Odd man out?
Williams gets camp invite but no guaranteed deal
Posted: Wednesday January 31, 2007 10:48AM; Updated: Wednesday January 31, 2007 1:18PM
Bernie Williams' great Yankees career just might end with a soap opera he didn't bargain for.
SI.com has learned that the Yankees have made Williams a standing offer to come to spring training as a non-guaranteed, nonroster invite. While this wasn't anything close to what he was hoping or looking for, all indications are that he is considering the proposal.
Williams still could decide to retire, too. But the third option, which is to sign a better deal with another team, seems to be out of the question.
Though Williams could have gotten a guaranteed contract elsewhere, people close to him say he considers himself a Yankee and only a Yankee.
But right now he's still grappling with hurt feelings. He sits at home in Westchester County, his pride stinging. He recently told the Westchester Journal News, "When you give a large chunk of your life to a team, it is hard. It's not like I'm a journeyman.''
Williams knows that if he decides to return for what amounts to a tryout, through no fault of his own he becomes the story of spring, superseding returning hero Andy Pettitte, at least until Roger Clemens decides whether to rejoin them. But if Williams retires, he might have regrets about leaving too soon. He was productive last year (.281, 12, 61), maybe more so than the Yankees remember.
New York's current roster plan includes 12 pitchers, three first basemen (generously counting Jason Giambi as a first baseman) and no guaranteed deal for Williams. But don't count him out if he comes to camp. Manager Joe Torre always has been a Williams fan, and while Torre may have slightly diminishing clout, his voice should still count more than the detractors, who wonder how much Williams can contribute in a limited role.
The potential soap opera might have been avoided if only the Yankees continued to give Giambi time at first base. But alas, they have seen the light there. As a first baseman, Giambi makes a terrific DH.
The soap opera might also have been avoided had the Yankees felt that young Andy Phillips was ready to play first base full time. But Phillips had a disappointing first full season offensively, thus prompting the Yankees to sign Doug Mientkiewicz to platoon with him at first.
The Yankees' belief is that Mientkiewicz gives them better flexibility and glovework, and he probably does do that. But Mientkiewicz was terrible offensively as a Met, mediocre as a Royal and definitely is declining faster than Williams.
Mientkiewicz also is recalled as Boston's Ball Hog, who thought he had a right to the 2004 World Series ball simply because he hoarded it afterward. He also drew criticism for being overly talkative with the Mets, considering that he was the worst everyday player on the team. He ripped them as losers on his way to Kansas City (the Mets, incidentally, were on their way to the NLCS).
In what was a pretty good winter, one in which the Yankees improved their future and clubhouse, Mientkiewicz is their one hard-to-understand signing. It's difficult to believe Mientkiewicz is the one who stands in the way of Williams staying a Yankee. But for now, he is.
In any case, Mientkiewicz has a guaranteed contract, so the Yankees will feel obligated to carry him for half a year, at least. But Williams' presence in spring could force the Yankees either to drop Phillips or, more likely, go with only 11 pitchers.
Williams is great in the clubhouse and still pretty good on the field. If Williams takes the Yankees up on their offer, maybe they'd be too embarrassed to cut him. Or maybe they'd just start to remember what Williams still brings something to the team.