Yankees’ hitting splash possible even with focus on pitching

LAS VEGAS — The last time MLB held the Winter Meetings in the Devils’ Workshop, the Yankees landed lefty ace CC Sabathia and were well into discussions with A.J. Burnett that led to the right-hander coming to The Bronx for the 2009 season.

Those free-agent arms and the late December signing of first baseman Mark Teixeira played a big part in the Yankees winning the World Series for the first time since 2000. Now, the December flesh market opens Sunday at Mandalay Bay on the most famous strip in the world, and the Yankees are again prowling for pitching — starters and relievers.

And in a city built on the backs of losing gamblers and thrives on temptation, don’t ignore any talk of the Yankees being linked to free-agent infielder Manny Machado. They appear to be more interested in Machado than fellow high-priced (think $300 million-plus) free agent outfielder Bryce Harper, but when it comes to the Yankees anything is possible — as has happened with Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and Giancarlo Stanton.

If the Yankees were completely turned off by Machado’s behavior during the postseason, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and GM Brian Cashman would have ruled him out by now, and they haven’t. This past week, manager Aaron Boone said running hard to first base isn’t the only way to judge a players’ effort.

“You hope all players all the time run things out, play hard or give it their all, but [that is] not necessarily the No. 1 thing I look at when I am defining whether a player is giving his all or is a gamer or [being in the lineup] and being a guy who grinds when it’s difficult behind the scenes,’’ Boone said. “Frankly, it is a little bit down the list as far as what I define what makes a player. My definition of a player who plays hard, who plays through adversity and is tough and brings things behind the scenes and has the ability to [be in the lineup] when it is not easy. Those are things that define playing hard a little more to me.’’

They won’t snag an in-his-prime Sabathia type, but having watched Patrick Corbin sign a staggering six-year deal worth $140 million with the Nationals, the Yankees have an interest in J.A. Happ, who is seeking a three-year deal, and they will keep an eye on Yusei Kikuchi, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance Lynn.

All of them are free agents, but that isn’t the only route the Yankees can take to add a starter to the rotation — which consists of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and  Sabathia. There is trade interest in Indians right-hander Corey Kluber and possibly Trevor Bauer.

After closers Craig Kimbrel and Zach Britton — a spot already filled by Aroldis Chapman in the Yankees’ bullpen — Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller, David Robertson and Joe Kelly are the most mentioned names among relievers who will draw attention. Cashman said early in the process he was looking to help the pen — which has Dellin Betances in front of Chapman and Chad Green to work before Betances, who is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.

“Obviously, we have a number of things to accomplish that I consider heavy lifting. We need to fill our club out. Usually most things get concluded by the end of the Winter Meetings based on the last two years,’’ Cashman said before the Nationals landed Corbin, who many felt would sign with the Yankees. “Things have dragged out longer, but for the most part, now momentum will kick in for everybody — players, agents and clubs. Hopefully we will be in position to improve ourselves, but part of this is having patience. We don’t want to make a mistake and rush this process. If it takes longer, it takes longer. Optimally, you would like to get something done between now and the conclusion of Vegas.’’

Three goals for the Yankees

1. Get a starting pitcher.

J.A. Happ fits via free agency. Corey Kluber would be a big trade acquisition.

2. Get some relief.

Zach Britton is being shopped as a closer, and the Yankees have Aroldis Chapman. David Robertson is a free agent, and no guarantee he is returning. So there is a need for relievers to work in front of Dellin Betances and Chapman.

3. Decide what an acceptable return is for Sonny Gray.

The entire baseball universe knows GM Brian Cashman wants to deal the right-hander, and there will be teams will to snag him coming off a dismal New York experience.

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