"There's no question. He's been a Yankee, he'll always be a Yankee and it's the only way you'll really look at him."
Last season, Williams logged 420 at-bats for the Yankees, finishing with a .281 average, 12 homers and 61 RBIs. He no longer appeared to fit into the club's plans over the winter, however, when the Yankees settled on carrying just four outfielders to accommodate a 12-man pitching staff and a platoon at first base.
Williams has been a mainstay with the organization and one of Torre's favorites, spending all 16 of his Major League seasons in pinstripes.
"It will be real weird not having him around," catcher Jorge Posada said Tuesday. "Not talking to him, it's going to be tough. We'll see what happens. We don't know what's going to happen yet. Bernie could still come. Anything can happen in Spring Training."
A corner locker in the Legends Field clubhouse previously occupied by Williams remained empty early Tuesday morning, with no nameplate affixed, but by mid-afternoon it had been assigned to Jose Veras, a 26-year-old relief pitcher. Williams' uniform No. 51 has not been issued.
Cashman previously has acknowledged that the Yankees' configuration does not offer a spot for Williams. Melky Cabrera has been slotted to back up outfielders Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu.
Cashman said he has had "a lot of dialogue" with Williams' agent, Scott Boras, over the last few months. Cashman noted the Yankees have no plans of rescinding their standing invitation to Williams until Sunday, the first day the 2007 roster will assemble as a whole.
"We'd love to have him," Cashman said. "I respect the fact that he's not interested in doing that. Other than that, there's not much more I can speak to."
While he has been unable to reach Williams recently, Torre said he spoke to the longtime fan favorite earlier in the offseason, before several meetings were cancelled by illnesses and Torre's lengthy Hawaiian vacation.
Describing Williams' state of mind as "uncomfortable" and "disturbed," Torre did not rule out the idea that Williams could wind up winning a roster spot and going north with the Yankees for Opening Day.
But Torre seemed to insinuate that if Williams rejects the team's offer, there would be absolutely no chance of a 17th year in New York.
"Who knows?" Torre said. "That's the one thing about being down here -- you don't know."