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Yankees keeping tabs on Phillies’ Cliff Lee

With 80 percent of their Opening Day rotation on the disabled list, starting pitching is a top priority for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman as the July 31 non-waivers Trade Deadline approaches.

There has been speculation that the Yankees and Cliff Lee could finally be a match after several close calls in the past, with Lee returning to the mound in a 7-4 Phillies loss to the Giants on Monday. Yet the Yankees were “just observers” for that start, the New York Post reported, citing a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking.

Acquiring Lee, whom the Yankees chased twice in 2010, could be expensive. Lee turns 36 next month and is due $25 million next season; the Phillies want the acquiring club to pick up a major portion of the salary. Lee would also receive a $12.5 million buyout if a $27.5 million team option is not picked up for 2016.

Lee has missed most of this season with a left elbow strain and hadn’t pitched since May 18. Another potential roadblock is Lee’s no-trade clause. The Yankees are among the 20 teams that Lee can block a trade to, according to FOX Sports.

– Bryan Hoch

The Yankees are not in pursuit of Stephen Drew

The Yankees are saying that they have reached their spending limit for the offseason and consider themselves out on free agent shortstop Stephen Drew, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said last week that the Masahiro Tanaka signing represented the team’s final big splash of the winter, and thus far the organization has been proceeding as though that is the case. Their stance toward Drew has been chilly at best, as the club does not want to commit to a multi-year deal with the 30-year-old infielder, who also has Draft compensation attached because the Red Sox gave him a qualifying offer.

Drew’s name has popped up in connection to the Yankees because of their uncertainty at multiple infield positions. Shortstop Derek Jeter played in just 17 games last year, second baseman Brian Roberts has missed 445 games over the last four seasons and the Yankees are tentatively planning on a third base platoon that will involve Kelly Johnson and Eduardo Nunez.

- Bryan Hoch

Yankees close to deal with Kelly Johnson

While the dust is still settling from the Yankees’ blockbuster signing of outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal, the club is also close to reaching an agreement with infielder Kelly Johnson, according to the New York Post.

The newspaper reported that Johnson’s deal with the Yankees will be worth between $2.75 million and $3 million. Johnson batted .235 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs in 118 games last season for the Rays. He provides another option at second base in case Robinson Cano does not return, but projects better as a depth option at multiple positions.

Omar Infante has also received interest from the Yankees as an alternative to Cano, as the club is holding firm to their offer of a seven-year deal in the range of $160 to $170 million.

- Bryan Hoch

Is Carlos Beltran up next for the Yankees?

Now that they have agreed to a five-year contract with free agent catcher Brian McCann, the Yankees’ next move could come with outfielder Carlos Beltran, according to the New York Daily News.

The Yankees would love to make progress with Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka, their other main targets, but those discussions are held up for a variety of reasons. Thus, Beltran may be one of the next names to come off the board. The Yankees would prefer to give Beltran a two-year contract, while it has been reported that Beltran is looking for a three-year commitment.

Beltran turns 37 in April. The switch-hitter posted a split line of .296/.339/.491 in 145 games for the Cardinals this past season, slugging 24 homers and 84 RBIs. He has expressed interest in joining the Yankees before; through his agent at the time, Scott Boras, Beltran pitched his services to the Bombers at a discounted rate before agreeing with the Mets on a seven-year deal. Beltran is now represented by Dan Lozano.

General manager Brian Cashman has said that the Yankees liked Beltran during that ’04-’05 offseason, but they were already locked in with Bernie Williams as their center fielder at the time, and also felt bogged down by big-money pacts with players like Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina.

- Bryan Hoch

Granderson still “a serious part” of Yankees’ plans

Curtis Granderson may have declined a qualifying offer from the Yankees, but his career in pinstripes is not necessarily complete. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the New York Post that Granderson “is a serious part” of the club’s offseason blueprint, and that they could retain the left-handed hitting outfielder.

“We remain interested,” Cashman told the newspaper. “He is not a [fall-back] option.”

Yankees president Randy Levine said this week that Cashman is currently engaged with “five or six” free agents. The club is believed to have had contact with representatives for outfielders Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo, as Cashman has said that he would like to upgrade an outfield alignment that currently projects to field Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki.

Granderson was limited to 61 games this past season. His agent, Matt Brown, said during the GM Meetings that Granderson is “absolutely open” to coming back to the Yankees; the Mets and White Sox have also been reported to be interested.

