NEW YORK Brian Cashman's job is safe at least for now. The rest of the New York Yankees have plenty to worry about this winter.
Soon after the Yankees completed a historic collapse against Boston in the AL playoffs, volatile owner George Steinbrenner told Cashman, the team's general manager, that he will not be fired before next season.
Steinbrenner also informed Cashman he should prepare to be summoned to Tampa, Fla., for meetings in the next few days: The star-studded Yankees need to figure out why they fell apart against the Red Sox after opening a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS.
''He wants results for his investment, like any businessman,'' Cashman said Thursday.
Cashman has one year remaining on his contract. It's his job to spend Steinbrenner's money wisely and bring championships to the Big Apple, but the Yankees have gone four years without winning the World Series.
He knows what he needs to look for in the offseason.
''It'll be pitching,'' Cashman said. ''I don't think offense is a problem on this club.''
Despite a $183 million opening day payroll, the Yankees were short on starting pitching all season. When they wanted to add Randy Johnson during the summer, they didn't have enough major league-ready prospects to interest Arizona in a trade.
Injuries to the aging rotation forced manager Joe Torre to overwork his bullpen, leaving the team vulnerable in the playoffs even with a seemingly insurmountable lead.
The Red Sox rallied against closer Mariano Rivera in Game 4, then setup man Tom Gordon in Game 5. Those two games totaled 26 innings in two days, taxing New York's relievers.
Because of a rainout earlier in the series, 39-year-old Kevin Brown wound up starting Game 7 on a balky back and only three days' rest.
He got hammered, as did right-hander Javier Vazquez, who followed Brown and walked five batters in two innings in Boston's 10-3 blowout.
''Those are the areas we're going to look at, the bullpen and the rotation,'' Cashman said. ''I thought this past winter was more difficult. We had a great amount of holes to fill. This winter, we don't have three guys coming out of the rotation, but we do have pitching needs, nonetheless.''
New York became the first team to blow a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. The rival Red Sox celebrated right in the middle of Yankee Stadium, a most humiliating moment for such a storied franchise.
''DAMNED YANKEES,'' proclaimed the New York Post over a shot of shortstop Derek Jeter hanging his head.
''THE CHOKE'S ON US,'' offered the Daily News, which featured a doctored picture inside of Babe Ruth with a tear rolling down his cheek.
Still, Steinbrenner was classy in defeat Thursday.
''I congratulate the Boston Red Sox on their great victory,'' he said in a statement. ''I want to thank our loyal fans for their enormous support. Of course, I am disappointed because I wanted a championship for them and for our city. You can be assured, we will get to work and produce a great team next year.''
The offense was not without fault, though some of the team's best hitters did get off to a great start. After a 19-8 victory at Fenway Park in Game 3, New York failed to come through in the clutch time and time again. Gary Sheffield was 1-for-17 in the final four games. Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-17.
''When a guy is hitting .640 for the first few games of a series, he's probably not going to hit .640 for the whole series. This isn't Little League,'' said batting coach Don Mattingly, who said he would like to return next season if the organization wants him back.
''Those are the games I look back on, that we left some guys out there. We got a little bit out of our game plan,'' he said.
Help is probably on the way. The Yankees are said to be extremely interested in Carlos Beltran, the multitalented center fielder who is having a huge postseason with the Houston Astros.
Beltran can become a free agent after the World Series, and the Yankees are probably one of the few teams that can afford him. If he winds up in New York, Bernie Williams could become a full-time designated hitter.
The Yankees also expect slugger Jason Giambi to be completely healthy by spring training.
The free-agent market for starting pitchers includes Pedro Martinez, but it's hard to imagine him going from the Red Sox to the Yankees. There's too much ugly history there. Derek Lowe could also be available he was the winner in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Other interesting names include Florida's Carl Pavano, Atlanta's Russ Ortiz, St. Louis' Matt Morris, and Matt Clement of the Chicago Cubs.
The free-spending Yankees are sure to add somebody.
''There's a lot of names, but I've got to dig now into the scouting reports,'' Cashman said. ''I feel I know how to do this job. I feel I do a good job.''
Bench coach Willie Randolph could be headed across town. He is scheduled to interview Monday with new Mets general manager Omar Minaya for their manager's job.
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