Hank Steinbrenner: Yanks always in it

TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Yankees will be World Series contenders for as long as the Steinbrenner family owns the team.

So said Hank Steinbrenner, son of The Boss, on the day pitchers and catchers reported to Yankees training camp at the field that bears his late father's name.

"We're gonna be in it every year," Hank Steinbrenner said at George M. Steinbrenner Field Monday afternoon. "Every single year. You can't say that about any other team, except maybe the Red Sox. But they weren't in it last year. And the Phillies seem to be keeping it going but how long will that last? The only team you can be assured as long as we own them is going to be in it every single year is going to be us. We're gonna be a major contender to win the championship every year."

Steinbrenner, the older son of George Steinbrenner, made his remarks in a tunnel outside the home clubhouse a few hours after the players, who had come in briefly to take physicals, had left the park.

He had been asked about the likelihood that his ace, CC Sabathia, would invoke the opt-out clause in his seven-year, $161 million contract after this season.

"I don't think he will," Steinbrenner said. "He's very happy there. He's been very happy there. Now he really knows what it's like to be a Yankee. He's here to stay."

Earlier in the day Sabathia had refused to rule out the possibility, an option that Alex Rodriguez exercised after the 2007 season, only to be rewarded with a contract extension and a raise after Hank Steinbrenner took over the negotiation from his general manager, Brian Cashman, who had advised against it.

Hank Steinbrenner, who is co-owner of the Yankees with his brother Hal, acknowledged he was disappointed by the team's failure to sign starting pitcher Cliff Lee this winter, but he said that loss was offset by the acquisition of reliever Rafael Soriano and that he still believes the Yankees will contend for the division title.

"We're in the AL East and anything can happen," he said. "But we got a shot. I'm not gonna pick who the best teams are but we're one of them. We got the best bullpen in baseball, we got the hitting, we're gonna be good defensively and the starting pitching hopefully will come around. We think A.J. Burnett will turn it around and all our baseball people like this kid [Ivan] Nova. And Boston's got a lot to prove, too, after last year."

However, when asked if he thought the Yankees were better this season, Steinbrenner hesitated.

"I really don't know," he said. "I certainly hope so. We're going to find out. But you can't predict. You just play the games and hope you don't have injuries."

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.