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Inside Baseball / Yankees as quiet as a mouse at winter meetings

DALLAS -- You heard nary a word from the New York Yankees all week in the Wyndham Anatole. Joe Torre was a no-show, as he usually is at the winter meetings. General Manager Brian Cashman was rarely seen in the cavernous lobby that was the event's gathering place and focal point. Aging center fielder Bernie Williams caused a stir one morning by strolling through on his way to the elevators for a meeting in Cashman's suite as they continue to work on a one-year deal in the $2 million range.

That was it. No big splashes. No major announcements. In Cashman's final hour in "Big D" before heading to the airport Thursday, the Yankees announced they had traded Tony Womack to Cincinnati for two minor leaguers and word leaked they had signed Boston reliever Mike Myers.

So the Yankees left town still needing bullpen help and still needing a center fielder, just as they did when they got there.

"It's like they're not even here," one prominent agent told the New York Daily News during the week. "I haven't heard a word about them doing anything significant."

Unlike a few years ago, owner George Steinbrenner's bank account is no longer a bottomless pit. The Yanks, in fact, are rumored to have lost anywhere from $50 million to $85 million last year thanks to their luxury tax payments and contributions to the revenue sharing pool. It looks like they've hit the ceiling of free agent dollars and may be looking to rebuild with some youth.

They did it in the early '90s and the once unknown homegrown talents turned into Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. Last year, they kept Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang rather than mortgage them at the trade deadline for pricey veterans.

One of the players acquired for Womack, Double-A second baseman Kevin Duncan, just led the Arizona Fall League in batting. In a year or two, maybe he could take over there and Cano could move to center field, as he said Thursday he'd be willing to do.

Boston's Johnny Damon wants a seven-year deal at $10 million or more per year to play center, and the Yankees aren't even giving him a sniff. Cashman told agent Scott Boras to forget about getting more than three or four years.

"So far I am satisfied," Cashman said before departing. "(Re-signing Hideki) Matsui was our first priority and then a backup catcher (Kelly Stinnett). We got (reliever) Kyle Farnsworth and made a decision with (Womack). Now we keep moving along . . . I wish I could have accomplished everything I would have loved to accomplish but that's not realistic."

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Sox have holes

The Red Sox have a lot of people scratching their heads, too. They got Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota and Mike Lowell from the Marlins before the meetings. Once here, they rid themselves of Edgar Renteria, getting super Atlanta third base prospect Andy Marte in return, and acquired steady second baseman Mark Loretta.

But right now, they don't have a first baseman or a shortstop and may not have any outfielders, either, if Damon leaves and they find trade partners for Manny Ramirez (not that likely) and Trot Nixon (expected). And they weren't able to trade David Wells, either.

"Why are they dismantling the whole team?" pitcher Tim Wakefield wondered to the Boston Globe. "The whole starting infield is gone. Manny will be gone. If they don't sign Johnny, he'll be gone. If they trade Trot, holy cow, the only guys left will be (Jason) Varitek and I and (David) Ortiz."

Bill Lajoie, working as part of the four-headed GM replacing Theo Epstein, said he expects the Sox infield defense to be much better next year. Things were an everyday adventure last season with Kevin Millar, Tony Graffanino, Renteria and Bill Mueller, none of whom will be back.

"We've acquired good defensive players that are accurate," Lajoie said. "They catch the ball, throw it, walk off the field and go to bat."

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Classic questions

GMs sound a common alarm bell about injuries during the World Baseball Classic. The classic has formed a technical committee to try to head off those problems and make up a special set of rules for the tournament. Pitchers will have strict pitch counts and positional players may be limited to five innings until at least the semifinals.

Olympic-style drug testing will also take place and union domo Gene Orza said that a player testing positive for steroids will be subject to potential banishment from the classic -- but not subject to discipline under the new policy set forth by MLB. That's foolish. If someone tests positive in the classic, he should have to deal with the consequences at his day job, too.

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They said it

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons on the expectations he'll now face with a bigger payroll: "You want the pressure to have to perform. Personally, I didn't take the job just to say I managed in the big leagues. I wanted to manage in the big leagues for a winning team."

Astros manager Phil Garner, on the decision to cut ties with Roger Clemens by not offering arbitration to the 43-year-old: "If a guy wants $20 million, hey, give it to him. If a guy wants $100 million, hey, give it to him. I don't care. But it's a little more difficult for (general manager) Tim Purpura. It has to make sense for him."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, on the prospects for Jim Thome having a big bounceback season for the White Sox: "He's going to have a great year. I've had him since he was 19 years old and I care so much about him. He's every bit the Jim Thome he's always been. If we had kept him in Philadelphia, he'd have a huge year, too."

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Meetings minutiae

Trading for Lyle Overbay on top of the A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan signings made the Blue Jays the hands-down winner for biggest improvement. The Padres were a close second for keeping Trevor Hoffman and adding him to Brian Giles on the retention front. The biggest dope was 28-year-old Texas GM Jon Daniels, who is getting roasted for dealing Alfonso Soriano to the Nationals and not getting any pitching in return.

A renewal of the Triple-A World Series, which has been dormant since 2000, was not finalized by the commissioner's office but Bisons General Manager Mike Buczkowski said the process was moving forward. The plan is for a one-game championship between the winners of the International League and Pacific Coast League next September in Oklahoma City.

Even teams such as the Royals and Pirates are bumping their payrolls to the $50 million range thanks to baseball's fiscal health. All teams will see a cut from the forthcoming sale of the Nationals, and baseball's deal with XM Satellite Radio and the burgeoning MLB.com are also providing new revenue streams.

Some MLB wise guy used the projection screen in the media workroom to air the ABC telecast of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and break Tuesday night's monotony. It was a priceless sight to see stuffy reporters all over the room bobbing their heads to Schroeder's piano interlude.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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