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Torre responds to recent acquisitions

NEW YORK -- Joe Torre looks at the Boston Red Sox and
realizes the New York Yankees aren't automatic favorites to win the
AL East.

"Let's put it this way," he said Wednesday. "If we were
better than them last year by a very narrow margin, they certainly
have caught up at the very least because of their pitching moves."

Speaking at the news conference to announce Gary Sheffield's $39
million, three-year contract, Torre for the first time assessed
Andy Pettitte's departure last week and the acquisitions of Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez.

New York also is watching the Red Sox, who traded for Curt Schilling, signed Keith Foulke and are trying to acquire AL MVP
Alex Rodriguez.

"The pitching thing concerns me more than anything," Torre
said. "They got Schilling and they got Foulke. This is an area
that we've always been able to be better than them over the eight
years I've been here."

The Yankees have won six straight division titles, with Boston
finishing second each year.

"That is the greatest rivalry in sports, and it's getting even
better," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said Wednesday night,
adding that he didn't think the Red Sox would be able to acquire
A-Rod.

"But if I had Nomar," Steinbrenner added, "I wouldn't trade
him because of how much he means to that team and that city."

New York won this year's season series 10-9, then took the AL
championship series on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning homer in Game 7.

"I hope they are the favorite. There's enough pressure dealing
with this," Torre said. "Let's admit it, though, when you work
for George Steinbrenner, whether you're the favorite or you're not
the favorite, you're expected to win."

Sheffield, 35, was signed to play right field. The nephew of
Yankees minor league coach Dwight Gooden, he hit .330 for Atlanta
last season with 39 homers and a career-high 132 RBIs.

Sheffield will get $13 million in each of the next three
seasons, with $4.5 million a year deferred without interest. New
York gets a $13 million option for 2007, and if it's exercised,
Sheffield gets the deferred money in 12 $1.5 million payments from
2008 to 2019.

He knows the first time he goes into a slump, Steinbrenner will
criticize him in the newspapers and on the airwaves.

"He already told me that's going to happen," Sheffield said.
"I understand he wants to win and I want to win. I don't think he
can say anything bad to me that I have not said to myself."

Torre understands next year's team will be different. Pettitte's
decision to sign with Houston didn't surprise him.

"When it got to the point of where it did, I think the longer
it went, the less chance he was going to be here," Torre said.

He spoke fondly of Pettitte -- "Andy, he did so much leading
without knowing he was leading." -- but never thought about trying
to persuade the pitcher to return.

"He didn't need for me to tell him, 'I want you to come
back,"' Torre said. "Andy's a very caring person, and I didn't
want to put any more strain on him than I'm sure he was
experiencing from home and from inside himself."

Vazquez, acquired from Montreal for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera
and Randy Choate, started negotiations for a long-term contract
Wednesday. His agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, would like a
four-year deal.

Torre worries about Brown, who will be 39 in March.

"Brown is a big question mark," the manager said. "I don't
question his ability or his desire. It's just being able to stay
healthy, which he had trouble doing before this year."

Brown has a reputation for surliness and Sheffield for
moodiness. Torre didn't sound worried.

"I certainly don't think it's fair to the players that we're
getting to all of a sudden put a wary eye out that you have to
concern yourself every step of the way," he said. "I'm going to
look at it: `This is the New York Yankees, come on in here, this is
what we do and this is how we play.' And then if something doesn't
fit, then we adjust."

With the signing of Kenny Lofton, which still hasn't been
finalized, Torre thinks he'll have more speed. Torre has spoken
with longtime center fielder Bernie Williams, who will compete
during spring training to hold his spot and avoid a move to
designated hitter.

"I'm going to put the best team on the field when we leave
spring training. Nobody dictates that part of my job to me," he
said. "To me, that's what spring training is all about, trying to
decide on which way your team is better. Competition, it's a nice
problem I have."

While he likes the makeup of the team, there will be more
unfamiliar faces when spring training opens in mid-February.

"Talent doesn't always translate into winning more," he said.
"To me, it's more about people than it is about ability."

Notes: Torre's contract expires at the end of next season and he
won't discuss an extension. "If I decide in July or August it's
still fun and I want to continue doing it, I'm still waiting until
after the season."