Yankees manager not 'politicking' for extension
NEW YORK - Next year could be Joe Torre's last as manager of the New York Yankees.
After a draining season in which the Yankees fell two wins short of the World Series title, Torre said Friday he isn't seeking an extension. He also let owner George Steinbrenner know earlier in the week that he was unhappy with some of the events during a season in which the owner repeatedly applied public pressure.
"This is the last year of my contract," Torre said during a telephone conference call. "I am certainly not politicking for an extension. I do not know if I'm going to do it after this year."
Following the 2001 season, Torre agreed to a three-year contract worth about $16 million. After the Yankees were eliminated by Anaheim in the first round of last year's playoffs, Steinbrenner stepped up the pressure.
Earlier this week, Torre let the owner know his thoughts during a meeting in Tampa, Fla., with Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman.
"I talked about some of the things I didn't appreciate as far as the statements and some of the things that went on all year. It was basically a one-sided conversation," Torre said. "I did it, I believe, in a diplomatic way."
Torre took over as manager after the 1995 season and led the team to four World Series titles in his first five seasons. But the Yankees lost Game 7 of the 2001 Series to Arizona, failed to get past Anaheim last year, then lost this year's Series to Florida in six games.
Steinbrenner could not be contacted to respond to Torre's remarks, according to Howard Rubenstein, a spokesman for the owner.
Much of Torre's time in Tampa was devoted to a discussion of the coaching staff. Bench coach Don Zimmer quit, saying he would never work for Steinbrenner again, and hitting coach Rick Down was fired.
Zimmer had been with Torre for all eight seasons, and Torre had hoped to persuade him to stay.
"I think Zim is gone," Torre said. "I talked to him Sunday. He seemed pretty determined that he didn't want to come back here. We're certainly going to miss him."
Torre didn't try to talk Steinbrenner out of firing Down.
"I understand that when things don't turn out as well as you would like them to, there's a certain rearranging of furniture you do just for the sake of change," Torre said, adding that he may leave the choice of Down's successor to others. "Unless I have a severe objection, it's easier for me to have someone else make that decision."
Torre hopes pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre comes back, and said third-base coach Willie Randolph and first-base coach Lee Mazzilli are welcome to return.
Stottlemyre said Sunday he felt "personally abused," and decided the team's early season decision to send pitcher Jose Contreras to the minor league complex rather that Triple-A Columbus, overruling the manager and pitching coach.
Stottlemyre, who has talked of retirement after recent seasons, wants to talk to his family before deciding on 2004.
"We certainly want him back, everybody was on board, as far as that goes," Torre said.
In his first comments since immediately after the loss to Florida, Torre said many of the key decisions for 2004 had not been made. It's possible that Bernie Williams could move from center field to left, and that Alfonso Soriano could switch from second base to the outfield.
"Bernie asked me one time this year after he came back from the knee surgery if I was thinking of moving him to left field," Torre said. "I think Bernie's sense is that may be one of our options. We haven't gotten deeply into it."
While Soriano hit .290 during the regular season with 38 homers and 91 RBIs, he slumped badly in the postseason, batting .206 with one homer, nine RBIs and a record 26 strikeouts in 68 at-bats.
"It's a shame that over a week or 10 days or two weeks that we determined this kid didn't have a good year," Torre said, adding that he thought Soriano could develop into a very good second baseman.
"I think in order to put Soriano in the outfield, you have to have a viable alternative to second base, and we don't have that right now."
Torre said the Yankees are "very serious" about re-signing Andy Pettitte, who is eligible for free agency, but said it depends on "how long, how much money?"
Heading into the offseason, Torre's primary concern is the starting rotation.
"Obviously, if we don't have Andy Pettitte, we don't have Roger Clemens, we don't have David Wells, we have to find people to replace those people," he said. "That's the reason we've been successful, that we've been able to pitch better than everybody else."
Clemens is retiring, and the Yankees haven't said whether they'll exercise Wells' $6 million option.
Right now, New York's rotation includes Contreras and Mike Mussina. Jon Leiber spent all of this year recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, and Jeff Weaver could be back despite a year in which he went 7-9 with a 5.99 ERA and gave up the homer that lost Game 4 of the World Series.
Torre attributed Weaver's downfall to the constant rumors he would be replaced in the rotation by Contreras, which did happen.
"He's got a great arm, and I still think he's got a bellyful of guts," Torre said. "I think he can figure prominently in our starting rotation."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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