Yanks undecided on Bernie's status

Yanks undecided about bringing back Bernie

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Bernie Williams wants to finish his career with the Yankees, the only team for which he has ever played. The question now is, has he already played his final game for New York?

Williams, who just completed his 16th season in pinstripes on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, is back on the free-agent market for a second consecutive winter. But while Williams is hopeful to return to the Bronx for one more year, the Yankees haven't decided whether the veteran outfielder fits in their plans for 2007.

General manager Brian Cashman has spoken with both Williams and his agent, Scott Boras, at least two times, but he hasn't determined whether there will be a role for the 38-year-old Williams, who would be a fifth outfielder and switch-hitting pinch-hitter off the bench if he returned.

"We're working through how this club will shake out and where the opportunities on this club are -- if there are going to be any opportunities," Cashman said. "I've told Scott and Bernie to give us some time. There are no guarantees here."

Williams seems willing to give the Yankees as much time as they need to decide his future. A longtime friend of Williams said that the outfielder has no plans to finish his career with another team, leaving his fate in the Yankees' hands.

"I think it's the Yankees or nothing," said Williams' friend, who asked not to be identified. "It's going to be agonizing for Bernie if he has to wait all winter, but I don't think he'll play anywhere else."

Williams hit .281 with 12 home runs and 61 RBIs last season, playing in 131 games. Although he was brought back to serve as a part-time DH and bench player, Williams was forced into action after Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield suffered major wrist injuries. Williams started 49 games in right field, 28 in center, five in left and 27 as the designated hitter.

With Johnny Damon, Matsui and Bobby Abreu set to start in the outfield, and Melky Cabrera locked in as the team's fourth outfielder, it remains to be seen if Williams will fit in as the final outfielder. Aaron Guiel, who is arbitration-eligible, could take that spot, as he offers more versatility and is four years younger than Williams.

If the Yankees decide that Williams doesn't fit their 2007 roster, he will likely retire. Given what he has meant to the Yankees during his tenure in center field, the team will likely handle his situation very carefully.

"Bernie has been a great Yankee for quite some time," Cashman said. "But at the same time, we're going to look at the 2007 roster and see who the best fits are, then try to secure those fits for us. It's too early to see whether he's going to be part of that plan or not."

Williams ranks among the franchise's all-time leaders in several categories, including doubles (2nd), at-bats (3rd), hits (4th), games played (5th), home runs (6th) and RBIs (6th).

Only six other players have worn the Yankees' uniform for as many seasons as Williams, who joins Yogi Berra (18 seasons), Mickey Mantle (18), Lou Gehrig (17), Bill Dickey (17), Frank Crosetti (17) and Whitey Ford (16).

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.