Torre attempting to reach out to Williams

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees manager Joe Torre is trying to reach Bernie Williams and left the impression that the outfielder would have a chance to make New York's roster if he accepts a minor-league contract and comes to spring training.

"Who knows? That's the one thing about being down here," Torre said Tuesday after his opening staff meeting of training camp. "You don't know. You're going to leave here with the team that you want to go north with."

Torre telephoned Williams last week and again on Tuesday but didn't speak with him. Williams said Friday he was leaning against the Yankees' offer of a minor-league contract.

"I haven't heard back from him. I'd feel better if I was able to talk to him," Torre said. "I want to see what he's thinking."

While Williams' corner locker in the Yankees' Legends Field clubhouse had no name Saturday, he was listed on a roster pinned to the message board. By Tuesday, a new roster had been posted that omitted Williams' name and left his No. 51 open. Late in the morning, a clubhouse attendant moved Jose Veras' belongings into Williams' locker and put Veras' name above it.

Since Torre took over after the 1995 season, Williams has been one of the manager's favorites. Williams helped the Yankees win four World Series titles and six AL pennants and is beloved by fans.

New York hasn't offered Williams a major-league contract because general manager Brian Cashman built a roster that figures to have 12 pitchers; a platoon at first base of Doug Mientkiewicz and either Andy Phillips or Josh Phelps; and Jason Giambi at designated hitter. That leaves no available spots for Williams, who would be the fifth outfielder.

Asked whether he was sad that Williams didn't appear to be in the team's plans, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner indicated he wasn't involved in the decision.

"That's up to Cashman," he said.

Williams, now 38, lost his starting job in center to Johnny Damon last year but saw considerable playing time because of injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield. Williams finished with a .281
average, 12 homers and 61 RBIs in 420 at-bats.

"We'll have to see what we have," Torre said. "Sometimes the best-laid plans aren't the ones that really pan out."

Torre tried to meet with Williams several times during the offseason, but the get-togethers were canceled because of illness or travel plans. While Torre was in Hawaii on vacation, he did speak to Williams by telephone.

"He was a little uncomfortable and disturbed about what was going on," Torre said. "You tend I'm sure to feel slighted."

Cashman, speaking in the clubhouse before Torre, said the offer of a minor-league contract for Williams remained open. Catcher Jorge Posada said he had spoken with Williams and said Williams was still thinking about the Yankees' offer.

"He's got an opportunity to come in," Cashman said. "We'd love to have him. I respect the fact that he's not interested in doing that. Other than that, there's not a whole lot more I can speak to."