Hal Steinbrenner desperately wants you to like Aroldis Chapman

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Eleven days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa and the Yankees will open Spring Training. Among those who will show up for work that day is Aroldis Chapman, the team’s new old closer. The Yankees signed Chapman to a five-year deal worth $86M back in December. It includes an opt-out after year three.

Yesterday, at the quarterly owners’ meetings, Hal Steinbrenner spoke to Bob Nightengale about Chapman’s return to New York, and, well, look:

“Quite frankly it was manageable the minute he got here last year,’’ Steinbrenner said at the quarterly owners’ meetings Thursday. “He was great. Look, he admitted he messed up. He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life. He did everything right, and said everything right, when he was with us.”

To be fair, Steinbrenner later told David Lennon he meant to say “forgive,” not “forget,” which is only slightly better. Anyway, Hal’s agenda became pretty clear after he acknowledged the Yankees re-signed Chapman in part because he puts butts in the seats.

“They love him,’’ Steinbrenner said. “There are so few baseball players that I feel can really get fans to buy a ticket and brings their kids to their game, and he’s one of them.’’

Please like my temperamental $17M a year closer. That’s what this all sounds like. Forget about the ugly stuff and look at those 105 mph fastballs wowie!

The thing is, there is no forgetting, and it’s not really up to the fans to forgive. Last winter’s alleged domestic violence incident stays with Chapman the same way performance-enhancing drugs stayed with Alex Rodriguez. It’s always there with you, subconsciously. You never really forget. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. (Also, domestic violence is roughly a bazillion times worse than PEDs, but I digress.)

Steinbrenner committed an awful lot of money to Chapman and he wants fans to like him. I get it. But dude, don’t tell people they should forgive him or worse, forget about it. That’s one of those things that, even if you believe it, say it in your head and not out loud, you know? This is a sensitive subject. Telling people to forget it ain’t cool. As with anything in life, telling people how to feel isn’t a great idea.

The Yankees have a chance to be really exciting this coming season because Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are going to sock dingers, because Didi Gregorius is going to flash leather at shortstop, and because Masahiro Tanaka is an artist on the mound. Chapman will be part of that excitement too. Fans are under no obligation to forgive him or forget about his history though, whether Hal likes it or not.

Hal and Cashman say the Yankees are not ready to sell because what else are they supposed to say?

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Even with yesterday’s dramatic win, the Yankees came into today with a 35-36 record and a 12.6% chance to make the postseason, per FanGraphs. They’re six games back in the AL East and 3.5 games back of a wildcard spot. Insurmountable deficits? Of course not. But the Yankees have their work cut out for them. No doubt.

Earlier this week both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman were asked about the state of the Yankees, and whether the club is leaning towards selling at the trade deadline. Here are their responses. First Hal, via Zach Braziller:

“I believe we’re going to be right smack in the middle of it by the end of July,” he said Monday at Cipriani in Midtown Manhattan at the annual Harlem RBI “Bids for Kids” fundraising dinner. “We’ll have to see at the end of July, like we always do. We’ll take a look at everything.

Steinbrenner said something similar last month, when the Yankees looked way more helpless than they do right now. They’ve at least reached .500 a few times in recent weeks. Now here’s what Cashman had to say, via Chad Jennings:

“Listen, we’re not going to be a seller unless ownership green-lights that,” Cashman said. “So I don’t have any number in my head. I’ll have an honest dialogue with ownership every step of the way as I always do. If we feel at a date in the future that that’s a necessity, then trust me, I’ll recommend it, and they’ll make a decision based on their comfort level … I’m always a brutally honest person. If I see things, I’ll always communicate honestly with ownership to the best of my abilities. Again, we’re in June, so right now it’s not the conversation we’re having.”

Interestingly, Cashman also ducked questions about whether he’s ever recommended selling to ownership in previous years. It has long been rumored the baseball operations folks pushed to trade Robinson Cano once they realized re-signing him after the 2013 season was going to be impossible, but ownership wouldn’t give the thumbs up. Who knows whether that is true. Anyone, I have some things to say about Hal’s and Cashman’s comments.

