NEW YORK (AP) – Joe Torre was absent Sunday. Alex Rodriguez, too. And the New York Yankees made no announcement about changing managers.
While several players and coaches packed up in a quiet clubhouse, Day 1 of what figures to be a wild offseason in Yankeeland provided few definitive answers.
Torre still has his job – for now. Hours after New York was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs again, the Daily News reported Sunday that demanding owner George Steinbrenner was likely to fire his longtime manager and replace him with old favorite Lou Piniella.
The Boss issued a pointed statement, calling the result “absolutely not acceptable” and “a sad failure.” But he had not yet consulted with Yankees executives about any change, at least not yet, a baseball official said Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity because no statements other than Steinbrenner’s were authorized.
Piniella, in San Francisco while preparing to call the AL championship series on FOX, told the network he hadn’t talked to the Yankees and was “stunned” by the report.
“We have heard from absolutely no one from the Yankees’ organization, so as far as we’re concerned, it’s all speculation,” said Piniella’s agent, Alan Nero. “Lou is seriously considering the four jobs that are open.”
Torre’s fate, however, is far from the only big question facing the $200 million Yankees after they lost the AL division series to Detroit on Saturday. There also is speculation the team would like to get rid of Rodriguez, a postseason bust again this October.
The two-time MVP, owed $66.6 million by the Yankees over the final four years of his record $252 million contract (after accounting for $28.4 million Texas is paying New York), went 1-for-14 during the four-game loss to the Tigers. He was dropped to eighth in the batting order for the first time in a decade Saturday, when an 8-3 defeat ended New York’s season, and is 3-for-29 (.103) in his past two playoff series.
That makes Rodriguez 4-for-41 (.098) without an RBI in his last 12 postseason games – and he is yet to reach the World Series.
During A-Rod’s three seasons in New York, the Yankees have squandered a 3-0 cushion against rival Boston in the 2004 AL championship series, and lost in the opening round of the playoffs the past two years.
By now, maybe the Yankees have seen enough.
The third baseman has had more than his share of public-relations problems lately, which his teammates are asked about. Perhaps the Yankees are beginning to think that’s a distraction.
Either way, it doesn’t sound as though A-Rod is particularly popular in his own clubhouse.
But if the Yankees want to ship him out of town, Rodriguez would have to waive his no-trade clause for a deal to be completed.
He has said he doesn’t want to do that, saying he is “100 percent committed to being a Yankee” and he thinks he can be “part of the solution.”
Several other teams would probably be interested, though, especially if New York agreed to pick up part of the tab on the rest of his contract. After all, the 31-year-old Rodriguez is still one of the most talented players in baseball. He hit .290 with 35 homers and 121 RBIs this season – and that was a down year.
Perhaps he could flourish under October pressure in another city.
But make no mistake, the Yankees wouldn’t just give him away. They would certainly want something valuable in return, and most teams are hesitant to hand over pitchers – whether they’re proven winners or promising youngsters.
Rodriguez wasn’t the only star on a star-laden team that struggled mightily against the Tigers – and there could be plenty of changes in the Bronx before next season. Gary Sheffield, Mike Mussina and Bernie Williams could all become free agents.
As for Torre, he has guided the Yankees to the playoffs in all 11 seasons of his tenure – including nine straight AL East titles.
But after winning four World Series championships from 1996-2000, New York has come up empty since. And the Yankees have been knocked out in the first round three of the last five years.
Pitching coach Ron Guidry and first base coach Tony Pena defended Torre, saying he did an outstanding job this year throughout a trying season. Three All-Stars missed extensive time with injuries: Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano.
The 66-year-old Torre has one year and $7 million left on his contract.
“To find anybody to manage this ballclub the way Joe Torre has the last 10 years would be very, very hard,” Pena said. “There’s no way you can find anybody that can replace him.”
Maybe Steinbrenner, 76 and desperate to win another championship, will finally disagree. He specifically had spokesman Howard Rubenstein change the wording in his statement from “not acceptable” to “absolutely not acceptable” about 90 minutes after it was first issued.
“I am deeply disappointed at our being eliminated so early in the playoffs,” Steinbrenner said. “This result is absolutely not acceptable to me nor to our great and loyal Yankee fans. I want to congratulate the Detroit Tigers organization and wish them well. Rest assured, we will go back to work immediately and try to right this sad failure and provide a championship for the Yankees, as is our goal every year.”
Yankees players still sounded a little stunned by the loss.
“I think we got taken by surprise. I think we got matched up with a team that was a little more ready to play than we were,” said pitcher Cory Lidle, who also can become a free agent.
Or, as Guidry put it: “We really had a better team than we showed.”
The 63-year-old Piniella is a former Yankees star and managed them in 1986-87 and for most of 1988. He guided Cincinnati to the 1990 World Series title and later managed Seattle and Tampa Bay.
The Chicago Cubs, San Francisco, Texas and Washington have open manager’s jobs.
“I’ve been talking to all four. We’re in different stages with each one of them,” Nero said. “In the meantime, Lou and I are not thinking about the Yankees and we would never disrespect Joe or the Yankees by joining in on the speculation. That’s the furthest thing from our minds right now.”