Torre responds to recent acquisitions

Updated: December 18, 2003, 11:33 AM ET
Associated Press

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."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press