TAMPA — All of a sudden, the pitching corner of the Yankees clubhouse at Steinbrenner Field is getting crowded.
Just one year ago, New York didn't have enough starting pitching. But Sunday, as the Yankees pitchers and catchers reported, ace CC Sabathia (6-7, 290 pounds) and young fireballing righty Michael Pineda (6-7, 280) make for a tight squeeze in neighboring lockers.
The two heavyweights are part of a reloaded Yankees rotation, one that has a surplus of arms, even with Sunday's finalized trade of A.J. Burnett to the Pirates.
"It's a good problem to have," Sabathia said. "It should be a good battle; it's a win-win situation for us, either way."
And the group could go a long way toward determining whether New York wins a second straight American League East title, as it entered camp knowing significant challengers like the Rays and Red Sox could make it a fight to the finish.
"I think it's going to be tough as always," Sabathia said. "I really think this is the best division in baseball, and with the Red Sox, the way their season ended last year, you've got to expect them to come out and be hungry and want to get back to the playoffs. It's going to be even harder. The Rays are always good, always right there."
Said general manager Brian Cashman: "We've got our hands full."
Cashman focused on the rotation in the offseason, shipping touted prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for Pineda, who received American League rookie of the year consideration last year. Then veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, 37, signed a one-year, $10 million deal despite hearing of higher offers.
"It's obviously a team that always wins," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "And I wanted to have a chance to win the championship."
With Sabathia, Kuroda and Pineda, along with 16-game winner Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia, Burnett was the odd man out. Once the reported deal with the Pirates was done, Cashman could focus on his next task, finding a left-handed bat/DH. He has fielded calls from agents of several candidates, including Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui, not to mention Eric Chavez, who played in New York last year. But with Cashman saying his preference is one who can also play in the field, former Phillies slugger Raul Ibanez appears the top target.
In a 30-plus minute gathering with reporters Sunday, Cashman covered a variety of topics:
• Cashman and manager Joe Girardi had a conversation with Sabathia about his weight after the All-Star lefty signed his contract extension. Cashman called it a healthy dialogue, and Sabathia — who dropped 10-15 pounds to get down to what he weighed to start last season — is committed to maintaining it. "CC has never let us down," Cashman said.
• Cashman briefly addressed the scandal surrounding his personal life, saying the past few weeks have been "difficult" as news of his divorce and a woman charged with stalking and extorting from him hit the front pages. But Cashman said the situation would not affect his job.
"I have a professional and personal life," he said. "I will continue to do my job to the best of my abilities."
• In injury news, outfielder/DH Andruw Jones will report earlier than other position players as he comes back from arthroscopic knee surgery. Cashman said third baseman Alex Rodriguez is "good to go" following an offseason knee treatment in Germany. Right-hander Joba Chamberlain is expected to be back by June, with the team taking a cautious approach in his rehab from elbow ligament replacement surgery. Lefty Pedro Feliciano, however, is likely out for the year.
• Girardi was a late arrival due to a travel delay with his flight, postponing his scheduled spring-opening news conference until today. Closer Mariano Rivera hasn't reported, but the all-time saves leader is given leeway on when he arrives.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]