Originally created 11/06/01

Yankees prepare for major changes after Series loss



PHOENIX -- Paul O'Neill walked through a somber New York Yankees clubhouse and said his goodbyes.

He hugged Roger Clemens, talked to other teammates and delivered a message to rookie Nick Johnson: "You have to carry it on."

For the first time since the end of the 1992 season, O'Neill won't be there for the Yankees patrolling right field, hitting line drives and throwing his equipment. Instead, the heart and soul of the Yankees will be enjoying retirement at home in Ohio.

He's not alone. The great Yankees dynasty that was denied a fourth straight World Series title by Arizona's improbable Game 7 comeback is headed for what could be its biggest overhaul since it started in 1996.

Luis Sojo, who along with O'Neill is one of the seven Yankees who played on all four title teams, also is retiring. Fellow four-time winner Tino Martinez is eligible for free agency, as are Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch, who have been around for three championships.

"We haven't even had five minutes to process this stuff yet," Brosius said. "We'll let that stuff play itself out."

The Yankees haven't faced so many difficult decisions in one winter since 1995, when Don Mattingly, Buck Showalter, Jack McDowell, Randy Velarde and Mike Stanley all left after a first-round loss to Seattle.

But with George Steinbrenner's millions, a strong core led by Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, three outstanding starting pitchers and a talented farm system highlighted by Johnson, the Yankees aren't going anywhere.

"We'll be back," Steinbrenner said. "Mark that down. We'll be back."

The Yankees don't dwell on losses long. Steinbrenner said planning for 2002 would begin as soon as the team returned to New York.

"I'm not a good loser," Steinbrenner said. "I believe in what Ernest Hemingway said: 'The way you get to be a good loser is practice and I don't want to practice."'

Several of the Yankees, including Jeter and Jorge Posada, sat in the dugout after Luis Gonzalez's game-winning hit off Rivera, watching the Diamondbacks' celebration and getting motivation for next year.

"You want to get back there," Posada said. "That's why you watch. You feel good for them, but it's tough to take."

The first move of the offseason will be finalizing new contracts for general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre.

"George and I have talked enough and I think we are both sort of in agreement that we both want to keep this thing going on," Torre said last week when his contract expired.

Then the attention will turn to the free agents.

The World Series' loss in which the Yankees scored just 14 runs in seven games highlighted the need for an improved offense, especially at the corners.

"We've done some pretty good things together over the last few years," Jeter said. "You don't know what's going to happen, but you know we've worked hard together."

New York has been grooming replacements for Martinez and Brosius.

Johnson has been one of the Yankees' coveted prospects in recent years and is ready to take over first base next year. There's also talk that New York might want to sign Oakland's Jason Giambi, eligible for free agency this offseason, and he could be a designated hitter.

Drew Henson might be a year away at third base as he makes the transition from football to baseball. Velarde could be a stopgap, the Yankees could trade for an established player or re-sign Brosius for one year.

Knoblauch's situation might be a bit trickier. It is thought that at the time he was traded from Minnesota to the Yankees in 1998, New York agreed to an $18 million, two-year contract extension - a deal that has never been formalized.

"I obviously still want to be a Yankee," Knoblauch said. "It won't be my decision, really. If it was, I'd be staying here."

But the Yankees would like more production out of left field than they've gotten from Knoblauch, and might want to make a change.

Oakland's Johnny Damon will be a free agent and would fill Knoblauch's spot at the top of the lineup perfectly.

"We'll look at every player individually when this ends," Cashman said. "We'll go through and figure out what gives us the best opportunity to win next year and beyond. That is the only factor."