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Yanks still interested in Hillenbrand, could be seeking offers for Farnsworth


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - As the price for free agents continues to rise, Brian Cashman is content to play the role of informed observer. He talks with agents to know the prices, but he has not been willing to enter any bidding wars.

On the first day of the winter meetings, Cashman said the pitching staff remains his top priority. But with the pitching market overpriced and thus unappealing, Cashman is planning to take time to address other issues.

On the Yankees' agenda this week at Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort is a meeting with the agent for first baseman Shea Hillenbrand. Their interest is such that team officials have already done the necessary background check.

The Yankees, according to a person familiar with the situation, have looked into the incident that sparked Hillenbrand's hasty exit from the Blue Jays - a near fight with manager John Gibbons - and determined they would not be deterred by the incident.

The Yankees also are not put off by his first-pitch-swinging or his .325 career on-base percentage, even though they put great value in both categories. Having the incredibly patient Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu allows them to take a less patient hitter if he can provide the needed pop that they lack from the right side.

The market for Hillenbrand has been slow to develop, which could benefit Cashman. The Yankees general manager's tendency over the past year has been to act quickly and decisively when he sees a player that he can get - at a price that he likes.

The Yankees already have $163 million locked up in 2007 guaranteed contracts and they just paid $26 million for Kei Igawa's rights, so finances are on Cashman's mind as he speaks with agents and opposing GMs.

Relievers have been receiving so much money that the two years and $10.75 million left on Kyle Farnsworth's deal may be attractive to a team in need of relievers. The Yankees are willing to include Farnsworth in trade talks, but dealing him may create a bigger quandary for their staff. Scott Proctor would have to pitch the eighth inning and thus would not serve as potential depth for the rotation.

There is still one open spot in their bullpen and the Yankees hope that gets filled by Ron Villone accepting their offer of arbitration by the Thursday deadline. It's clear the Yankees want Villone back, but only on a one-year deal. The Yankees have not opened talks, thus almost daring Villone to accept arbitration.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have not yet decided whether there will be a spot for Bernie Williams on the 2007 roster, though it seems unlikely there will be room.

"I've told Scott [Boras] and I've told Bernie, 'Just give us some time,'" Cashman said yesterday. "There's no guarantees here. He's been a great Yankee for quite some time, as we all know. But at the same time, I'm going to look down this 2007 roster and see who the best fits are and try to secure those fits."