The sky was overcast. The stands at George M. Steinbrenner Field were empty. The general inactivity was such that you could hear cars zooming past on Dale Mabry Boulevard not far beyond the right-field fence.

The only two players on the field — Michael Pineda and Cesar Cabral — were playing catch about 100 feet past the first base bag. As spring training goes, there was nothing all that uncommon about two rehabbing pitchers tossing a ball back and forth.

Except this:

Six men specifically charged with handling pitching in the Yankees organization were watching this game of catch — and it wasn’t to get a better feel for Cesar Cabral.

In words, the Yankees do everything possible to downplay expectations around Pineda as he recovers from shoulder surgery. They refuse to offer a timetable or place even a dollop of importance on his return. But forget the words. There was major league pitching coach Larry Rothschild, three pitching coordinators and two minor league pitching coaches eye-balling a game of catch at 8:30 in the morning, two hours before a full practice was to begin.

Deeds, not words, screamed about Michael Pineda’s importance to this organization.

Look, at this moment everything that transpires with the Yankees is viewed through the $189 million prism. And, no doubt, a major reason Pineda was obtained just more than a year ago from Seattle was to add some high-end, low-pay cost certainty in the rotation moving forward.

But let’s cast the attempts to get below the luxury-tax threshold in 2014 aside, let’s act as if the Yankees were willing to have an unlimited budget moving forward. You know what? Even in that scenario, Pineda’s significance to the franchise remains just as profound this year and beyond.

Let’s take this season, first. The Yankees are comfortable with their first four starters — CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. But there is fragility there. Sabathia had offseason elbow surgery. Pettitte and Kuroda project to be the first- and fourth- oldest starters in the majors. What are the chances that trio gets through this season unscathed?

So you look at the depth. Ivan Nova faltered so badly last season that he will have to win his way into this rotation. David Phelps and Adam Warren stand as the next options with the hope that, say, Brett Marshall can jump into consideration during the season. The Yankees are trying to find a veteran to stash at Triple-A, which is why they will have two scouts watching Taiwan and current free agent Chien-Ming Wang during the World Baseball Classic.