PinstripesPlus Rumor Mill

George Steinbrenner and his "inner circle" convened in Tampa Bay on Monday to get started on their offseason plan of action. The Yankees haven't won a championship in three years, meaning all bets are off as to what kinds of moves they'll make. But one thing is for sure, they won't be sitting still. The Insiders are there with the rumors.

Rumors Swirling Around The Bronx:

Alfonso Soriano is the name being thrown around as a potential source of a trade. According to officials with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking, they are considering a trade of their leadoff hitter and second baseman. He has frustrated numerous team officials with his slow learning curve and either his refusal or inability to alter his game. He set a postseason record with 26 strikeouts, and he thinks his power numbers are a necessity at second base and is unwilling to make a change in his discipline at the plate.

Soriano would be the chip to get Javier Vazquez from Montreal or possibly Carlos Beltran – who is in his walk year – from the Royals. Beltran would allow the Yankees to move Bernie Williams to left field and Matsui to right while upgrading both offense and defense.

Antonio Osuna ensured he'd be out of the picture by telling Yankee bosses he isn't "comfortable" in New York. The right-hander wasn't on the postseason roster for any of the three series.

Andy Pettitte appears to be staying in New York. "You guys know what [Pettitte] has done for this club," Pitching Coach Mel Stottlemyre told reporters Monday. "It doesn't take anybody very smart to realize without him, there's a huge hole." Many clubs would have interest in Pettitte and will help drive up the bidding for him. Among those clubs would be the Orioles, Padres and possibly the Rangers or Astros if they can move some salary.

Rumors The Yankees Have Interest In:

The Marlins will be tempted to trade Mike Lowell, whose $3.7 million salary could double in arbitration, possibly for relief pitching and a second baseman, because 20-year-old rookie Miguel Cabrera has proven he can play third base. The Marlins can pay Cabrera as little as $300,000. The Yankees are interested in Lowell, who came up with New York back in 1998 before being traded for Ed Yarnall. Lowell would take over third base, possibly moving Aaron Boone to second and Soriano to the outfield.

Another Marlin the Yankees have interest in is second baseman Luis Castillo. Castillo had a poor World Series at the plate, but is a speed threat and is excellent with the glove. Castillo could draw about $8 million as a free agent and would give the Yankees a real leadoff hitter, something they have lacked since Chuck Knoblauch left.

Around The Division:

One contract issue Twins assistant GM Wayne Krivsky may be unable to do anything about free agent and former Blue Jay Shannon Stewart, whose $6.2 million salary makes it all but assured he'll have to go elsewhere even though he grew attached to the city and teammates while playing the second half of the season with the Twins.

"I know they've got to sign a bunch of guys," Stewart said while getting ready to watch Game 5 of the World Series in his Miami living room. "I would like to come back. I don't know what's going to happen."

The Orioles have been talking about their free agent wishes for the last few months: RF Vladamir Guerrero, SS Miguel Tejada and maybe even Pettitte. But the personnel duo has been working on getting a deal with a lesser-known name -- Kazuo Matsui.

Tampa Bay native Gary Sheffield has not discounted returning home and playing for the Devil Rays. His first choice is playing for a contender, but he makes no bones about a possible return home if he does not get what he deems he is worth on the open market.

The problem: Tampa may not be able to afford him, even at a discounted rate. They need help at multiple positions and have set their budget for 2004 at $25 million. Signing Sheffield would severely limit their options of upgrading other positions. Sheff may end up in with the Yankees when the dust settles.


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