The New York Yankees, on the verge of putting Bernie Williams in their past, have offered Albert Belle a four-year contract averaging at least $12 million per season, several sources told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Belle, the temperamental but extremely productive outfielder, appears to want to leave the Chicago White Sox. Other than the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox seem to be his only other option.
Yankees officials remained at their Tampa, Fla., offices on Tuesday and Belle's agent, Arn Tellem, said there was "nothing new to report" on the negotiations.
The sources, all speaking on the condition they not be identified, said Yankees manager Joe Torre told owner George Steinbrenner he would have no problem melding Belle into his tranquil clubhouse.
Torre, who has led the Yankees to a pair of World Series titles in the past three seasons, played golf last week with Belle at Tucson, Ariz.
There were conflicting reports as to how close the Yankees and Belle were to a deal. While one source said an agreement could be reached before Thanksgiving, other sources said Belle probably wouldn't make a decision until next week.
Unlike most free agents, Belle is operating under a deadline these days. He became a free agent because of a unique clause in his contract with the White Sox and must decide by Dec. 2 whether to go back to his Chicago deal, which guarantees him $35 million over the next three seasons.
When Belle agreed to a $55 million, five-year contract after the 1996 season -- at the time the most money and highest average salary in baseball -- a clause was included saying he could demand a raise if his average salary dropped out of the top three. If Chicago turned him down, he could file for free agency.
Rather than give him an extra $4.25 million over the next three seasons, the White Sox said they were willing to give him up.
Meanwhile, the Boston Red Sox were said to be continuing talks with Wiliams, who wants a contract at least seven years long and for a higher average than Mike Piazza's $91 million, seven-year contract with the New York Mets.
New York offered Williams a $60 million, five-year deal last week and say the won't offer a longer contract.
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