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Ageing Yankees zero in on elder free agents

New York Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte (R) is relieved by manager Joe Girardi as catcher Russell Martin (L) and third baseman Alex
New York Yankees starting pitcher Andy Pettitte (R) is relieved by manager Joe Girardi as catcher Russell Martin (L) and third baseman Alex

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The ageing New York Yankees, struggling to inject youth into their roster, appear poised to sign two of their evergreen core members for one more go-round in a drive for a sixth World Series ring since 1996.

Left-handed starting pitcher Andy Pettitte, 40, and all-time Major League Baseball saves leader Mariano Rivera, who turns 43 on Thursday, are reportedly on the verge of signing deals for one last campaign.

Those pitchers could well be effective in 2013.

Pettitte returned from a one-year retirement last season to go 5-4 with an impressive 2.87 earned run average in a campaign limited to 12 starts due to a broken ankle in mid-season.

Rivera, whose 2012 season ended in May after he tore ligaments in his right knee while shagging fly balls before a game, has been as dependable as any reliever to play the game.

But with 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki and 40-year-old Raul Ibanez also on New York's radar for a possible return season in 2013, the Yankees could be fighting Father Time as well as the competition on the diamond.

Pettitte, Rivera and 38-year-old shortstop Derek Jeter have each earned five World Series rings with the Yankees, but have added only the 2009 title ring to their collection in the last dozen years.

The Yankees began last season as the oldest team in the majors with the average age of their Opening Day roster approaching 32 years old and they could be getting grayer.

General manager Brian Cashman would love to begin a transition to the next generation of Yankees, but none of the minor league prospects appear to be banging on the door.

After decades of being baseball's biggest spenders, Cashman has also been charged with keeping the team's payroll within a $189 million threshold to save the franchise from paying MLB's punitive tax imposed on teams that spend beyond that.

That imperative could hamstring Cashman from paying the price for younger free-agent targets, such as 28-year-old outfielder B.J. Upton, especially considering the pricey long-term contracts already in place.

New York's biggest payroll headache comes from 37-year-old third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has been fading the last two years and is owed $114 million for the next five seasons, not counting bonuses tied to milestones in his rise up the career home run list.

Rodriguez, whose broken hand cost him more than a month toward the end of the season, had his second successive down year, hitting 18 home runs with 57 RBIs and was benched during the playoffs in a campaign in which he was paid $29 million.

And competition in the American League East division could be intensifying.

The Toronto Blue Jays took on more than $41 million in payroll next season and $160-plus million over the next 10 years from their mega-deal with the Miami Marlins and they Tampa Bay Rays showed their commitment by awarding 27-year-old third baseman Evan Longoria a $100 million contract extension.

Time may not be on the Yankees side as they go about satisfying their mission statement of winning the World Series.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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