The Yankees made a preliminary inquiry this week into signing pitcher Bruce Hurst, regarded as the prize player in this year's free-agent class and, as a No. 1 starter, the one to solve the club's greatest need. But according to a team source, the Yankees dropped all interest when Hurst's agent, Nick Lampros, informed them of the price tag: three years, $5.8 million.

"We'd have interest in any pitcher available," the source said. "But nowhere near that price. That's ridiculous." The source said the Yankees would not call again unless the asking price drops dramatically.Hurst, who will turn 31 in March, won a career-high 18 games, lost six and compiled a 3.66 earned run average for Boston this season. He earned $900,000. His career record is 88-73, including 46-27 the past three years.

The Red Sox are believed to have offered Hurst a two-year contract with an option for a third year that would bring the total value to about $4.7 million.

The Dodgers are rumored to be ready to make a significant move for Hurst, based on their doubts that lefties Fernando Valenzuela and John Tudor will be able to come back from injuries.

Lampros said Yankees General Manager Bob Quinn telephoned him "sometime this week." Quinn would not confirm their conversation, saying, "I would not care to comment on any player we may or may not be interested in."

The Yankees were thought to be a longshot to land Hurst because Hurst, a Mormon from St. George, is known to dislike New York City. But Lampros said Hurst has not ruled out signing with the Yankees-as long as the money is right. "At this point, it's a business decision," Lampros said.