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BASEBALL NOTEBOOK

Bit of a chill hits in Florida

A-Rod: Jeter and I are less friendly

There's a lot going on in Red Sox camp, but the Yankees aren't far behind.

Yesterday at the Yankees' spring training site in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez finally acknowledged that his relationship with Derek Jeter has cooled. After insisting for three years that they remained close, Rodriguez said that it was important for him to publicly confirm what others have said since he joined the team.

"People start assuming that things are a lot worse than what they are, which they're not," said Rodriguez. "But they're obviously not as great as they used to be. We were like blood brothers. You don't have to go to dinner with a guy four, five times a week to do what you're doing. It's actually much better than all you guys expect, but I just want to let the truth be known."

Jeter, the Yankees' captain, has distanced himself from Rodriguez since a 2001 Esquire article in which A-Rod said, "Jeter's been blessed with great talent around him," and "He's never had to lead."

In another development, veteran Bernie Williams, apparently hurt that the Yankees didn't offer him a guaranteed spot on the roster, again was nowhere to be seen, and general manager Brian Cashman doesn't think that will change.

"It appears he made his decision; that's all I can take from it," Cashman said. "I'm assuming at this stage that he's not coming.

"Obviously because of who he is, if he needs a little extra time to decide, then obviously I think there's a little time that you can give. If Bernie wants to continue to play and if he wants to compete for it, I wish he would accept the opportunity as a nonroster invite to come in and fight for it.

"A nonroster situation is not something that I offered out of disrespect. It's just the only way I can provide for all parties to get satisfied in where we are this time and place."

Also, general partner Steve Swindal returned to work with the team and apologized for becoming a distraction but wouldn't speculate on whether his arrest last week for driving under the influence would alter his role as George Steinbrenner's designated successor.

Swindal was arrested early Thursday by the St. Petersburg police, who claimed he was driving 61 miles per hour in a 35 m.p.h. zone. Swindal was released on $250 bond and has a March 15 court date.

Extension for Gibbons
The Toronto Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons have agreed to a one-year, $650,000 contract extension, a team official said.

Gibbons led the Blue Jays to an 87-75 record and a second-place finish in the American League East last season -- the first time they finished higher than third since winning the World Series in 1993.

The team official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn't been announced yet.

Gibbons will make $500,000 this year, one of the lowest salaries for a manager in the majors. The extension covers the 2008 season.

Gibbons might have cost himself a longer extension after getting into altercations with infielder Shea Hillenbrand and pitcher Ted Lilly last season. He is 187-187 since replacing Carlos Tosca in August 2004.

General manager J.P. Ricciardi, who played in the minor leagues with Gibbons, gave him a one-year contract at the end of the 2004 season and a two-year extension in April 2005.

Cub expects pact
Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano said he expects to sign a one-year contract before today's scheduled arbitration hearing. "I think it's 85-90 percent that we don't go to arbitration," said Zambrano, who caused a stir last week when he told a television station he would leave as a free agent if he did not have a multiyear contract by Opening Day. He has since backed off that stance . . . San Francisco Giants outfielder Mark Sweeney showed up at spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., ready to talk baseball, not about the report that teammate Barry Bonds blamed a failed amphetamines test last season on something he got from Sweeney's locker. Sweeney insists there will be no issues between them and he isn't harboring any hard feelings toward Bonds, who is scheduled to work out for the first time today. "Everything's been fine," said Sweeney, who received a public apology from Bonds . . . Sandy Alomar Jr. agreed to a minor league contract with the New York Mets. The 40-year-old catcher, expected to report to spring training today, hit .278 with 30 RBIs in 108 at-bats last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox, who acquired him July 23. He would get a $700,000, one-year contract if added to the major league roster.

A start for closer
At Surprise, Ariz., Texas Rangers closer Eric Gagne threw off a mound for the first time at spring training, completing a 37-pitch session with no complications. "I felt free," said Gagne, who had elbow surgery in April and season-ending back surgery in July. "It's good to get back on the mound again. I'm going slow, but feel really good right now." The righthander, who signed with the Rangers in the offseason, mixed in a few half-hearted breaking pitches, but threw mostly fastballs . . . Hall of Famer George Kell was cited over the weekend in Jonesboro, Ark., for a hit-and-run after a three-car accident. No one was hurt. Kell, 84, was driving a 2002 Cadillac Seville and reportedly rear-ended another car at a traffic light Saturday, police said. That car struck a third car, pushing it into the intersection. Kell was cited for leaving the scene of an accident without injury and following too closely, police said. Both are misdemeanors . . . Fans are going to vote on the all-time Gold Glove team; the ballot will be unveiled at Times Square this morning.

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