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Yanks' offseason focus will be on pitching

10/22/2004 - New York Yankees

NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman's job is safe -- at least for now.
The rest of the New York Yankees have plenty to worry about this
winter.

Soon after the Yankees completed a historic collapse against
Boston in the American League playoffs, volatile owner George Steinbrenner told
Cashman, the team's general manager, that he will not be fired
before next season.

Steinbrenner also informed Cashman he should prepare to be
summoned to Tampa, Fla., for meetings in the next few days: The
star-studded Yankees need to figure out why they fell apart against
the Red Sox after opening a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.

"He wants results for his investment, like any businessman,"
Cashman said Thursday.

Cashman has one year remaining on his contract. It's his job to
spend Steinbrenner's money wisely and bring championships to the
Big Apple, but the Yankees have gone four years without winning the
World Series.

He knows what he needs to look for in the offseason.

"It'll be pitching," Cashman said. "I don't think offense is
a problem on this club."

Despite a $183 million Opening Day payroll, the Yankees were
short on starting pitching all season. When they wanted to add
Randy Johnson during the summer, they didn't have enough major
league-ready prospects to interest Arizona in a trade.

Injuries to the aging rotation forced manager Joe Torre to
overwork his bullpen, leaving the team vulnerable in the playoffs --
even with a seemingly insurmountable lead.

The Red Sox rallied against closer Mariano Rivera in Game 4,
then setup man Tom Gordon in Game 5. Those two games totaled 26
innings in two days, taxing New York's relievers.

Because of a rainout earlier in the series, 39-year-old Kevin Brown wound up starting Game 7 on a balky back and only three days' rest.

He got hammered, as did right-hander Javier Vazquez, who
followed Brown and walked five batters in two innings in Boston's
10-3 blowout.

"Those are the areas we're going to look at, the bullpen and
the rotation," Cashman said. "I thought this past winter was more
difficult. We had a great amount of holes to fill. This winter, we
don't have three guys coming out of the rotation, but we do have
pitching needs, nonetheless."

New York became the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in a
best-of-seven series. The rival Red Sox celebrated right in the
middle of Yankee Stadium, a most humiliating moment for such a
storied franchise.

The offense was not without fault, though some of the team's
best hitters did get off to a great start. After a 19-8 victory at
Fenway Park in Game 3, New York failed to come through in the
clutch time and time again. Gary Sheffield was 1-for-17 in the
final four games. Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-17.

"When a guy is hitting .640 for the first few games of a
series, he's probably not going to hit .640 for the whole series.
This isn't Little League," said batting coach Don Mattingly, who
said he would like to return next season if the organization wants
him back.

"Those are the games I look back on, that we left some guys out
there. We got a little bit out of our game plan," he said.

Help is probably on the way. The Yankees are said to be
extremely interested in Carlos Beltran, the multitalented center
fielder who is having a huge postseason with the Houston Astros.

Beltran can become a free agent after the World Series, and the
Yankees are probably one of the few teams that can afford him. If
he winds up in New York, Bernie Williams could become a full-time
designated hitter.

The Yankees also expect slugger Jason Giambi to be completely
healthy by spring training.

The free-agent market for starting pitchers includes Pedro Martinez, but it's hard to imagine him going from the Red Sox to
the Yankees. There's too much ugly history there. Derek Lowe could
also be available -- he was the winner in Game 7 on Wednesday night.

Other interesting names include Florida's Carl Pavano, Atlanta's
Russ Ortiz, St. Louis' Matt Morris, and Matt Clement of the Cubs.

The free-spending Yankees are sure to add somebody.

"There's a lot of names, but I've got to dig now into the
scouting reports," Cashman said. "I feel I know how to do this
job. I feel I do a good job."

Bench coach Willie Randolph could be headed across town. He is
scheduled to interview Monday with new Mets general manager Omar
Minaya for their manager's job.