It depends upon what the meaning of the word “big” is

Keep spending, Hal. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Keep spending, Hal. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Despite a spending spree to open the off-season, the Yankees’ roster still has plenty of needs. We can expect that they’ll reach out to GMs and agents this week in an attempt to fulfill those needs and make the 2014 roster situation clearer. Nothing is guaranteed, as Brian Cashman will tell you until you’re sick of hearing it. But the Yankees clearly have motivation to make their moves and get a better grasp of where they stand.

A few of the remaining free agents make sense. Omar Infante fits as a second baseman who plays acceptable defense and can hit for about league-average numbers. Masahiro Tanaka could get posted. Even if he doesn’t the Yankees have needs in the rotation and could seek one of the free agent pitchers (about whom it appears teams are less than enthralled). However they choose to pursue additional players, it remains certain that they’re needed for a robust 2014 roster.

They might not fill out the roster with any of the remaining free agents, or at least the household names. Joel Sherman quotes a “key-decision-maker” for the Yanks: “we are certainly done with the big free agents this off-season.” So does that mean the Yankees will prioritize the trade route rather than the remaining free agents?

In a way it makes sense. Even if A-Rod‘s suspension stands, the Yankees are butting up against their $189 million payroll goal.* Letting off the gas at this point might make sense, especially considering that they’ve spent $299 million already this off-season. But on the other hand, why go gung-ho and then not finish the job? The Yankees have helped improve the club this off-season. There seems little sense in beefing up the roster, only to skimp when it comes to the complementary pieces.

*So it appears that they did spend money without regard to A-Rod. Neat.

This could be a bluff, of course. Then again, I’m not sure any team would buy a Yankees bluff at this point. Teams know that they’re going to do what’s necessary, and that could very well mean picking up another free agent. Sherman’s source did say “big free agents,” a term open to wide interpretation. Is Infante a big free agent? Is Grant Balfour? Raul Ibanez? Or are big free agents limited to guys like Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Unbaldo Jimenez? If the latter is the case, sure, the Yanks appear out on those guys.

For two years we’ve heard about Plan 189, and for at least a year we’ve bemoaned moves, or lack of moves, that push the Yankees in that direction at expense of the on-field team. The Yankees restored some faith this off-season by spending some dough to beef up the roster and create a contender for 2014. But they’re not done yet. They’ve pulled no punches to this point. Why not finish the job the way they started it?

The bet that can balance winning and Plan 189

For nearly two years now we’ve heard about the Yankees’ plans keep payroll below the luxury tax threshold in 2014. The story first cropped up in December, 2011, and a little over a year later Hal Steinbrenner acknowledged it as the organizational goal. Yet he always notes that getting under the threshold is a goal, one he believes is attainable, rather than a mandate. Fielding a championship-caliber team, he reminds us, remains the top priority.

Until the chips start to fall, fans can believe what they want. Some believe that the Steinbrenners are more concerned with lining their own pockets than winning, and won’t be convinced otherwise until the Yankees start doling out contracts. This is not an outrageous stance; given how much money the Yankees stand not only gain, but to take out of other teams’ pockets, getting under $189 million makes sense. At the same time, we saw the crowds at Yankee Stadium last year when the Yankees fielded a mediocre product. Surely the Steinbrenners understand that they could stand to lose plenty if the 2014 Yankees resemble the 1991 Yankees.

For those worried about how the payroll breaks down, we’ve seen some positive stories in the past few days about the Yankees showing interest in a number of quality free agents. On Friday Jon Heyman published one containing an encouraging quote from one of his sources: “Hal is very involved, and he wants to win.” Another interesting tidbit comes a few paragraphs later (emphasis mine).

Word is the Yankees still believe they can keep get their payroll below the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million, thanks to $100 million or so in contracts coming off the books, depending to a fair degree on the status of Alex Rodriguez‘s PED arbitration case vs. MLB.

If A-Rod somehow walks away without any suspension, he will count $33.5 million against the luxury tax next season ($27.5 million AAV, plus $6 million after he hits six more homers). If suspended for 50 games that number comes down to around $25 million, and if he gets suspended for 100 games it’s around $16.5 million ($10.5 million if he can’t hit six homers in 62 games, but he did hit seven in 44 games last year). And, of course, if he gets 162 or more games, the Yankees will have a nice heap of cash at their disposal.

The pace of the proceedings between MLB and Rodriguez throw a wrench into the Yankees’ off-season plans. Free agency is already in full swing with the GM meetings this week followed by the Winter Meetings in about a month. A good number of players will sign between now and when the Winter Meetings end on December 12. How can the Yankees make a move if they don’t know exactly what their 2014 books will look like?

The answer is that it shouldn’t matter. If Steinbrenner is truly serious about prioritizing a winning team over the luxury tax savings, he should forget that Alex Rodriguez exists. When arbitrator Fredric Horowitz renders his decision, it should have no effect on the Yankees’ plans. They should work with the assumption that Rodriguez will be suspended for all of 2014.

