NEW YORK -- If George Steinbrenner decides to blame Joe Torre for the Yankees' awful start and fire him, Steinbrenner's first choice to replace Torre would be Don Mattingly, SI.com has learned.
Steinbrenner is said by industry sources to be "really upset" and "extremely frustrated" by the Yankees' 9-13 beginning and is apparently weighing a change or two, including even the possible ouster of Torre, the Yankees' manager since 1996 and winner of four World Series rings. Steinbrenner isn't nearly as impetuous as he was in the '80s, and Torre still seems more likely than not to keep his job for now.
Torre didn't hurt himself when the Yankees beat the arch rival Boston Red Sox 3-1 on Saturday. A sweep at the hands of Boston could have made Torre's status more tenuous, and one person with knowledge of the situation said he thought Torre would likely keep his job for now unless the team "lost ugly" Sunday vs. Boston.
If Torre pays for the Yankees' bad beginning, word is that Steinbrenner would name Mattingly in part because of his strong relationship with the Yankees icon, who is also well-liked throughout the organization. Mattingly was moved from hitting coach to bench coach in what was seen as an elevation last winter, as well as a chance to apprentice under Torre.
As it turns out, if the Yankees continue to flounder, it could be a shorter than expected apprenticeship for Mattingly.
Torre has become a target of Steinbrenner again for several perceived offenses, which are believed to include the utilization of the willing but brittle Andy Pettitte in relief and the overall overuse of certain bullpen members. Torre, in the last year of a $19-million, three-year contract, has chosen to go to the bullpen a lot, some out of necessity, as the Yankees have the only starting rotation in baseball averaging less than five innings per stat.
This year, for perhaps the first time in his storied ownership reign, Steinbrenner put the majority of power in the hands of his general manager Brian Cashman, and manager. But now he's considering taking back that power. The historic team's surprisingly dreadful first four weeks, marked by a near-epidemic of pitching injuries and uninspired play, has Steinbrenner considering a change or two. And these changes would be his choices, not Cashman's.
While Torre is clearly under the gun, Cashman's job is said to be safe. However, Cashman is no longer in a position to save Torre. If there's a managerial change in the coming days, that will be the first tipoff that Cashman's power has been diminished.
Some of Steinbrenner's baseball people might actually prefer Joe Girardi to replace Torre. But this will surely be Steinbrenner's call. Girardi was National League Manager of the Year last season before being fired by the Florida Marlins and is currently working as a YES Network analyst. Girardi is considered a great baseball man by Yankees people, but the breakdown in his relationship with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria may make Steinbrenner leery.
One thing Steinbrenner would prefer is a more manageable manager, and it's possible he feels Mattingly would fit that description better than Girardi.
Steinbrenner considered firing Torre after the team's quick playoff exit last October, but Cashman and the soon-to-be-deposed team chairman Steve Swindal led a front office move to sway Steinbrenner into bringing back Torre for his 12th season as Yankees manager.