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Cashman: “I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick”

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[2]Essentially taking himself out of the running for Rafael Soriano, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said this afternoon that he absolutely will not make a move that costs the Yankees their top draft pick.

“I will not lose our No. 1 draft pick,” Cashman said. “I would have for Cliff Lee. I won’t lose our No. 1 draft pick for anyone else.”

Most Type-A free agents have already signed — including Lee — but Soriano and Grant Balfour are still on the market. The Yankees have been linked to Soriano quite often, but Cashman said it’s possible to link the Yankees to just about every free agent out there. Cashman checks on the availability and asking price of pretty much everyone — “That’s my job,” he said — but those conversations don’t necessarily go any further.

“Talking about somebody doesn’t characterize a level of interest in any guy,” Cashman said. “And obviously this winter we’ve done a lot of talking.”

The Yankees most serious discussions centered on Lee. Aside from their own free agents — Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera — it was Lee who best fit the Yankees offseason needs. The Yankees made an aggressive push, but Lee ultimately settled into a deal with the Phillies. In the weeks since Lee signed, the free agent market has gone from bad to worse.

“It wasn’t strong,” Cashman said. “It’s certainly a lot less strong since (Lee) made his decision.”

What remains at the top of the free agent market is a group of designated hitters and a group of late-inning relievers. The Yankees have no spot for a DH, and they feel no need to be overly aggressive in chasing a reliever. That said, former closers Brian Fuentes and Jon Rauch are among the relievers still on the market who would not cost a draft pick.

“We’re going to show up in Tampa, and we’re going to have a team that we’re proud of,” Cashman said.

If only because I’ve gotten a surprising number of emails on this topic… In theory, the Yankees could work out some sort of sign-and-trade scenario to land a Type-A free agent without losing a draft pick. Cashman called such a move a “legal maneuver” but also acknowledged that those sort of trades are complicated and difficult to pull off. They rarely happen in baseball.