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Saturday, December 14
Zeile hit 18 homers with Rockies last season

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Todd Zeile and the New York Yankees are close to agreeing on a contract worth about $1.5 million.

General manager Brian Cashman said Saturday from baseball's winter meetings that he made an offer to Zeile's agents earlier this week.

"We approached this as a long shot,'' Cashman said. "But we have a shot to make it happen. We still have some things to work out if it's going to get done. But I'm more optimistic about it than at the start of the process.''

A baseball source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal was almost completed. Zeile would also get performance bonuses in the contract, the source said.

Zeile would replace Ron Coomer as the Yankees' backup at third base and first base and would also get time as a right-handed designated hitter. Zeile's playing time could increase if the Yankees deal Nick Johnson to Montreal for one of the Expos' starting pitchers.

Zeile, who spent two years in New York as a Met, batted .273 with 18 homers and 87 RBI for the Colorado Rockies last season.

Yankees manager Joe Torre is close to Zeile, having managed him in St. Louis. Cashman asked Torre for a report on Zeile and had the manager place a call to his former player earlier this week.

"I asked Joe about it and he thought it would be a terrific idea,'' Cashman said.

Zeile has been a full-time player most of his 14-year career but the Yankees were upfront with him, saying he wouldn't have a starting role.

But Cashman said the 37-year-old Zeile appeared interested in playing on a winning team for Torre. Zeile has a .268 career average with 233 homers and 1,033 RBI.

After coming up as a catcher, Zeile has played most of his career at third base. The Mets, however, used him at first because they had Robin Ventura at third base. Zeile is very close to Ventura, who is with the Yankees now.

Cashman also talked with the agent for Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui on Saturday and was planning a second meeting with Montreal general manager Omar Minaya.

The Expos are looking to cut payroll and the Yankees are interested in pitchers Bartolo Colon and Javier Vazquez.

"We're a conversation or two from knowing whether we have a match or not on anything,'' Cashman said.

If the Yankees were able to acquire one of Montreal's pitchers, it might mean the end of Roger Clemens' career in pinstripes. Clemens is a free agent and the Yankees already have six starters under contract.

"He wants to stay and we'd like him to stay,'' Cashman said. "Whether that happens remains to be seen.''

Cashman is under orders from owner George Steinbrenner to cut this year's payroll of about $135 million, by far the highest in the major leagues.

The Yankees estimate they will have to pay $55 million in revenue sharing and luxury tax next year, up from about $33 million they gave other teams this year.

But New York's rivals aren't counting on any major changes in the Yankees' approach.

"The Yankees are still awfully good,'' Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Whether they cut payroll or not -- I'll believe it when I see it.''