Work in Sports
Decisions for a dynasty
Despite victory, 2001 Yankees are sure to have new look
FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- Four titles in five years, an unprecedented feat in this era. But even as the New York Yankees continue to add to their storied legacy, there are changes on the horizon and some of the decisions are sure to be emotional.
The core of this Yankees dynasty is a unique mix of veterans and players in their prime. Veterans like Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Roger Clemens and David Cone have seen their best seasons. Younger players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are in midst of their most productive years.
For most of the last five years, Yankees management, namely former general manager Bob Watson, his successor Brian Cashman, manager Joe Torre and owner George Steinbrenner's brain trust have managed to turn over the roster without upsetting a delicate balance.
During their run the Yankees have replaced Jimmy Key with David Wells, who was traded for Roger Clemens. They have replaced Wade Boggs with Scott Brosius, Mariano Duncan with Chuck Knoblauch. John Wetteland was supplanted by Rivera and Graeme Lloyd was shipped out and Mike Stanton was brought in.
This offseason promises to be no different for the Yankees who must make difficult choices on components ranging from David Cone to Paul O'Neill to Jeff Nelson. Decisions must be made on newly acquired pieces like Jose Canseco, Jose Vizcaino and Glenallen Hill.
"In past years, we've adressed certain situations," Cashman said. "I think it was 1998 as the year went along we signed some people back, and even last year I think we signed someone back during the season. This year we made a choice before the season started that we weren't going to go ahead and try to negotiate during the season if we could avoid it.
"This year's been a grind trying to get our team to the point where it's at, and we're tjust going to concentrate on one thing now and let the winter decisions wait for the winter."
In the past, the Yankees have shown loyalty to the players that have gotten them there. Cone was given a one-year, $12 million thank you last offseason. In light of his 4-14 mark this season, the 37-year-old righthander is sure to be headed for pay cut and his status with the Yankees is definitely unclear.
"As far as next year, down the line, I need to really get away, figure out what happened this year and decide what I might do in the future," Cone said.
O'Neill, who has salvaged an injury-plagued second half and subpar first two rounds of the postseason with a huge World Series, could be the first of the dynasty's cornerstones to leave. The 37-year-old right fielder, who's contract expires with the conclusion of the World Series, plays with enormous passion and vigor and does not seem to be the type of player that will stick around if his body will not allow all-out play.
"I look back at certain times of the year, where it was great," O'Neill said. "And then you look back at times of the year where you struggled and sure, it's frustrating."
"He would certainly be miss if he wasn't here," Torre said.
The Yankees do not have a replacement for O'Neill in right field but the team with the highest payroll in baseball is one of the objects of Cleveland Indians superstar Manny Ramirez's affections. A New York native, Ramirez is an ideal fit with the Bronx Bombers.
Nelson poses another difficult decision. The righthanded setup man had an outstanding first half but struggled after the All-Star break, often locking horns with the usually amicable Torre. His role is a very important one and he will be a hot commodity on the free agent market, possibly even getting the chance to close for some clubs.
Cashman and company must also decide on the futures of its midseason acquisitions. Canseco has an option for the 2001 season but the Yankees are likely not going to pick it up. But if O'Neill retires or departs, Steinbrenner may again eschew the budget and keep Canseco around as the full-time designated hitter.
"It's extremely difficult," Canseco said of his current role with Yankees. "Obviously it is a great thing to be in the World Series but I've been an everyday player for 15 years. I know I've had quite a few injuries but once I'm healthy and get in the lineup I can put pressure on pitchers at the plate or on the bases.
"The team has the decision on my contract, whether they exercise it or not, it's going to be up to the Yankees."
Of course, any decision to keep Canseco is predicated on the fact that Chuck Knoblauch returns to second base. Knoblauch, who made $6 million this season, was banished from the field to the designated hitter's role but the Yankees do not have enough power to survive a whole season like that. Reports of a handshake contract extension between Knoblauch and the club are widespread but this may be the offseason the Yankees decide to fish or cut bait with the enigmatic infielder.
Knoblauch's decision greatly affects Vizcaino, who is a capable second baseman. Vizcaino, 32, could emerge as the everyday player or be shipped out because of his $3.5 million price tag.
"Vizcaino's been great for us in the clubhouse and on the field," Cashman said. "His role's expanded a little bit, obviously more than we expected with what took place during the season with Knoblauch with the injury to the arm."
Joining Vizcaino in the rent -- don't buy -- club is Hill, who carried the Yankees upon his arrival but was little more than a spare part by the time World Series rolled around.
Another player who will have his future in the hands of management is lefhanded starter Denny Neagle, who pitched well in Game 4 of the World Series. But Neagle slumped near the end of the regular season and was openly critical of Torre in the postseason. If the Yankees let Cone go and can not sign a big name starter, he may be retained.
With a payroll that easily clears $100 million, the Yankees can not afford to have $15 million in bench players. Not with Jeter up for arbitration that is sure to net him at least $15 million. Not with Rivera, the best closer in postseason history, also eligible. The Yankees also must decide whether to commit to Martinez for another year or two.
Componding the problem is a farm system that has a number of talented that are ready to break through. Names like D'Angelo Jimenez, Alfonso Soriano, Ed Yarnell and Randy Keisler will have opportunities this spring but also might need one more year of seasoning.
With plenty of attractive free agents in addition to Ramirez, Mussina and Hampton, the Yankees may also look to make a splash with a run at a player like Alex Rodriguez or Juan Gonzalez. Either way, they will retool, even at the expense of few potential broken hearts along the way.
"There are going to be some people missing next year," Torre concluded.
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