Cashman expects Nova to have role in starting rotation

Brian Cashman emerged from eight hours of meetings with his 29 counterparts from around the league with little of substance to say about Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte or Cliff Lee.

But Cashman had plenty to say about one pitcher he is convinced will be an important part of the Yankees' 2011 starting rotation.

"I think Ivan Nova has a good chance to be in our rotation, regardless," Cashman said. He meant regardless of whether the Yankees sign Lee or convince Pettitte to return for one more season.

"He can be our number five, or maybe better than that, I don't care," Cashman said of Nova. "I think he's got a chance to take the ball for us every five days.’"

Nova, the 23-year-old right-hander pressed into emergency service when Pettitte went on the DL with a groin strain in mid-July, was outstanding in his first four major-league starts, and less so in his last four, and was left off the postseason roster. Still, his stuff is live enough that Cashman expects him to be an important part of the staff next season.

"If you've got quality arms, I don't care if they’re inexperienced or not, they'll make your problems go away real quick," Cashman said. "We think he’s got a quality arm."

Nova held the power-hitting Toronto Blue Jays to two runs in 5 1/3 innings in his first big league start on Aug. 23, and earned his first major-league win six days later by throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball at the Chicago White Sox. His best outing came on Sept. 8, when he went six inning against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing just two runs, but his effectiveness declined as teams got more familiar with his repertoire. He lost his last two games of the year and finished up 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA.

"He's got to earn it still, but he opened a lot of people's eyes last year in our organization and outside the organization," Cashman said.

Cashman also delivered good news about Alfredo Aceves, the right-handed reliever who was sidelined in May with a lower back strain and at one point appeared headed for surgery. But Cashman said Aceves had recovered in full and would probably pitch winter ball in his native Mexico.

"Believe it or not, he would have been a potential guy for us if we had made it to the World Series," Cashman said. The news about Damaso Marte, the lefty reliever who was such a vital part of the Yankees bullpen in the 2009 postseason, was not so good. Cashman said Marte, who went on the DL in August with a shoulder injury and eventually underwent surgery, is not expected back at all in 2011.

"I would like to have two lefties in the bullpen but I just don’t know if we'll be successful or not," said Cashman, who refused to discuss a report that the Yankees were interested in former Met Pedro Feliciano to join lefty Boone Logan in the Yankees bullpen. "But we'll certainly try to pursue that.’"

Cashman also said the experiment to turn Joba Chamberlain into a starter was officially, permanently over, and expressed the hope that either he or David Robertson would emerge as the replacement for Kerry Wood as the set-up man for Rivera.

He also said he has had no further contact with Pettitte since the 39-year-old lefty told him on the final day of the season that he would need some time at home in Texas with his family before deciding whether he would pitch again in 2011.

"I saw him interviewed recently and he reiterated what he said to me, that if he had to make a decision yesterday, he would be retired," Cashman said. "So we'll just have to wait and see."

But, hamstrung by MLB's order not to discuss dealing with free agents, even their own, Cashman was unable to provide much information on the status of negotiations with Rivera or Jeter other than to confirm what managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner had told reporters earlier in the day, that the Yankees had had further conversations with Casey Close, Jeter's agent.

"But I do have a small player move that I'm working on that might get done this week," Cashman said. "Small. No, it's not Derek."

That kind of news is going to have to wait for another day. At then end of a long day of talking with his fellow general managers, the Yankees GM found that he had little left to say.