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NOTES

NY disharmony loud and unclear

In the end, the Yankees probably will match the Red Sox move for move, though it's hard to imagine a counterpunch that could equal the magnitude of a trade for arguably the best player in baseball, Alex Rodriguez, should the Sox pull it off. The Bombers have reinforced their bullpen, added some quality arms in their rotation, and if the Gary Sheffield deal falls apart, will undoubtedly make a grab for Vladi Guerrero, a process that might already be under way.

 

But if the reports emanating from Gotham are to be believed, while the Sox have been following their offseason plans with military-like precision, the Yankees have been displaying an institutional dysfunction in which owner George Steinbrenner is operating at his megalomaniacal worst.

Gene Michael, one of the shrewdest baseball minds in the Yankee organization, told Jack Curry of the New York Times that no one even asked him his opinion on a trade for pitcher Kevin Brown, a deal that was finalized yesterday, the signing of Sheffield, or a proposed deal for center fielder Kenny Lofton.

"If you ask me if they've contacted me about anything, I'll say they haven't," Michael told Curry. "That's all I can say."

Steinbrenner forbade general manager Brian Cashman from attending the winter meetings in New Orleans, and also canceled the trip of another key adviser, vice president Damon Oppenheimer. The Sheffield deal was placed in jeopardy by some bungling by the Boss that Sheffield detailed in a published report, which reportedly so annoyed Steinbrenner he was ready to call off the whole deal.

This past week, the Yankees lost elegant lefthander Andy Pettitte, the winner of so many huge games, to his hometown team, the Houston Astros, in part, it appears, because Pettitte did not feel enough love from the Yankees in their pursuit of him. On top of that, they are faced with a scenario that once seemed far-fetched but now appears to have a long-shot chance of unfolding: Roger Clemens cutting short his retirement before it even began in order to join his good buddy Pettitte in hometown Houston.

That possibility provoked a public exchange at least as heated as the one that recently took place between Sox owner John W. Henry and Arn Tellem, the agent for Nomar Garciaparra.

The New York Daily News quoted an unnamed Yankees official who was livid at the possibility of a Pettitte-Clemens reunion in Houston, and accused the Hendricks brothers, who represent the two pitchers, of conspiring to pull it off.

"This all goes to prove this whole thing by Andy and the Hendricks brothers was a ruse," the Yankees official said. "They intended to go to Houston all along. The Hendrickses were on the stadium committee there, they're all from Houston, and we're made to look like the bad guys here when they never had any intention of staying."

The brothers Hendricks did not let that accusation go unchallenged. Randy Hendricks fired off a couple of e-mails to the News.

"All along I believed the Yankees underestimated the importance of Andy Pettitte in the eyes of the fans, as well as his gritty contribution to the team," Hendricks wrote. "I believe the Yankees more highly valued Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez than Andy. Time will tell if the Yankees are correct in those evaluations."

Hendricks also addressed the Clemens situation. "Roger always said he was 99 percent retired. With Andy on the Astros, Roger might pitch one more year, but it is a real long shot. The Houston area, though, is going crazy with excitement over Andy and the prospect of Roger pitching for the Astros. Roger has always considered playing for the Astros . . . Now that one of his best friends has signed with the Astros, it's only logical that Roger be tempted. Time will tell on this."

It's not going to help organizational stability, either, that both Cashman and manager Joe Torre will have lame-duck contract status next year. That's enough to make you question why Torre, whose place in the Hall of Fame and in the affections of Yankee fans already is assured, would even chance ending his Yankee career at the mercy of Steinbrenner's whims.

And you wonder why the Sox view 2004 as their best chance yet to overtake the Empire?

Radio waves

Rumors of Clemens's possible return basically started out as a comedy routine on a Houston radio station. When Clemens told talk-show hosts on KKRW that if he came out of retirement he might have to return to the Yankees the Hummer they had presented as a farewell gift, the radio hosts asked for help. Moments later, Hummer dealer Lee DeMontrond telephoned the show and offered one, and an hour later it was delivered to Clemens's house. "This is getting very interesting," Clemens told the station. "I didn't know making a comment like that, you guys would show up in my front driveway with a burnt-orange H2." Asked if he would be in an Astros uniform next April, Clemens said: "Maybe.". . . It wasn't just Brown waiving his no-trade clause or passing a physical that held up his trade from the Dodgers to the Yankees. The Bombers also had to work out what they were going to do to fulfill the contract clause under which the Dodgers paid for the use of a chartered jet that Brown used to ferry his family back and forth to his starts from their home in Macon, Ga. According to the Los Angeles Times, in assuming the $30 million Brown is owed under the remaining two seasons of his contract, the Yankees also agreed to take on the jet service, which is valued at about $600,000 per season . . . Deposed Sox manager Grady Little was scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Little had joked during the season that the injury was caused by the frequency with which he had to summon relievers from the bullpen. A friend said Little elected to have the surgery now so that he will be ready by spring in case a club asks him to join its coaching staff . . . Let's hope the Sox do the right thing and find a job in the organization for Tony Cloninger. They almost certainly will . . . It wouldn't be a winter meetings without a Ken Griffey trade rumor. This one, as with others before it, had Junior going back to his former team, the Mariners. Nobody was putting much stock in it . . . Congrats to Tampa Bay's Rick Vaughn, among the best PR directors in all of sports, for winning the Robert Fishel Award for public relations excellence. Before working for the D-Rays, Vaughn worked for both Larry Lucchino (Orioles) and Jack Kent Cooke (Redskins) . . . J.P. Ricciardi doesn't have the resources in Toronto to compete with the big boys, but the Worcester native made a nice move last week by adding former D-Backs pitcher Miguel Batista to the top of the Blue Jays' rotation. "I flew down with all the Red Sox guys," Ricciardi told Toronto Star columnist Rich Griffin. "They all looked miserable, to be honest with you. All these guys being talked about as being dealt are all the big-money guys. Teams are finding out that outside of the Red Sox and Yankees, who can handle those contracts? They strap you so much financially. Maybe they'd rather have the flexibility more than one player. You can ask [Brian] Cashman and Theo [Epstein]." . . . One big-league executive, on how the players union won't allow the Sox to restructure A-Rod's contract unless there is added benefit to the player: "What else can they give him, Faneuil Hall?"

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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