Not every free agent who was at Yankee Stadium Thursday wanted to talk about his future. General Manager Brian Cashman, for one, has been silent since the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs on Monday in Anaheim, California.
Cashman's contract expires Oct. 31, and if he were packing up his things to leave town, he did it out of the sight of reporters. In the home clubhouse, Tino Martinez and Tom Gordon packed up boxes, perhaps signifying an end to their tenures with the team.
Martinez, the first baseman, said that he wanted to return. But Gordon, the setup man, said he would seek opportunities to be a closer elsewhere. Martinez and Gordon are among nine potential free agents on the postseason roster.
Joe Torre, the manager, is not a free agent; he is signed for two more years, at US$13 million. Torre had promised to answer questions about his strained relationship with the principal owner George Steinbrenner after the season, but he has not talked.
The Yankee who has made the most significant comments is Mel Stottlemyre, the departing pitching coach, who expressed his frustration with Steinbrenner's Tampa, Florida, front office Wednesday.
Steinbrenner would not fire back Thursday, issuing a statement through the Yankees' media-relations department wishing Stottlemyre and his wife well.
"Mel Stottlemyre will always be a Yankee," the statement said. "When I purchased the ball club more than 30 years ago, he was one of the team's true stars and leaders and, during his 10 seasons as pitching coach, we won six American League pennants and four world championships.
"While it is no secret that I can be a very difficult boss, Mel has always conducted himself as a professional and a gentleman. I wish he and Jean much success and happiness in the future."
Stottlemyre's departure will remove another of Torre's top lieutenants. Stottlemyre said Wednesday that Torre had done his best work this season, and Martinez, who has played seven years under Torre, also praised him.
"I love Joe Torre," Martinez said. "I think he deserves to stay here and finish his contract or whatever he wants to do. Joe will be the first to tell you it's the Yankees, and they're not afraid to make changes if they have to, but he definitely deserves to be here.
"I think Joe does a great job handling everything from the front office to the media and everything. I don't know if anybody can do as well as he does."
Gordon credited Torre and Stottlemyre with steering the Yankees to the AL East title despite a poor start and major turnover on the roster. "Mel worked very well with the veterans as well as the young guys," Gordon said. "We could have been down in the dumps, but we could count on Mel and Joe to keep us together."
Starter Jaret Wright, who thrived in Atlanta under the longtime Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, was asked if he thought Mazzone would be a good replacement for Stottlemyre. Wright, who turned around his career with Mazzone's guidance, said Mazzone would be.
"When I was in Atlanta, Leo did a good job," Wright said. "He helped me out a lot, and he's done that for a lot of years with a lot of guys. He's a professional, also. I think he could do a good job."
Wright endorsed the Yankees' policy of relying on Billy Connors, Steinbrenner's confidant and pitching specialist in Tampa. Wright worked closely with Connors and the Yankees' trainers after sustaining a shoulder injury in late April, and he returned by mid-August.
"I didn't see that side," Wright said, referring to the friction between Tampa and New York. "I thought the work that I got in down there with the guys and the training staff was plenty, and the attention that you get was great. We would talk with Mel down there and find out where you're at. I thought it went well for me."
Wright is one of seven starters the Yankees have contractual rights to retain, joining Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Chien-Ming Wang, Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. The Yankees' bigger questions are in the bullpen, and replacing Gordon will be important.
Gordon, who worked more games over consecutive seasons, 159, than any pitcher in Yankees history, did not rule out a return. But he made it clear that his priority was to become a closer again. He has 116 career saves and once converted 54 chances in a row.
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