1. What did you expect them to say? I mean, seriously. Even if the Yankees were 100% committed and ready to sell right now, Hal and Cashman would still tell reporters they’re not planning to sell. I don’t think the Yankees are ready to sell now, but what the hell do I know? Either way, there is nothing to be gaining by declaring yourself a seller. You end up killing your own leverage by making it known you’re ready to move players. The Yankees are going to insist they are not sellers right up until the second they actually sell.

2. Winning helps them as sellers, you know. Selling is a weird concept and frankly, most of us have never experienced it as Yankee fans. If you want the Yankees to sell, you want them to keep losing so they decide to take the plunge and actually sell. At the same time, winning and staying in the race does give the team some extra leverage.

If the Yankees are, say, two games out of a wildcard spot on July 31st, they could at least give off the impression that they’re willing to keep guys like Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran and have it be believable. That won’t happen if they’re something like seven games back and six teams ahead of them. Yes, losing a lot may convince the team to sell. That’s usually how it works. But if the Yankees do decide to move guys like Beltran and Chapman, winning a few games wouldn’t be the end of the world either.

3. It’s possible to both buy and sell. Cashman made an interesting comment the other day about the Yankees possibly being buyers and sellers. Those can be considered conflicting ideas, but they’re really not. At the end of the day the goal is to improve the team, and both buying and selling are steps toward achieving that goal.

It would be possible for the Yankees to move someone like Beltran for prospects at the deadline while also moving some young players for help elsewhere on the roster. Maybe a Triple-A outfielder and a lower level prospect for a young big league pitcher. See what I mean? They’d be selling Beltran and buying a young arm. It doesn’t have to be buy or sell. They can do both.

* * *

The buy or sell question is not going away, not unless the Yankees go on an insane run and find themselves firmly in the postseason picture come the end of July. That’s the only way they could ever become clear cut buyers this season, and let’s be honest, that’s just not going to happen. The Yankees haven’t given us any reason to think they’re capable of going on a run like that.

So Hal and Cashman can expect more questions about selling in the coming weeks and we should expect more of the same answers. We’ll look at everything at the end of July, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. The Yankees really have perfected the art of saying a lot of words while saying nothing at all. Ultimately, the decision rests with ownership. Cashman can recommend selling and I don’t think he’d have any problem doing so. The question is whether Hal & Co. will bite the bullet and give the okay if the team is still on the fringes of the postseason picture.

Looking Ahead

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

There comes a day when you rectify the team you are with the team you want to be; the Yankees can’t seem to make the two things coexist.

On the good side of things, the Yankees lead the American League in both strikeout percentage and walk rate from the mound. They’ve also got a respectable 91 FIP- and a 100 ERA-, suggesting their pitching may still have some room to grow. On the bad side of things, the Yankees have scored the second fewest runs in the AL, just eight more than the lowly Twins. Their 88 wRC+ is also the second worst in the Junior Circuit, just two points ahead of the trailing Twins.

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

As Memorial Day is generally the first ‘mile marker’ of the year, today’s as good a time as any to look at the road ahead by reflecting on the road behind. One way of doing that is heading over to FanGraphs and checking out the playoff odds section, which lets you sort by a few things. In the spirit of looking back, here are the Yankees’ playoff odds based on their season to date stats. A 3.9% chance to win the division. An 8.7% chance to win the wild card. Those don’t look good, obviously, thanks to the poor performances the Yankees have turned in at the plate. Bounce backs from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would help those numbers creep up, but they’re still fairly low.

If we decide to be more fair to the team and acknowledge the uncharacteristically bad performance at the plate, we can go peek at the playoff odds using rest of season projections instead. Those numbers look a little better–4.5% for the division and 16.4% for the wild card–but they still aren’t anything spectacular.

Their deficits in both the AL East and wild card standings–5.5 and 4.5 games respectively–are not insurmountable, especially considering it’s not quite yet June. But in the AL East, the Yankees have three teams to brush aside, including the first place Red Sox. In the wild card, it’s six teams, including the leading Orioles and Rangers. Allowing for some dramatics, the day of reckoning is fast approaching for the Yankees.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

At some point soon–maybe by mid-June–they need to make a decision, and an honest one at that. This is something the Yankees have struggled with in recent years, but hopefully it’s something they put some earnest reflection into over the next few weeks. Their playoff odds are bad. The team is flawed in multiple ways. Fighting or a five hundred record or to be ‘in it’ in the last week of the season with some vague, outside, puncher’s chance at the second wild card is not worth it. There are still enough valid pieces on this team that can contribute to next year which can be properly bolstered by jettisoning the right assets.

A smart man who used to comment ’round these parts used to say that the Yankees are a win now and win later team and the Yankees need to focus on the latter at this point in the season. Trade some of the present for some of the future and be honest about it with the fans. Trusting that the fans can handle an honest to goodness rebuild is something the Yankee brass has been reluctant to do, but there’s no better time to start than now. It’s not likely this team is going anywhere in 2016 and preparing for 2017 is the responsible thing to do.

Hal Steinbrenner on possibly selling the Yankees: “What the hell for?”

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

This doesn’t surprise me. While talking to Wally Matthews, Hal Steinbrenner confirmed the family has no plans to sell the Yankees. “It’s our way of keeping our dad’s legacy alive,” he said. “People that know us know we didn’t have the biggest house on the street … We don’t have the lifestyle that would even necessitate us to even think about doing something like that. What the hell for?”

Not only did Hal say there are no plans to sell the team, he said there is a long-term plan in the works to hand the Yankees over to the next generation of Steinbrenners, namely his daughter Katherine, Hank’s children (George and Julia), Jessica Steinbrenner Malloy’s son (Robert Malloy), and Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal’s son (Stephen Swindal Jr.). They all want to get involved.

“This is a family business and we’re all involved. We all love being a part of this. We all know our dad wanted us to be a part of us, and we all know he’s watching down on us and happy that we’re all a part of it. Believe it or not, to us, that’s a big deal. The idea is, let’s keep it going,” said Hal. “We got a lot of grandkids, and they’re very interested. The idea is, it’s time to let the young elephants in the tent, in George’s words. So it’s begun.”

Forbes valued the Yankees at $3.2 billion at this time last year, though that doesn’t mean the Steinbrenners would ask for $3.2 billion for the team in a sale. It’s more complicated than that. The Dodgers sold for $2 billion a few years ago, but included in the sale was the land around Dodger Stadium and also the potential for a massive television contract, which was signed shortly after the team’s sale. The Yankees can’t sell any land and they have their own network already. The Dodgers sale isn’t a great reference point.

Anyway, I’m not surprised Hal says the team will stay in the family. Owning the Yankees is mighty lucrative, even with the club mired in quasi-contention and both attendance and ratings trending down. And once they get under the luxury tax threshold in a year or two — Hal reiterated to Matthews that that’s the plan — they stand to rake in even more money.

Hal Steinbrenner: “I’m not comfortable with the payroll being too much higher than it is now”

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Today, at the quarterly owners’ meetings in Coral Gables, Hal Steinbrenner told reporters he doesn’t want payroll to climb much higher than it is right now. “I’m not comfortable with the payroll being too much higher than it is now,” he said to Jon Heyman and Bob Nightengale. “(But) we’ve surprised people in the past.”

This isn’t a surprise, right? Payroll has held relatively steady for a decade now even though the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009 and MLB signed ginormous new national television deals two years ago. To be fair, the Yankees do pay a ton in luxury tax and revenue sharing each year. But still, payrolls around the league are going up while New York’s remain static.

Back of the envelope calculation: the Yankees currently have $223.6M on the books for next season per Cot’s, assuming Aroldis Chapman and Ivan Nova win their arbitration cases. Add in the rest of the 40-man roster and the $12M or so each team has to contribute towards player benefits, and the payroll for luxury tax purposes is around $240M right now.

The Yankees finished last season with a $241.15M payroll for luxury tax purposes and are again right at that number. The salary they took on in the Chapman and Starlin Castro trades replaces what they shed in Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chris Young, and Garrett Jones after the season. Also, the Yankees still haven’t signed an MLB free agent this winter.

You don’t have to look any further than the Yankees roster to understand why spending huge on free agents all the time isn’t a great idea. That said, I think it’s fair to say the team is not leveraging its financial might as well as they should. The rest of the league is catching up financially, so the market advantages of being a New York team are going to waste.

