Top Yankees decision-makers are believed to have discussed different scenarios under which Joe Torre could possibly return for a 13th season when they gathered again Wednesday in Tampa, Fla., perhaps signaling a softening in the tough stance club owner George Steinbrenner enunciated regarding Torre in his rare interview 11 days ago.
While Torre was declared to be "probably" a goner by Steinbrenner in that interview with the Bergen Record, it is believed Torre has a chance to return now, especially if he agrees to certain conditions. It is unclear what those conditions may be, but presumably they could include the length and dollar amount of a new contract. It is also unknown what Torre's appetite for a diminished or constricted deal may be.
Yankees higher-ups involved in meetings regarding Torre over the last two days declined to divulge specifics of their discussion. But one person familiar with what went on termed a return to the Yankees "50-50'' for Torre. Torre's status may, of course, also depend on what conditions he'd agree to, and that wasn't even believed known by Yankees people yet. Torre made $7 million in 2007 in the final year of a three-year contract, about double what the next highest-paid manager was paid.
While Yankees general Brian Cashman told reporters that the Yankees weren't currently talking to Torre, it was believed that third-party discussions may take place soon, if they haven't begun already. Depending on Torre's signals, the Yankees might eschew Steinbrenner's original stance and embrace Torre.
Steinbrenner told the Record on Oct. 6 that Torre would "probably'' be let go if he didn't get past the Indians in the Division Series, and it is believed those comments reflected Steinbrenner's true thinking at the time, as well as the belief of some other Yankees officials. So when the Yankees made it three straight first-round exits the next day, it was generally presumed that he had just managed his final game in pinstripes, and even Torre sounded like he knew he was a goner at the Game 4 postgame press conference.
Nothing's been decided yet, but it's a positive sign for Torre that the discussions over the two days in Tampa were said to have centered on him, not on potential replacements. People close to the situation said the it could still take another "two to three days'' to resolve itself, which could also be plus for Torre, as a delay makes sense if back-channel negotiations are needed. Cashman did not return calls, but on his way out of Tampa he noted that it takes a while to decide to bring someone back and a while to negotiate a return as well. It isn't know whether that comment was meant as an exact reflection of what was going on.
As laid out by one person familiar with the discussions, the three possibilities for Torre are 1.) Torre being let go; 2.) Torre being brought back under a business-as-usual arrangement; and 3.) Torre being brought back only under certain conditions.
It isn't known how Torre would respond to less favorable contract terms. But it is believed that he loves his job. He hinted a few times during the season that he'd like to return, and it's hard to imagine him walking away unless the team makes the conditions oppressive and/or unreasonable.
The postponed timetable for a decision to two or three days from now for a decision suggests there may be a continuing discussion of possible conditions. It isn't certain whether even the Yankees have a consensus on the conditions. But it would appear unlikely that Torre would keep his current pay, which is about double what Lou Piniella makes, even if he stays. It isn't known whether they might even suggest to Torre, 67, that he agree on a prearranged point to step down and hand the reins over to someone, possibly Don Mattingly, the most likely successor.
Meanwhile, Ray Schulte, the agent for Mattingly, said late Wednesday that they hadn't heard anything from the Yankees yet. "It isn't like the old days, where you'd hear something rignt away,'' Schulte noted.
Mattingly, a protégé of Torre who's credited Torre with teaching him what he knows but remains interested in the job, is a favorite of Steinbrenner's. Ex-Yankee Joe Girardi, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, ex-Mets manager and current Chiba Lotte manager Bobby Valentine and current Yankees coach Tony Pena also could be viewed as potentially strong candidates.
This is the second straight year Steinbrenner appeared to be leaning toward making a change at manager. But this time, Torre appeared to be in even greater danger of losing his job, as his contract is expiring and his front-office support seems somewhat less solid. Torre's handling of the bullpen has come under criticism by folks within the Yankees hierarchy, from Steinbrenner on down.
This time, an outpouring of support from fans, most media and players followed Steinbrenner's harsh public assessment and the Yankees' quick exit. While the four-game defeat to Cleveland marked their fourth straight playoff series loss and their seventh straight season failing to meet their mission statement of winning the World Series, the type of public support Torre received was unprecedented. A few of the players who praised Torre are free agents, including Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, whom the Yankees would like to bring back.
However, Yankees people have said they wouldn't be affected by the opinion of players, whom they see as being close to obligated to say nice things.
"All we're worried about is the process of making sure that we come to the right decision. When we do, we'll get everybody involved," Cashman said before leaving Legends Field and heading to the Tampa airport.
Steinbrenner arrived just before 1 p.m. but did not comment as he entered Legends Field, the meeting place and spring-training Yankees park.
Cashman also reiterated that the Yankees are maintaining their position that they will not negotiate with Alex Rodriguez if he terminates his 10-year, $252 million contract, as he's allowed. Rodriguez, who has three seasons left on the deal for $91 million, must decide whether to opt out of his deal by the 10th day following the World Series. "I can reaffirm that if Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, then we will not participate in free agency," Cashman said.