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Grim offseason likely awaits Yanks

10/28/2003 - New York Yankees

NEW YORK -- Is it a meeting or a court-martial? A review of a failed World Series, or a swinging-light bulb-in-the face interrogation?

Choose your setting, but the engines that drive George Steinbrenner's impatience are already revving. Less than 48 hours after Josh Beckett nuked the Yankees in Game 6, GM Brian Cashman and Joe Torre were both summoned to Tampa, the official start of what promises to be a busy, if not bitter, offseason.

The fact that Steinbrenner has assembled his staff so soon suggests how disturbed he was at losing to a $50 million wild-card team. And Torre's forced presence underscores the belief that everyone in the organization -- even the bullet-proof manager -- is being held accountable.

The roster of those on the hot seat includes: super scout Gene Michael, president Randy Levine, COO Lonn Trost, VP of player personnel Billy Connors and VP of baseball operations Gordon Blakeley.

Among the changes the Yankees are contemplating are trading Alfonso Soriano and deciding which free agent outfielder to pursue, with Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield at the top of the list. Steinbrenner also will be seeking at least two new coaches because Don Zimmer already has quit and it's widely assumed hitting instructor Rick Down will be dismissed, as well.

But, most significantly, Yankee senior officials believe neither Torre nor Cashman is in danger of losing his job. The fact that Cashman was even invited signifies he's still in the inner circle, although he'll probably be reprimanded.

As spiteful as the Boss might become, he's not alone in viewing this October as a failure. Derek Jeter told reporters on Monday: "There's no way you can rate losing. You either lose or you win. It's not like we lost less this time. Win or lose, it's pretty much black and white. You can't have a 'more successful' losing season."

For the past three days, the Bombers have straggled into the clubhouse, collecting their belongings, packing away the leftover images from Game 6. As Andy Pettitte put it, "to come as close as we did and not win it, that hurts."

Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre agreed, saying: "I'm kind of numb. When I woke up, I had to slap myself in the face to realize we don't have a game today. It was kind of a shock, or aftershock."

That sentiment was shared by Cashman, too. Despite taking the Yankees to their fifth pennant in six years, the GM has gone three consecutive Octobers without a world championship -- which, in Steinbrenner-time, is an eternity. Perhaps that explains why, in the moments after Florida's 2-0 victory, Cashman was so grim answering questions about his job security.

"All of us are under pressure all the time here," he said. "I don't see how much more pressure there could be. Whatever it is, I'll be able to deal with it."

The organizational restlessness will be at the core of the winter-makeover. But before the Yankees add new bodies, Steinbrenner must first decide how much more he's willing to invest above this year's $185 million. The Yankees could easily zoom past $200 million if they seek help in the outfield and starting rotation through free agency, especially if Pettitte defects to the Rangers or Astros.

As it stands, Roger Clemens is retiring, and David Wells ended his association with the Yankees. Wells might have even finished his career, by surrendering the ball after one inning in Game 5. Boomer's back problems appear to be that critical.

If Pettitte moves on, the Yankees will be left with only Mussina, Jose Contreras and Jeff Weaver -- and even that's a stretch. Considering Weaver's continuing failure in pinstripes, including giving up the decisive home run to Alex Gonzalez in Game 4, other GMs are convinced Cashman will have no choice but to trade Weaver this winter.

"The only thing left for (Cashman) to decide is how much of that salary he's going to pay," said an industry peer, referring to the $15.5 million Weaver is owed through 2005.

Of course, the Yankees' best-case scenario includes not only Pettitte's return but also a full recovery from Jon Lieber, who underwent reconstructive surgery on his elbow a year ago and might be ready for 2004. But they'll still need help. The possible candidates are Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon via free agency, and they'd love to have Montreal's Javier Vazquez in a trade -- if only there was a way not to trade Nick Johnson.

Defense is a problem, too. Jason Giambi's deteriorating left knee will soon turn him into a full-time DH, if he isn't already, which might be reason enough to keep Johnson. Soriano caused the Yankees enough grief for Torre to bench him to start Game 5 and then, shockingly, use him in right field in the eighth inning.

But perhaps Soriano's debut was a sneak preview for 2004, which is when some believe the skittish second baseman will begin a new career in the outfield. Indeed, the Yankees wonder if Soriano's .227 average in the Series, with just one extra-base hit in 22 at-bats, was due in part to his anxiety in the field.

The outfield's make-over could also include Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui flip-flopping in center and left. Another plan is to simply trade Soriano for a starting pitcher and pursue Guerrero or Sheffield.

The Yankees must also decide what to do with Aaron Boone. With one swing in the ALCS, Boone became this generation's Bucky Dent, but confounded Yankee officials with a .143 average against the Marlins.

The Yankees say they're committed to Boone -- largely because they traded left-handed pitching prospect Brandon Claussen to get him. But privately, club officials concede they need an upgrade next year, perhaps with Mike Lowell. That would mean non-tendering Boone this winter and forcing the Yankees to admit they literally gave Claussen away to the Reds for free.

It'd be a terrible blow to the Yankees' corporate pride. Then again, nothing stung more than watching the Marlins celebrate a world championship in the Bombers' own ballpark Saturday night. It'll be a long time before that image fades from Steinbrenner's memory bank.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.