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Yankees looking at Lackey

CHICAGO -- The world champion Yankees have top free-agent pitcher John Lackey on their free-agent shopping list, sources said. The Yankees aren't expected to be as aggressive this winter on the free market as last offseason and they haven't firmed up all their plans as yet, but one league source said of Lackey, "He's definitely on their radar.''

Word is that the Yankees probably will be willing to repeat A.J. Burnett's $82.5 million, five-year contract for Lackey. Although, one person close to Lackey -- whose offer to stay with the Angels this spring was for less than $40 million over three years on top of this year's $10 million salary -- indicated the longtime Angels right-hander sees himself in a higher echelon than Burnett. Lackey was 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA for the Angels last year and has been their ace for some of his eight seasons there.

Even if postseason hero Andy Pettitte returns to the Yankees -- and he told a few teammates he believes he'll come back for one more year, though there's no definitive word on this -- the Yankees envision themselves looking at the starting-pitching market since they are uncertain whether Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes will start or work out of the bullpen next year. The Yankees used a three-man rotation in the playoffs out of necessity.

The Yankees come into the winter more set than usual, but they are aided by a terrific financial year, a rise in the luxury-tax threshold from $162 million to $170 million and a trio of high-paid players potentially coming off the books -- though they'd like Pettitte to come back, and are considering scenarios whereby both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon return, as well. They love both players, but Matsui's return may be somewhat dependent on how his latest knee surgery goes and whether he can play some outfield next year. If they don't believe Matsui can play some outfield, they will look for another outfielder to replace him.

Yankees people always have liked Lackey, but they were especially impressed by the toughness he showed in this year's American League playoffs. Lackey was seen on camera begging Angels manager Mike Scioscia to leave him in Game 5. "The Yankees think Lackey is a bulldog,'' the league source said.

Word has been going around that Lackey, a product of Abilene, Texas, has some extra interest in going home to play, though some have suggested they don't expect a hometown discount for the Texas teams. The Rangers' top priority is a No. 1 pitcher and they have liked Lackey for a long time, but it's hard to know what their chances are with their ownership situation in limbo. The Red Sox, Dodgers and incumbent Angels would appear to be some other possible landing spots for Lackey, as well.

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