If the bet works out, the Yankees are in superb position. They can, with relative ease, field a competitive team and stay under the luxury tax threshold with another $33.5 million, in addition to the $40 million or so they have currently (as Mike calculated). That $70-plus million can pay for Robinson Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, plus two or three other starting-caliber players, depending on whether they’re acquired via free agency or the trade market. Chances are Rodriguez will push them over the threshold again in 2015, but at least they’ll have gotten below for one season, resetting the tax and keeping some of their revenue sharing monies.

If Rodriguez does play in 2014, Plan 189 does go out the window, though the luxury tax bill won’t be close last year’s record $29.1 million luxury tax bill. If Rodriguez avoids suspension and the Yankees are butting up against the tax threshold, they will pay $16.75 million in tax. At 50 games the bill would be $12.5 million, and at 100 games it would be $8.25 million.

Therein lies the entire bet. If the Yankees win, they get a championship team and pay zero dollars in luxury tax while keeping money previously sent to other teams. If they lose they still have to pay out those revenue sharing monies, plus luxury tax — though even in the worst case scenario the tax itself will amount to less than they’ve paid in the past four seasons.

As always, the it’s-not-my-money caveat applies. The Steinbrenners have the dollars, so they control who gets paid. But if they are serious about their statements, that winning takes precedence over the budget, they should spend as though Rodriguez doesn’t exist. To win that bet is a coup. To lose means writing another check, though not nearly to the level of last year and a bit below what they’ve paid in the recent past. We can only hope this makes sense to the people writing the checks.

Hal Steinbrenner speaks, and you’re not going to like what he has to say

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

MLB’s quarterly owners’ meetings are taking place right now, and Ken Davidoff managed to catch up with Hal Steinbrenner for a few minutes today. The team’s owner confirmed they have not had any serious talks about an extension for Robinson Cano (not new information) and acknowledged the club still needs a bat, but that’s not all. There’s more…

First thing that comes to mind: lol.

Second thing that comes to mind: The Yankees have a natural edge over the rest of the league because of their market and it’s immense money-making capabilities. Scaling back payroll even for one year is, frankly, a disservice to the fans. Doing it for multiple years is pretty close to a slap in the face. The Yankees aren’t hurting for money. They just built a new stadium and will receive hundreds of millions of dollars from their YES Network deal with News Corp., not to mention all the extra cash they’ll receive from MLB’s new national broadcast agreements. Hal’s dangerously close to saying “I know you know we make all this money, but not only are we not going to reinvest it in the team, we’re going to rub it in your face too.”

Whether they realize it or not — they don’t based on Hal’s comments — the Yankees are losing the PR war right now. The record-low ratings in our Fan Confidence Poll are not an accident. Fans are angry because they’ve done nothing to improve the team this offseason and plan to cut back on spending next winter. We’re not splitting atoms here, it’s pretty obvious why people aren’t happy with the team. If ownership and front office are truly oblivious to that, then things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

Brian Costa has a full recap of Steinbrenner’s quotes, just in case you want to slam your head against the table a little more.

Hal Speaks: “Jobs are not riding on this”

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The regular season ends tomorrow, so all across the league owners are spending the final series with their teams as they look forward to the postseason, search for answers, or just want to pal around with the fellas after being off-the-radar for the last six months. Maybe it’s all three in some cases.

Hal Steinbrenner was at Yankee Stadium yesterday, and he briefly spoke to the media prior to last night’s blowout win. Hal isn’t his father, so there wasn’t anything too exciting to come out of the media session. There is still some stuff to talk about, however. The following quotes come courtesy of George King and Bryan Hoch.

On whether jobs depend on how the Yankees finish the season…

“Are jobs riding on this? Not that I know of. Jobs are not riding on this and that’s not something I am concerned about right now. We look at everything in the off-season as we always do.”

In our recent polls, the majority of RAB readers said that neither Brian Cashman nor Joe Girardi should be fired or would have been fired had the Yankees failed to qualify for the postseason. A wildcard spot is clinched, but I suspect that sentiment will not change regardless of how the Yankees finish the season.

Cashman is under contract through 2014 and I never really thought/still don’t believe his job is in any kind of jeopardy. Girardi’s contract is up after next season and I was in the “he shouldn’t be fired but will be” camp with regards to his job security had the Yankees missed the postseason. He a fine manager, not great and not terrible, but five years is a pretty long time for stick around in this business. With Terry Francona available and waiting to be hired, my gut said Joe would have been the easy scapegoat.

On the tight race in the final month of the season…

“I am excited, I think we all would like a bit more breathing room, we have zero breathing room. But the guys have been playing tough and we have (Mark Teixeira) back Monday night and he will give us a boost so I am excited … I was concerned (about blowing the ten-game lead), I wouldn’t say I was worried. These guys know what is expected out of them. They are professionals. I had no doubt they were going to persevere the best they could. We kept getting a big guy back and another big guy goes out and it’s frustrating after a while. But we have everybody back now and we are at full strength and we will keep pressing on.”

