-- ORLANDO, Fla. -- New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said Wednesday that the team's recent decision to fire manager Joe Girardi was a long time in coming.
Steinbrenner spoke to reporters in his first public comments since the club ended Girardi's 10-year tenure in the Bronx three weeks ago. Steinbrenner said he was in full accord with general manager Brian Cashman's decision to change managers -- even though Girardi led a young Yankees team to a wild-card berth and a first-round playoff upset of the Cleveland Indians.
"This was not a decision we took lightly, and not a decision that had to do with two to three weeks. It had to do with two to three years, and observing things and hearing things,'' Steinbrenner said at the MLB general managers meetings. "We felt it was time to move in a different direction.
"As I told Cash, I wasn't following his recommendation: I agreed with it. He and I have had these discussions for a considerable length of time, over and over again. This isn't something we just decided we wanted to sit down and do at the end of the season. We've had a lot of discussions through the years.''
In the aftermath of Girardi's firing, Cashman cited Girardi's "communication and connectivity'' issues with players as the main reasons for the change. Steinbrenner indicated that the issues were of sufficient concern that the Yankees might have switched managers even if Girardi had led the team to a World Series victory.
"I'm sure there would have been more pressure,'' Steinbrenner said. "It would have been maybe a more difficult decision to make. But I would have made it because I felt like that was best for the organization moving forward.''
The Yankees, dubbed the "Baby Bombers,'' progressed ahead of schedule with a young roster this season and made the playoffs as a wild-card team with 91 victories. They took the eventual World Champion Houston Astros to the limit in the American League Championship Series before losing in seven games.
When Cashman and his front-office contingent return from Orlando on Thursday, they'll resume the search for a successor to Girardi, who led the Yankees to a 910-710 record, six playoff appearances and a title in his 10 seasons as manager. San Francisco Giants coach Hensley Meulens, Los Angeles Dodgers coach Chris Woodward, ESPN broadcaster Aaron Boone, former Cleveland and Seattle manager Eric Wedge and Yankees bench coach Rob Thomson are among the candidates reportedly under consideration.
Carlos Beltran, who just retired from the Astros after a 20-year playing career, has expressed some interest in the job. But the New York Daily News and New York Post both reported that he's unlikely to be a candidate.
Steinbrenner also was asked if Alex Rodriguez, who worked as a special advisor with the Yankees in spring training, has ever expressed any interest in managing the team.
"Alex is a very intelligent guy, like Derek Jeter,'' Steinbrenner said. "He knows baseball. I've seen him with our young kids. I know he's a good leader. My concern about a candidate like that would just be the lack of managerial experience, but more important, coaching experience of any kind.''
Steinbrenner said he has no timetable in mind for a new manager and that he's "not rushing'' Cashman through the process. He expects Cashman and his front-office team to interview a group of up to 10 candidates. Once the initial list is winnowed down to the finalists, Steinbrenner expects them to travel to Tampa, Florida, and meet with him, his brother, Hank, and his sister Jenny.
Steinbrenner said the composition of New York's roster and the changing nature of baseball make certain managerial traits more important than when the team hired Girardi to replace Joe Torre in October 2007.
"I think you have to consider that you have a younger team, and maybe a different type of leadership is needed for a younger team than it is for a veteran team,'' Steinbrenner said. "I'm taking that into account, and Cash is too.
"I think if you ask Cash, it's also important for the next manager to have an understanding of analytics, because that's such an important part of the game. If they don't have it, they at least need a willingness to learn.''
As the Yankees wade through their crop of managerial candidates, the team plans to finalize a new contract for Cashman, whose agreement with the team expired after the season.
Steinbrenner described that piece of business as a formality.
"Cash and I are still working out terms,'' Steinbrenner said. "Cash has told me he wants to stay. I have told him I want him to stay. I've known him 25 years, so it's a handshake deal with no terms at this point. We're working on it.''