If he decides to return in '09, Cashman says Mussina could start

DANA POINT, Calif. -- If Mike Mussina decides to pitch next year, the New York Yankees could make room for him in their uncertain starting rotation.

Mussina turns 40 next month and is coming off the first 20-win season of his career. While he needs just 30 wins to reach 300, at the end of the year he sounded as if he was leaning toward retirement.

"We just obviously have needs in the starting rotation. He certainly could be one of those guys that fills a need, without a doubt," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday as the GM meetings began. "I just know that we need starting pitching, and it's not just one. We're not going to be one and done. We need multiple."

Only Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain are guaranteed spots in the rotation next year, Cashman said, and Chamberlain likely will have an innings limit. The Yankees also are uncertain whether Andy Pettitte will return, but he appears more likely to want to stay in pinstripes for the first season in the new Yankee Stadium.

Cashman praised Mussina for rebounding from an 11-10 record in 2007 "to prove to everybody that he is still obviously that name that everybody knows: Mike Mussina." Cashman spoke with Mussina in the week after the season but has not had contact since.

"I hope a lot of our guys go home with the mentality Mike went home with after the '07 season," Cashman said.

New York figures to be in the market for CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. While the Yankees have several other starting candidates -- a group that includes Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves, Jeffrey Marquez, Darrell Rasner and Dan Giese -- Cashman doesn't want to count on them.

"Obviously, we'd like to run into some more certainty, to push those guys into the back-of-the-rotation situations and let them emerge that way," he said.

Former Florida Marlins pitcher Sergio Mitre, recovering from elbow ligament replacement surgery, reached a preliminary agreement on a minor league contract with the Yankees. Mitre pitched for the Marlins when Joe Girardi managed the team in 2006, then went 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA in a career-high 27 starts in 2007. He faced just three batters in spring training this year, didn't appear during the regular season and was operated on in mid-July by Dr. James Andrews. It's unclear when Mitre will be able to pitch in a game. "He's got a terrific sinkerball," Cashman said. ... Cashman expects Wang, recovering from a foot injury, will be moved along slowly during spring training. ... 2B Robinson Cano will spend 30 days playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and will be used exclusively as a designated hitter. Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long will accompany Cano. ... Cashman wouldn't confirm rumors that New York will decline LHP Damaso Marte's $6 million option, making him eligible for free agency. Marte, acquired from Pittsburgh in July, would get a $250,000 buyout. ... Cashman said the Yankees have had calls from other teams about center fielders Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson.