Williams not worried about fighting for center

Updated: November 10, 2004, 10:59 PM ET
Associated Press

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Whatever position he winds up playing, Bernie Williams would welcome Carlos Beltran to the New York Yankees.

Beltran is a prime free agent, and the Yankees are expected to pursue him hard. He plays center field, the same spot Williams has held down in the Bronx since 1992.

Recently, Beltran told Houston reporters that Williams offered this season to move aside for him in 2005. On Tuesday night, agent Scott Boras -- who represents both players -- added "that's something they've talked about and dealt with."

On Wednesday, Williams put a slightly different spin on what they said.

"It was kind of like a lighter-tone conversation in-between batting practice," Williams said. "I think he took it as I took it. Kind of like a lighthearted, kind of like in the middle of the battle, 'I admire your skill and it would be good if you came to our team.'

"But I didn't make any big deal out of it and I think, at that time, he didn't make a big deal out of it. I think, at this point, that's all I know," he said.

His comments came on a conference call that was arranged before Boras made his remarks about Beltran and Williams.

"When two friends meet to talk about how the season is going, they say a lot of things. I think having our agent being the same person, there is going to be some talk regarding the future of each individual," Williams said. "I think Scott is going to have a pretty interesting situation on his hands."

Williams, 36, hit .262 in 2004, a career low for a full season, with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs. A five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner, he's had two subpar years by his own admission, slowed by knee problems and an appendectomy, with his defensive ability declining.

Beltran, 27, hit a combined 38 home runs with 104 RBIs, and stole 42 bases while batting .267 for Kansas City and Houston as a first-time All-Star. Playing in the postseason for the first time, he homered in a record five straight games for the Astros.

"To have a guy of that caliber coming to our team is not going to hurt us," Williams said.

Williams played 97 games in center field last season. The Yankees also have Kenny Lofton under contract for another year, with Ruben Sierra and Jason Giambi sharing time at DH. Giambi also plays first base, though health concerns have left his status uncertain.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman figured Williams would still be a key contributor.

"We don't anticipate reducing his role," Cashman said. "He's been in the middle of our championship runs for a long time. He's going to be in the mix."

For now, Williams said he is not concerned about competition in center from Beltran.

"First of all, I wouldn't consider it a fight. Last year, I think there were a lot of things blown out of proportion about me fighting to get my position and stuff like that and I never took it at that," he said. "When the time comes and they want to make a decision, I guess I'll cross that hurdle."

Williams is a lifetime .301 hitter. He holds career records in the postseason with 22 home runs and 79 RBIs, and he came through in the playoffs again last month.

"Next year is going to be a huge year for me. It doesn't really matter what I've done in the past. I think my future is going to depend a lot on my performance," he said. "Whatever the team wants me to do to help the club be a better club, I'm more than willing to do it."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE