Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Torre thinks he'll want to manage after '07
TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Torre sat behind the manager's desk, and George Steinbrenner was surrounded by cameras as he limped down the tunnel outside the clubhouse at Legends Field. The Yankees were back in business Tuesday, opening spring training after another of their typically tumultuous offseasons.
After Detroit eliminated the Yankees in the first round of last year's playoffs, Torre wasn't sure he'd be allowed to return for a 12th season as manager. But Steinbrenner was persuaded to keep him on for the final season of his contract, and Torre sounded open to managing beyond 2007.
"I don't know yet. The way I feel now, I say yes," he said. "It's exciting. I'm looking forward to it. Every year is different, and that's what I think keeps it stimulating."
Torre will earn $7.5 million the final season of a three-year deal that paid him $6.7 million in each of the previous two years.
"Is there pressure on me because I don't have a contract?" he asked out loud. "No more pressure, my mind, than there always is, as far as I'm concerned."
He led the Yankees to four World Series titles in his first five seasons, but they haven't won one since 2000. They haven't even been to the Series since 2003, a failing that dwarfs their accomplishment of nine consecutive AL East titles.
In a job in which the only total that counts is World Series championships, Torre realizes he has no "safety net." Still, he has not concerned himself with asking Steinbrenner or general manager Brian Cashman for an extension.
"I have not talked about it. I have not inquired about it," he said. "I think I'd probably know during the year if it's as much fun as I hope it's going to be or I expect it to be."
The 66-year-old New Yorker with the weathered face -- who has earned a spot alongside Joe McCarthy, Miller Huggins and Casey Stengel as the team's most successful managers -- still sounds bewildered when thinking back to what happened last October, when camera crews camped outside his house in suburban Westchester. He knows Cashman is his biggest ally.
"I think Cash was a big reason why I'm still here right now," Torre said.
During a 34-minute talk with reporters two days before the opening workout, he addressed all the usual concerns of Yankees fans: the status of Bernie Williams, who hasn't accepted the team's offer of a minor-league contract; the tumult surrounding his decision to drop Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order during the final game of the playoff loss to Detroit; and the need for Carl Pavano to gain the confidence of his teammates. Torre said he plans on limiting Mariano Rivera, whose elbow was tender late last season, to the ninth inning.
Before dropping in on the latter stages of Torre's 5½-hour staff meeting, Steinbrenner walked from the lobby to the clubhouse, almost like a perp walk past cameras. Dressed in a striped shirt and Yankees windbreaker, he favored a knee, looked pale and gave short answers to questions -- his longest reply was five words.
• Asked whether he was saddened by Williams' absence: "That's up to Cashman."
• What were his thoughts on 2007? "We're trying for it."
• Does Torre have to "win it" this year? "No."
• What does he expect from the team? "We're going to do well."
• Does he feel good about the team? "Yeah, sure."
• Is it good to have Andy Pettitte back? "It's great having him back."
Torre said he'd been trying to contact Williams, who hasn't accepted the Yankees' offer of a minor-league contract. Torre sounded open to the possibility of the outfielder playing his way back onto the team during spring training.
"Who knows? That's the one thing about being down here," Torre said. "You don't know. You're going to leave here with the team that you want to go north with."
A few minutes earlier, Cashman talked about Rivera. On Monday, the All-Star closer said he would wait for the Yankees to come to him about a contract extension. Rivera, who rarely says anything controversial, is eligible for free agency after the season and he said "if they don't give the respect that I deserve, I have to move on."
"Mo knows how we feel about him. We care a great deal about him. He's been a great Yankee," Cashman said. "Obviously there's a contract in place that we worked out a while before. Let me talk to him first. In theory I would always prefer to wait. Right now I want to concentrate on '07 and worry about '08 at another time. When that time will be, that would be between me and Mo."
Torre later recounted a story about Rodriguez, who didn't drive in a run in the series against Detroit and is 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 postseason games dating to 2004.
"I went to my daughter's soccer game one day and the opposing team, one of the kids came over and asked about him batting eighth," Torre said.
"Alex has that aura about him, that he needs to be what I'm not sure anybody can be on a regular basis," Torre said before adding that A-Rod's lack of success in the postseason "weighs heavy on him."
Torre expects Pavano, who has been sidelined by a series of ailments since June 2005, will be a part of the starting rotation. He does think the pitcher must reconnect with his teammates.
"To me, you can't get commitment unless you get trust, and I think it's something you have to earn," Torre said. "You earn it by being reliable and, as I say, being there on an everyday basis for your teammates to feel your support."