After 36 minutes and nearly 50 questions, no real news emerged from Joe Girardi’s first press conference in the wake of a disappointing ALDS loss to Detroit.

Girardi’s first press briefing since Thursday’s loss focused on the failure of the middle of the lineup to get the big hit that would have avoided the series loss. The most major topic, though, focused on an offseason plan centered on improving the starting pitching.

Starting pitching would play an increased role in the offseason if CC Sabathia opts out of the seven-year, $161 million contract he signed after 2008 and decides to go elsewhere. Even if the opt-out happens, retaining Sabathia would be a major priority.

Sabathia’s contract has $92 million remaining and since he is just 31, the open market figures to put his worth past the $100 million mark, especially since Cliff Lee and Johan Santana have received that type of money from the Phillies and Mets respectively.

 

“He’s extremely important to our rotation,” Girardi said. “We rely on him heavily in what he’s done the last three years. As a free-agent signing goes, it’s been spectacular. I can't imagine what it would be like without him. I don't want to imagine what it would be like without him. Time’s going to tell what’s going to happen here. It seems to be a place that he really likes.”

Beyond Sabathia, Girardi said that he would be content entering spring training with Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and a competition for the fifth spot behind. Based on that, it would seem that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia would use their free agency to possibly go elsewhere.

“The one need that we’re going to have to address again is our rotation, there’s no doubt about it,” Girardi said. “You have two guys that are free agents, you have another guy that can opt-out, so that’s the one thing that we’re going to have to address. Similar to what we had to do for this year. It probably all starts with CC and then you go from there.”

If that is how the rotation turns out on opening day 2012, the Yankees will have Nova, who has a minor forearm strain, Burnett who seemingly is in a never-ending battle to find consistency and Hughes, who wasn’t healthy most of last season, but won 18 games in 2010. The fifth spot could go to someone such as Hector Noesi, who impressed the team in long relief, or one of several minor league prospects such as Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances.

If the Yankees do not make a major trade for starting pitching, the biggest free agent is Texas lefty C.J. Wilson. The second-best free agent starting pitcher is White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle and then there is a significant drop into mediocrity.

The Yankees figured they would address those things in November, but because they could not get the big hit from the middle of their lineup, they get a few more weeks to start planning for next season.

“We all know what the goal is here,” Girardi said. “We didn’t reach our goal, that’s the bottom line. Did we have some good things happen? Yeah. But collectively, we didn’t reach our goal. We go into spring training every year — we go into the winter every year — and the expectation is to win the World Series. If you don’t reach that, it’s considered not getting your job done.”



Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for all your offseason news on the Bronx Bombers.

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