Nothing really to add here, I just find it a little funny that he was “concerned” and not “worried.” I know there’s a difference, but I still got a nice chuckle out of this.

On the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014…

“I’ve made it clear that it’s very important to me for several reasons. Again, you’re talking about a 10 percent reduction in payroll. I don’t see that as an outrageous concept. I never have.”

The 2014 payroll plan was just a well-sourced rumor until Steinbrenner (and Cashman) confirmed it back in Spring Training. I don’t know of any fans that actually like the plan since what the hell, if you have the money spent it. That said, I think we can all understand why they’re striving to get under the luxury tax considering the potentially enormous savings. That doesn’t mean we have to like it, but part of me is hoping that it will force the team to be smarter with their spending and decision making. A $189M payroll is still nothing to sneeze at anyway, if they can’t contend with that then the problems go well beyond the money.

Cashman, Hal met in New York; still no deal

Via Joel Sherman and David Waldstein, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner met in New York yesterday, though they talked mostly about baseball and the team’s baseball operations. That’s a pretty good indication that the two sides expect a new contract for the GM to be reached with ease. Cashman’s contract expires next Monday, so we should hear something very soon. I figure it’ll be another three-year deal, Cashman’s fourth in a row.

Cashman, Hal to meet next week

Via Joel Sherman, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner are scheduled to meet sometime next week to hammer out the GMs new contract. Last week we heard that talks were going well, but it looks like they’re getting ready to shake hands and sign on the dotted line. The World Series will end exactly two weeks from today, assuming it goes the full seven games, and CC Sabathia will be able to opt out of his contract three days after that. That’s when the offseason really starts for Cashman and the Yanks.

Hal talks playoffs, Jeter, payroll, plans

Hal Steinbrenner has vowed to make the 2011 Yankees a World Series-caliber team. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ Managing General Partner and co-chairman, took to the airwaves this afternoon and spent around 20 minutes chatting with Michael Kay and then Mike Francesa on New York’s two sports talk radio stations. While keeping the Yanks’ offseason plans close to the vest, Steinbrenner let slip a few choice words on the playoff scheduling, Chuck Greenberg’s recent comments, the clubs’ payroll and the Yanks’ willingness to dip into the free agency pool.

We’ll start with the sexy stuff. Hal opened both interviews with his assessment of the team’s performance in the playoffs. Both times, he blamed the days off in between the end of the ALDS and the start of the ALCS. “We seemed a little bit cold in that series,” Hal said of the ALCS. “I don’t know if it was the long layoff or not.” I’ll have more on the playoff format and the unnecessary days off later tonight, but the Yanks never seemed to click during the ALCS. Having to stop play for six days probably didn’t help.

As a side note, Hal also called the 2010 season “very disappointing.” I don’t find myself too disappointed by a six-game ALCS series even though the Yanks lost. Counting the playoffs, they won 101 games this year, tops among AL teams and just one fewer than the World Series champion Giants. It was disappointing to see them go down against Texas, but this was a fun season.

The Yanks’ co-owner shifted gears after that to talk about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. “We absolutely want [Jeter] back. We absolutely want Mo back,” he said. Having said that, we’re running a business.” In fact, that’s a point Hal stressed in both radio appearances. The Yanks are a business and with Derek, the Steinbrenners want “a deal both sides are happy with.”

Hal seemed less nostalgic and sympathetic to the idea that Jeter deserves a huge contract than either Kay or Francesa wanted him to be. While noting that Derek is one of the all-time Yankee greats, he warned Kay, “There’s always the possibility that things could get messy.” To Francesa, he elaborated, “I want to get a deal done that he’s happy with but also that I’m happy with.”

In addition to resigning their own players, the Yankees will be active in the free agent market. Without naming specifics, Hal committed to spending the organization’s money. “We are looking at the free agent market as we do every year,” he said. “We certainly have money to spend and we’re going to look into it.” The team’s payroll, Hal said, will likely be on par with 2010’s though. So we shouldn’t expect too many big-ticket purchases if the team adheres to that budget.

Steinbrenner also stressed the team’s strategy. The use the free agent market to complement their youth movement, but they’re always going to spend money. “The fans need to know we’re not putting money in our pockets left and right,” he said. “We put most or all of it back into” the team. He also mentioned that the Legends Suites were sold at rates above 90 percent this year and that the franchise may adjust some ticket prices for 2011.

Finally, Hal talked about Chuck Greenberg’s comments. The Rangers CEO accused Yankee fans of being both violent and apathetic, and the Bombers were prepared to retaliate. These were “inappropriate, ridiculous comments,” Hal said. While the club accepted Greenberg’s apology, Hal was fairly merciless. “Stupid comments…they were inappropriate, “he said. “You need to apologize to our fans.”

At the end of both interviews, Hal said it was there intentions to build up the 2011 Yankees a “World Series-type team.” Whether it be via trade, free agency or both, the Yanks have a busy Hot Stove League ahead of them.