With release, Boone is a free agent

TAMPA, Fla. -- Third baseman Aaron Boone was released
Thursday by the New York Yankees, nearly six weeks after hurting
his knee in a pickup basketball game.

The injury, which could cause him to miss the entire season, set the
stage for the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez from Texas last
week. Boone, an NL All-Star last season, becomes a free agent.

"It's a tough situation we're all in," Yankees general manager
Brian Cashman said. "You have to move on. We'd like to continue
discussing the possibility of keeping him within the Yankees' fold
in some form or fashion that would manifest itself with him maybe
being a player for us next year."

Boone was hurt Jan. 16 and had surgery last week to repair the
anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Adam Katz, Boone's
agent, said recovery will take five to nine months, but Boone is more optimistic.

"I know I'll be back 100 percent next year for the season,"
Boone told The Associated Press from his home in Newport Beach,
Calif., where he's already begun physical therapy on the knee.
"That is ultimately my goal. Now with that said, I expect that I
will be playing late in this season.

"But I don't want to impede the healing process and getting to
where I need to be. I would never put myself in a risky position,
just because I want to get back this year, to go out there too
soon. If I'm out there, it's because I'm ready to be out there and
it's a safe choice."

Boone, a hero in New York after his playoff homer against Boston
last fall, wasn't surprised the Yankees let him go.

"Certainly with what transpired with A-Rod, I kind of knew it
was coming," Boone said. "But we're keeping the lines of
communication open. Who knows? It's an unfortunate and kind of
ironic situation. I know it is for them as well."

The 30-year-old third baseman already had agreed to a $5.75
million, one-year contract, but the Yankees contend Boone violated
the guarantee language, which prohibited basketball.

"I'm just sorry that Boonie played basketball, a guy as good as
he would go out there and take a chance playing basketball,"
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said.

New York says he is entitled to only 30 days of termination pay,
which comes to $917,553 over the Yankees' 188-day season. The move
cuts the Yankees' active payroll to $180.9 million.

"We're exercising our rights in the contract," Cashman said.
"Would we want to pay him the full salary despite the injury? That
wouldn't make any sense whatsoever from a business perspective."

Boone hit the 11th-inning homer off Tim Wakefield that won Game
7 of the AL Championship Series against Boston.

"He killed Boston twice," Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi
said. "You feel terrible for the guy."

Boone batted .254 with six homers and 31 RBI last year for the
Yankees, who acquired him from Cincinnati in July for left-handers
Brandon Claussen and Charlie Manning.

"I know Aaron wanted to come back and show he could play better
than he did for the time that we had him," New York shortstop
Derek Jeter said. "You feel bad. You don't want to see anyone go
through an injury like that."

Overall, Boone hit .287 with 24 homers and 96 RBI last year.

"He'll get back from this injury," Cashman said. "He'll be
down for almost the entire year, if not the whole season. We're
looking toward next year, maybe. We don't have anything in place,
but I do volunteer that we would be interested."

Katz said Boone could stay with the Yankees for 2005 but that it
was too early to tell.

"We wouldn't rule anything out," he said. "He's still the
same player they traded Claussen for, he's still an All-Star. Aaron
has lots of options. He has a bright future wherever he lands."

Steinbrenner said he would have no problems bringing Boone back.

"Boonie did a good job," he said.