- Bryan Hoch

Mets, Yankees show interest in Ben Francisco

Both New York teams, as well as three other clubs, have contacted the representative for free agent outfielder Ben Francisco, according to Mark Hale of the New York Post.

Agent John Boggs tells Hale that he and his client are looking for the “best opportunity” for Francisco “and who will offer the most at-bats.” Francisco, 31, batted .240 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 82 games last season with the Blue Jays, Astros and Rays.

The Mets and Yankees have also both expressed interest in signing Scott Hairston as they seek a right-handed hitting outfielder, but Hairston is believed to want at least a two-year deal.

- Bryan Hoch

Yankees not interested in re-signing Rafael Soriano

The Yankees fielded a call from agent Scott Boras last month asking if they’d be interested in re-signing reliever Rafael Soriano to a one-year deal, according to Bob Klapisch of the Bergen Record.

According to Klapisch, the request was “flatly denied.”

Yankees GM Brian Cashman has said that he is not looking for any upgrades in the bullpen, with Mariano Rivera’s one-year, $10 million deal restoring the all-time saves leader to the closer role. New York also has Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Boone Logan and David Aardsma among those who will compete for setup slots this spring.

Soriano opted out of his contract with the Yankees following the season, forfeiting the remaining $14 million he was owed for 2013 in favor of a $1.5 million buyout. The Yankees made Soriano a qualifying offer of one year at $13.3 million, which he rejected.

Because of that qualifying offer, there is draft pick compensation attached to Soriano, which appears to have impacted his free agent market.

- Bryan Hoch

Ichiro, Yankees making progress toward new deal

The Yankees are making progress toward a new contract with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, according to multiple published reports.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported that Ichiro, 39, and the Yankees are expected to come to an agreement “within the next few days.”

Ichiro’s agent, Tony Attanasio, has said that Ichiro’s first choice was to return to the Yankees, where he batted .322 with five home runs and 27 RBIs in 67 games after being acquired from the Mariners on July 23.

Ichiro was reportedly irked by a lack of attention from the Yankees early in the free agent process when the club was prioritizing starting pitching.

If Ichiro returns, the Yankees will have an all left-handed hitting outfield, with Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in place. Yankees GM Brian Cashman said that if that happens, a right-handed bat in the role that Andruw Jones filled in 2011-12 will become a priority.

The Yankees are also waiting on a response from free agent infielder Kevin Youkilis, who is weighing a one-year, $12 million contract offer from the club.

- Bryan Hoch

Yankees acquire Casey McGehee from Pirates

The Yankees have acquired infielder Casey McGehee from the Pirates with cash considerations in exchange for right-handed reliever Chad Qualls.

McGehee is expected to join the Yankees tomorrow. He will help the Yankees at the corner infield spots with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez sidelined; the 29-year-old hit .230 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 92 games with the Pirates this season, appearing at first base (77 games, 56 starts) and third base (nine games, eight starts).

“This is a guy who has put up big numbers in his career,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We’re hoping he can help us.”

Qualls, 33, has combined to go 2-1 with a 4.89 ERA in 43 relief appearances with the Phillies and Yankees in 2012.

- Bryan Hoch

Cashman: Yanks aren’t players for Cliff Lee

Two years ago, the Yankees nearly wrestled Cliff Lee away from the Mariners before seeing him head to the Rangers instead. With rumors swirling that the left-hander could again be available for the right price, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman lightheartedly shot down any suggestion that his club would again be involved in the bidding.

It’s not that the Yankees don’t like Lee or couldn’t use him in their rotation, mind you. Cashman pointed out that if the Yankees are going to achieve their goal of reaching a $189 million payroll by 2014, they can’t be taking on contracts like Lee’s. He’s owed a guaranteed $75 million over the next three years.

“I’m not allowed to speak about another team’s player,” Cashman said, “but if there was a hypothetical mythical beast that makes like $25 million a year for the next X amount of years that became hitting the market, we certainly could not participate in that type of level financial talent.”

Cashman added that he is “not at all” optimistic that the Yankees will pull off a move before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET non-waivers Trade Deadline.

“It’s gotten really quiet,” he said. “Things have just gotten quiet all of a sudden. There have been a lot of moves before tomorrow so I’m not going to count anything out. A lot of buyers, not very many sellers.”

- Bryan Hoch

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