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Yankees are hoping to build on (insert smirk) early playoff exit

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2002


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Yankees are gone, but not forgotten.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Yankees are gone, but not forgotten.

Every day during this ALCS there seems to be some type of Yankees reference, whether it's what the Angels learned by beating them, or how the Twins made out by acquiring Eric Milton and Cristian Guzman in trade, or how refreshing it is to have new faces (code for not the Yankees) playing in mid October.

The Yankees, knocked out after the first round for the first time since 1997, don't like the feeling.

"There's a bitter taste in everyone's mouth," general manager Brian Cashman said.

The early exit figured to provoke a tirade from Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, demands for answers, significant change and even a few resignations.

But according to Cashman, it has been just the opposite.

"He was certainly disappointed, but he's been supportive," Cashman said. "Supportive in the way to allow us to concentrate in the failure here and make it something to work off of, counseling us to use the early-round knockout as something to propel us.

"We're motivated to turn this thing around and motivated to not let it happen again."

In theory, Cashman shouldn't have extensive work to do.

There's talk of trimming the payroll, given the ramifications of the new labor contract, but at the most that could lead to a trade of a corner outfielder (Raul Mondesi or Rondell White) and some reworking of the overly deep rotation.

Of the five significant free agents, there are four pitchers -- Roger Clemens (whom they have to pay $10.3-million whether he returns or not), Andy Pettitte (on whom they hold an $11.5-million option), Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton -- and third baseman Robin Ventura.

"It should be," Cashman said, "a typical baseball winter."

It just started a few weeks earlier.

RAYS REPORT: Having the first pick in the 2003 draft could yield an unexpected bonus for the Rays: the chance to sign Cuban defector Jose Contreras, whom Orlando Hernandez calls "the best pitcher in Cuba."

Contreras is a 6-foot-4 right-hander who says he will be 31 in December. He was dazzling against Baltimore in a 1999 exhibition and is considered at the least a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

Contreras may have defected with the idea he would be the subject of a bidding war among the big-market teams. But Major League Baseball has said that unless Contreras establishes residency in another country, a process which could take months, he would be subject to the draft.

No Rays players were named to the all-star team that tours Japan next month, but PR director Rick Vaughn was chosen by MLB to go along. ... If the Indians relocate their spring base to Fort Myers in 2004, where they would share a stadium with the Red Sox, the Rays could consider a move to Winter Haven. ... Baseball America rates Rocco Baldelli the No. 1 outfield prospect in the game and Josh Hamilton fifth. Dewon Brazelton is the 15th-best right-handed starter, B.J. Upton the fourth-best shortstop prospect.

CALL MALCOLM: Oakland's Billy Beane has been mentioned prominently as a candidate for the Red Sox GM job, but owner Steve Schott doesn't sound receptive to the idea of releasing him from a contract that runs through 2008, even for compensation.

"Like the Jon Gruden thing?" Schott said. "If they want Billy, they'd have to give me their whole team and some cash besides."

AROUND THE LEAGUES: The Red Sox, planning to add several hundred seats above Fenway Park's Green Monster, are exploring building two decks that could increase capacity by 10,000. ... Former Indians skipper Charlie Manuel is actively seeking another managing opportunity, including the Rays' job. If he doesn't get one, expect him to be Boston's hitting coach. ... Jamie Quirk and Bob Apodaca are expected to join the Rockies coaching staff.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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