With the Yankees and Torre parting ways, each side recognizing that the 67-year-old manager's contract will be allowed to expire on Oct. 31, a choice must be made on who will provide the new face and voice of an organization that has quickly shifted into transition.
"We have a challenge ahead of us to begin the process of looking for the best person for that position, starting for the 2008 Yankees and beyond," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Obviously, it's going to take some time and effort."
In the days following the Yankees' first-round elimination at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, it was thought that the organization might not invite Torre back at all, based upon owner George Steinbrenner's comments to the Bergen (N.J.) Record criticizing Torre's inability to get past the American League Division Series and his substantial $7.5 million salary for 2007.
While a scratch list of potential candidates circulated and was dissected for speculation, few could have predicted that Torre would make the flight to Tampa on Thursday, only to reject a performance-based contract worth a minimum of $5 million and leave Legends Field, perhaps for the final time.
Cashman said the Yankees never entertained hiring a manager other than Torre because "it would have been wrong to go beyond that issue," citing Torre's continuing employment until the end of the month. But now the landscape will need to change.
"I'll sit down with all parties involved and make recommendations to ownership about compiling a list of file candidates," Cashman said. "There may be some surprising names that show up of people expressing interest that you wouldn't even think about. To be quite candid, we have not started a process of looking for a new manager."
With the field wide open to contenders, bench coach Don Mattingly is believed to be a likely candidate. Through his spokesman, Ray Schulte, Mattingly said that he wished to decline comment Thursday "out of respect to Joe Torre," but that he would address his situation on Friday.
The 45-year-old Mattingly completed his first season as the Yankees' bench coach in 2007, following three years as Torre's hitting coach.
A local favorite who was the premier first baseman of his era, Mattingly enjoys a wealth of fan support at Yankee Stadium and a strong working relationship with nearly all of the members of the clubhouse, including the remaining veteran core who experienced the Yankees' last World Series title in 2000 -- Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, plus free agents-to-be Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and, to a lesser extent, Roger Clemens.
"We'll cross that bridge if it comes," Mattingly said Oct. 9, before Torre's fate was final. "I think I've made it pretty clear, in some timetable, I would like an opportunity to manage. But I'm not worried about the timetable. I'm not worried about what happens to me at this time."
Another likely candidate, former Yankees catcher Joe Girardi, trumps Mattingly on the managerial experience card, having won the 2006 National League Manager of the Year honors for piloting the Florida Marlins. A broadcaster for the YES Network, Girardi has at least kept close proximity to the Yankees, though he has repeatedly declined comment about the possibility of replacing Torre.
Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella is among those who will not be considered, stating Thursday that he has no interest in the vacancy. But others -- like dark horses Tony La Russa, Bobby Valentine and Trey Hillman -- may. The Yankees' 2007 coaching staff also had two experienced former Major League managers, Larry Bowa and Tony Pena, who could draw consideration.
"There will be a process and I can promise you that process is going to take some time," Cashman said. "I ask for everybody's patience as we review and interview the individuals and make the appropriate recommendations to ownership.
"... The decision will be made, but it's premature to discuss the criteria right now. The only criteria I can touch on is what Hank and Hal [Steinbrenner] have always spoken, which comes directly from The Boss. Our intent is to continue on our quest for championships. We're very proud of everything we've accomplished over the years."
No matter who takes control of the Yankees in 2008, it will not be Torre. That may send ripples through the Yankees' in-house free-agent pool; Cashman said the Yankees hope to re-sign all the "obvious" players, but those -- especially Posada and Rivera -- were the ones clamoring loudest for Torre's return.
"I don't feel good about it," Rivera said Oct. 10. "The kind of person that Joe is, the kind of manager he is, how he has been working with the organization, how he has helped us here, I don't see why they are even thinking [about not retaining him]. I wish he's back, definitely. If you ask me what I will want, I want him back."
"Joe Torre is the best manager in baseball," Posada said Oct. 8. "It's not his fault. He used the same lineup from April until now, the same guys. He doesn't throw or hit or do anything on the field. He does everything possible to keep us positive and get us to win."
Cashman said that, at this early stage, there is little he can do to gauge how Torre's departure will impact the Yankees' winter dealings.
"I can't represent to you what level of importance any of this plays into their decision making process, but at the end of the day, we consider them Yankees," Cashman said. "They will have an opportunity to remain part of the Yankees. We hope that they do that."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.