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02/15/11 10:07 AM EST

CC unsure if he'll trigger opt-out clause

Yankees' ace says contract will not be distraction this season

TAMPA, Fla. -- CC Sabathia's winter weight loss has the ace showing off a lighter look, and on the subject of a potential contractual opt-out, he sounds a little bit different as well.

Sabathia, 30, can become a free agent after this season if he decides to trigger a clause in his deal with the Yankees.

The left-hander has often said that he plans on fulfilling the entire $161 million commitment on a deal that runs through 2015, but his tone changed slightly on Monday as Yankees pitchers and catchers officially reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field.

"I have no idea [if I will opt out]," Sabathia said. "Anything's possible."

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Sabathia is set to earn $23 million each year through the end of his contract, but after going 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA in 34 starts last year, his representatives may be wondering about a possible raise -- with the Yankees or elsewhere.

The New York Daily News, citing a source with knowledge of the situation, reported on Tuesday that Sabathia is expected to exercise the opt-out clause after the season. Neither Sabathia nor the Yankees has confirmed the report.

A similar clause in Alex Rodriguez's deal seemed to cloud the Yankees' 2007 season, from Spring Training to the moment Rodriguez opted out during the World Series. Sabathia promised he would not let his contract present an issue this season.

"I'm here to try to help this team win," Sabathia said. "I went through it with the free agency thing [after the 2008 season] and it's not going to distract me at all."

Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner said on Monday that he does not believe Sabathia will opt out, nor will Sabathia use the clause to seek a contract extension for additional money.

"I think he's happy here, and now he really knows what it's like to be a Yankee," Steinbrenner told reporters. "He had another excellent year last year. I think he's here to stay. ... Once you've become a Yankee and you've won as a Yankee, it's a little difficult to go anywhere else, I would assume. We're going to be in it every year."

Now 25 pounds lighter after following a diet and exercise program intended to take stress off his right knee, which had a meniscus tear surgically repaired in November, Sabathia has established himself as a clubhouse leader with the Yankees.

He also quickly immersed himself in the community upon arrival, constructing a $15 million mansion in the leafy suburb of Alpine, N.J., and saying numerous times that he considers the tri-state area his year-round home.

As recently as Dec. 10, Sabathia told MLB.com, "I've always said my stance is I'll be here. That's been from Day 1. My family is here, we moved here."

In a group interview with several reporters on Monday, Sabathia acknowledged that he has previously said that he would not opt out, but then attempted to steer the discussion elsewhere.

"Yeah, I've said that," Sabathia said. "But I'm here to try to help the team win and I don't want to talk about that all year. This will be probably the last time I address it. I'm here."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he believes Sabathia does not want to paint himself into a corner with his statements about a sensitive subject, and that his personal feelings may be different than what has been advised professionally.

"He loves it here," Cashman said. "Liking it here and having contractual choices are two different things. I don't want to speak for CC, but he absolutely does love it here and he loves playing for the fans of New York. That's separate from him having earned opportunities that he can think about on another day."

Cashman said he originally suggested the opt-out clause in December 2008 when the Yankees were negotiating their deal with Sabathia, a contract that would prove to be the largest ever given to a pitcher.

With Mark Teixeira appearing to be heading for the Red Sox, Cashman feared that the Angels would turn their attention from Teixeira to Sabathia, whom the Yankees had been pursuing from the first moments of free agency.

The prevailing thought at the time was that Sabathia would prefer to play somewhere on the West Coast, so Cashman floated the clause, promising Sabathia that he could always leave New York after three years if he didn't like it.

"I needed to get CC done before that [situation] declared itself," Cashman said. "I had to do everything, because I felt that if Anaheim showed up, I would be in trouble and I might not secure the player.

"I did everything in my power. I know it gets constantly written about, how the Yankees were bidding against themselves. I don't believe, to this day, that I was. I had seen what the landscape was."

For the moment, Sabathia would prefer to focus on this season. He said that the winter work has dropped him back to his listed weight of 290 pounds, taking pressure off his knee, which he'll test on Tuesday in his first bullpen session of the year.

The toughest part, Sabathia said, was giving up Cap'n Crunch cereal -- "I used to eat it a box at a time," he said -- and also his affinity for Gatorade. He said that he could lose five to 10 more pounds by the time camp ends.

"I want to try to pitch as long as I can, hopefully another eight to 10 years," Sabathia said. "This is just the first step in trying to do that."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.