farrell takes lessons

Red Sox manager Terry Francona is thrilled with the addition of ex-Bison player and Cleveland farm director John Farrell as his pitching coach. Farrell has even been learning some basic Japanese to help the transition of pitcher Hideki Okajima. And of course, he might also be the pitching coach for Daisuke Matsuzaka if the Sox can come to an agreement with him by Thursday's midnight deadline.

"We caught a real break," Francona said. "[Farrell] is a dynamic person. Whether it's as a farm director, a pitching coach or a future general manager. Whatever he pours his energy into, he's going to be great at. I'm looking forward to turning him loose to make some inroads with the veterans and make impact with the younger guys.

"And when one of these young pitchers realizes our pitching coach took the time to try to learn a little bit [of Japanese], a couple words, a couple phrases, a couple nuances, maybe it makes them feel a little bit more respected, a little bit more wanted."

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Tribe talk

Key points from Indians manager Eric Wedge's session with reporters:

*The back end of the Cleveland bullpen is in much better shape with Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez and Aaron Fultz. Ex-Bisons like Edward Mujica, Jason Davis, Tom Mastny and Fernando Cabrera will be battling for middle relief roles.

Wedge: "Early on last year, we couldn't get to [closer Bob] Wickman and then when we could get to Wickman, we didn't have him. It was one of those years. We're looking to be much more consistent, be a little bit more diverse down there."

*David Dellucci and Jason Michaels will platoon in left field with Casey Blake and Shin-Soo Choo splitting time in right. No big outfield bat was added that would shift Blake to first base and that's good news for Ryan Garko, who gets the chance to go to spring training and earn the bulk of the at-bats there.

Wedge: "We need to see more defensively [from Garko]. . . . I thought he made a lot of improvements. For us to expect him to hit the way he hit for two months, I think that's a little bit unreasonable to expect that from a young man. But he was fantastic for us. He's definitely in the mix."

*Wedge is entering the final year of his contract but insists he's not looking over his shoulder at former Yankees, Arizona and Texas manager Buck Showalter, just hired by GM Mark Shapiro as a senior adviser by the club.

Wedge: "Mark and I talked about bringing Buck in, and I was on board with it. . . . It's an organizational move. This is something we've had a history of doing."

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They said it

Francona, on potentially having two Japanese pitchers: "I can pat a guy on the back after eight good innings in any language. To me, that won't be difficult."

*Reds manager Jerry Narron, on opponents' perception that ex-Bisons second baseman Brandon Phillips is a hot dog: "He plays with a lot of energy and passion and some guys might not like it. But I've got no problem with him throwing up his magic dust or whatever it is he does."

*Tigers manager Jim Leyland, on his World Series promise to have pitchers' fielding practice in February because of his staff's five errors in the Fall Classic: "It's not going to be the first day because I don't want to draw attention to it and have these guys paranoid about it. Spring training will be pretty boring if the main attraction will be watching PFP."

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Meetings minutiae

*Shapiro said he's not concerned that he's entering the last year of his contract. "I've had some good conversations [with team President Paul Dolan]," he said. "My situation has just taken a back-burner to conducting the business of putting the team together now." Shapiro, by the way, is the brother-in-law of New York Jets coach Eric Mangini.

*Like Boston's Jonathan Papelbon, World Series hero Adam Wainwright is moving from closer to starter for the Cardinals. Jason Isringhausen is expected to be healthy enough to return as closer.

*Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg has taken the managing job of the Cubs' Class A affiliate in Peoria, Ill. Lou Piniella's contract runs out after the 2009 season and Sandberg would thus have three years of prep time by then if the Cubs wanted to put him in charge of their dugout.

*GMs used to routinely mingle with reporters and agents in the spacious lobbies at past meeting sites. But in the era of cell phones, text messages and the Internet, most stay holed up in their hotel suites and the media is largely left to lobby-linger on its own. Another factor is that a GM who appears is often besieged not only by reporters, but also with resumes by job-seekers attending the professional baseball job fair that is run concurrently with the meetings.

"I'm trying to figure out how to navigate my way back [to the suite] so I can avoid the vortex," Shapiro cracked after one session with reporters early in the week.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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