The Joe Torre era in New York is over.
Explaining that it was “time for the New York Yankees to move forward,” team President Randy Levine announced in an Oct. 18 conference call Thursday that Torre had rejected a one-year deal with a base salary of $5 million to pilot the Yankees in 2008.
Under the terms of the offer the team says it made to him, Torre, who made a base salary of $7.5 million in 2007, would have received a $1 million bonus for each round of the playoffs he won in 2008, bringing the potential total of the deal to $8 million. Had the Yankees reached the World Series, an option for Torre to pilot New York in 2009 would have vested.
While the deal offered by the Yankees was large enough to be presented by the team as generous, they must have known it would be difficult for Torre to accept. To put it in context, it included a base pay cut of 33 percent, which is well beyond the maximum allowable pay cut of 20 percent for a major league player in arbitration. In addition, the extent to which Torre’s pay would have been incentive-based is virtually unprecedented, even for far less accomplished managers.
The ten-day process to determine Torre’s fate after the Yankees’ elimination in the first round of the playoffs this year was odd right until the end. On Thursday, Torre flew down to Tampa with team General Manager Brian Cashman and Chief Operating Officer Lonn Trost, leading to rampant speculation that an agreement was imminent. The three then flew back to New York that afternoon together, despite the failure to reach a deal.
According to Cashman, the Yankees did not know what Torre’s decision would be as late as the morning of the meeting.
“Based on my conversations with him the last few days, he understood essentially the arena that we were in,” Cashman said during the conference call. “I asked him on the plane down, I asked him last night on the phone, where his mind was at. He honestly didn’t know.”
Ultimately, Torre did know that a one-year contract would put him, in all likelihood, in the same situation next October as this one—assuming management even kept him around to finish the season. He’s scheduled a 2 p.m. Friday news conference to address the situation.
Even if Torre never manages another game, he’s been one of the finest managers in baseball history. His 2,067 victories rank eighth among all managers all-time. Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs during all twelve of his seasons at the helm. The team won 90 games in 11 of those seasons, and took the American League East crown ten times. His 1,173-767 record with the Yankees, a .605 winning percentage, is a standard of excellence any successor would be hard-pressed to match.
That winning percentage improved to .613 in the postseason, but mostly on the back of his record from 1996-2000, a period that included four World Series titles in five years. The Yankees have won just four postseason games since losing to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS.
Speculation over Torre’s successor will be intense in the coming days. Two in-house candidates, bench coach Don Mattingly and former Marlins’ skipper and current YES announcer Joe Girardi, figure to get a shot, while fashionable outside names like Tony La Russa and even former Mets manager Bobby Valentine have also been floated.
Over the past week, the Steinbrenners took their time—excruciatingly–deciding the fate of the manager’s job. It’s fitting, somehow, that it was Torre who ended up making the call.
UPDATE: A live report from Torre’s news conference today is here.