Hal has maintained his plan is to get under the luxury tax threshold in the near future, which would save the team tens of millions of dollars in luxury tax and revenue sharing. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December, and I assume the $189M threshold will go up with the next CBA. After getting under in 2017, the team could increase payroll substantially. We’ll see.

Hal: “I didn’t want to give those kids up” at the trade deadline

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two weeks ago the Yankees did relatively little at the trade deadline, acquiring Dustin Ackley in a minor trade with the Mariners and that’s all. The team was connected to almost every available pitcher but nothing came together, mostly because the Yankees were reportedly unwilling to deal their top prospects. That strategy is both understandable and very debatable.

At the owners meetings in Chicago this week, Hal Steinbrenner told Paul Hagen it was essentially his idea to make those top prospects off limits, mentioning several by name. Here’s what Hal said:

“I really don’t think we had the type of glaring need that you would address by giving up one of your top Triple-A prospects,” the managing general partner said Wednesday during the quarterly Owners Meetings. “I just wasn’t going to do it, especially not for a loaner, a guy you’re only going to have for three months or so.”

“Again, I didn’t want to give those kids up,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve been looking at them for two, three years now. They’ve progressed perfectly, and they’re all sitting there at [Triple-A] Scranton/[Wilkes-Barre]. Any one of them could contribute now if need be. We’ve already seen that in Luis Severino the last two starts. Greg Bird and Aaron Judge. Rob Refsnyder is there. James Pazos, some of the pitchers you’ve seen. Gary Sanchez is having a good year. So we’ve got some talent in Scranton, and we’re not going to give it up.”

Bird was called up earlier today, in case you missed it. He’ll serve as a backup at first base and DH for the time being. There’s really no way to get him in the lineup without sitting Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, so we’ll see how he’s used going forward.

Many of the team’s top prospects are in Triple-A right now — or in MLB, in the case of Bird and Severino — and those are the most valuable prospects because they’re so close to helping. It made sense to hang onto them … and I also think it made sense to move some of them (not all!) for help at the deadline. The Yankees had obvious needs (pitching, second base) and they were in first place after not going to the postseason the last two years. Would have been cool to get some upgrades.

Anyway, Hal and Brian Cashman and pretty much everyone in the organization said this past offseason the Yankees will rely more on younger players going forward, and it wasn’t just talk. They’ve walked the walk this year by calling up Bird, Severino, Jacob Lindgren, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, and a bunch of others throughout the summer. It’s fun! As long as it doesn’t hurt the team’s chances of playing in October, of course.

Hal on Jeter rejoining the Yankees in some capacity: “He will … I have no doubt”

Derek got slimed by Nickelodeon recently. (Kevin Winter/Getty)
Derek got slimed by Nickelodeon recently. (Kevin Winter/Getty)

Aside from the occasional photo globetrotting with his girlfriend, Derek Jeter has managed to keep a low profile since retiring last season. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. Jeter perfected the art of keeping a low profile despite being a megastar in New York.

During a recent interview, Hal Steinbrenner told Marc Topkin he expects Jeter to one day rejoin the Yankees in some capacity. Not as a player, of course, but in some sort of ex-player role. Whatever it is Reggie Jackson does, for example. Here’s what Hal told Topkin:

“He will be (involved in some capacity), I have no doubt,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “He lives here in Tampa. . . . I think he’s just trying to relax for a year. God knows he earned it. It’s a good relationship and I have no doubt he’ll be involved in whatever way he wants to be involved.”

We all know Jeter wants to own a team one day — “That’s the next goal, buddy. Calling the shots, not answering to someone, that’s what interests me,” he said to reporters last summer — and hey, who can blame him? We all not so secretly want to own a team one day. It’s good work if you can get it.

Could the Yankees let Derek buy a piece of team? I suppose, but who really knows. Hal simply said Jeter would “be a great owner, no doubt about it,” when asked. Either way, I’m certain Jeter has a job waiting for him with the Yankees whenever he’s ready to get back into baseball. It benefits both sides to keep the relationship going.