NEW YORK – Yankees officials insisted George Steinbrenner was in good health, a day after Gary Sheffield said his future with New York would be secure if the owner’s condition was better.

Steinbrenner fainted last month while attending his granddaughter’s play, the second time in three years he collapsed in public, and he returned to his Florida office several days later. Sheffield said “middle men” had blocked him from speaking with Steinbrenner and that “if it wasn’t for his health, I’d have made that conversation happen.”

Yankees officials said Thursday that Steinbrenner’s preference was to have Sheffield deal with general manager Brian Cashman. The Yankees exercised Sheffield’s $13 million option last weekend rather than allow him to become a free agent, and they appear to be exploring trade possibilities.

“Mr. Steinbrenner’s health is fine, so it has nothing to do with that. Brian is in charge of baseball operations,” said general partner Steve Swindal, Steinbrenner’s son-in-law and designated successor.

Steinbrenner has cut back on his public comments in the past three years, and the 76-year-old owner appears unsteady while walking at times.

“George’s health is fine,” team president Randy Levine said in response to Sheffield. “It’s a nice thing for him to be concerned about the Boss’ health.”

Glavine still undecided on free agency

NEW YORK – Mets pitcher Tom Glavine filed provisionally for free agency Thursday, still uncertain whether he wants to stay in New York or try to go back to the Atlanta Braves.

Glavine has until Friday to exercise a $7.5 million player option, and the Mets have until Nov. 20 to exercise a $14 million team option. The options carry a $3 million buyout and both are likely to be declined.

San Diego left-hander David Wells, another Clifton client, also filed Thursday. Cubs right-hander Wade Miller, who had filed Oct. 30, agreed Thursday to a one-year contract to remain in Chicago.

Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew opted out of the final three years of his contract Thursday, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Former All-Star Gooden freed from prison

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Former All-Star pitcher Dwight Gooden was released from prison Thursday after finishing a sentence for violating his probation by using cocaine.

The 41-year-old Gooden walked out of the Gainesville Correctional Institution about 8:45 a.m. and will not be on probation, Corrections Department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.

With credit for time served in jail and in a secure drug treatment facility, Gooden’s total prison time was about seven months. He had been sentenced to a year and a day.

Yankees spokesman Howard Rubenstein said owner George Steinbrenner was willing to talk with Gooden, who has worked for the team at times following his retirement.

as a player. He last left the team in April 2005.

“George has no plans to reach out to him. It’s up to Doc Gooden to call,” Rubenstein said. “He’ll always be open to take the call. He wants to hear what he has to say.”

Last April, Gooden chose to accept prison time instead of an offer of probation. If he had violated probation, he would have faced the prospect of five years in prison.

Gooden was serving three years probation for speeding away from police during a drunken driving traffic stop last year when he failed a drug test and acknowledged to a probation officer that he had used cocaine.

Gooden, a four-time All-Star, was the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year and the 1985 NL Cy Young Award winner while with the New York Mets. He went 194-112 with a 3.51 ERA before retiring in 2001. He also pitched for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Gooden has had numerous run-ins with the law, mostly related to drug problems.

In 1994, while with the Mets, Gooden was suspended for 60 days for testing positive for cocaine. He tested positive for cocaine again while on suspension and was sidelined for the 1995 season.

Another Mets and Yankees star, Darryl Strawberry, was released from the same prison on April 8, 2003, after serving 11 months of an 18-month prison sentence for violating probation on cocaine possession charges.

AP-ES-11-09-06 1918EST

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