Cone Heads Out of Yankee Stadium

For six seasons, David Cone was a constant in the New York Yankees clubhouse, a team spokesman whether he pitched or not.

Not wanting a diminished role as a No. 5 starter, Cone decided Thursday to turn down the chance to remain with the World Series champions and pitch elsewhere next year.

Coming off a 4-14 season, Cone could have stayed for about $500,000 guaranteed and the chance to earn more in performance bonuses, a huge cut from his $12 million salary this year.

An Amicable Split

He said no thanks, and because the free-agent pitcher wasn’t offered salary arbitration, he is ineligible to re-sign with the Yankees until May 1.

“It seemed best for both sides to go their separate ways,” said Cone’s agent, Steve Fehr. “I know David once said he wanted to remain a Yankee for the rest of his career, but sometimes circumstances change in ways you cannot quite foresee.”

Cone pitched a perfect game against Montreal in 1999, but has gone 6-19 since. He had a 6.91 ERA this year and pitched twice in the postseason, making two relief appearances for a total of 1 1-3 innings.

“Maybe with what he wants to do now, he is better to go somewhere he is needed more, not a situation where he is a fifth starter, and the four ahead of him are potential All-Stars,” Fehr said.

Cone would have followed Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Orlando Hernandez and newly signed Mike Mussina in the Yankees’ rotation. New York now will turn either to Cuban defector Adrian Hernandez — not related to El Duque — or one of its young pitchers. Dwight Gooden, who agreed Thursday to a minor league contract, is an outside possibility.

A Subway Ride Away

Cone, who will be 38 next season, has a 184-116 career record with a 3.40 ERA, also pitching for the New York Mets, Kansas City and Toronto. He won the AL Cy Young Award with the Royals in 1994 and has been on a pair of five World Series championship teams: Toronto in 1992 and the Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

The Mets, possibly seeking replacements for Mike Hampton and Bobby J. Jones in their rotation, could have interest in him.

“We really have not had much contact with other clubs, really by design,” Fehr said. “I think he want to wait and figure out if it made sense to remain a Yankee.”