On mansions, hunger and Hank Steinbrenner

An aerial view of St. Jetersburg (Photo Credit: Michael Egger, TBO.com)

Derek Jeter has built himself an huge mansion on Davis Island overlooking the Tampa Bay. Jeter spent $7.7 million on two lots back in 2005 and 2006, and in early 2009, he started construction on his $7.7 million house. It’s a very big house, the largest square-foot-wise in all of Hillsborough County.

Hank Steinbrenner, the Yanks’ general partner and co-chairperson, doesn’t much go for mansions. While talking off the cuff with reporters on Monday afternoon, Hank attempted to channel his dad as he questioned his team’s hunger in 2010. “Sometimes, I think maybe they celebrated a bit too much last year, and some of the players were too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning,” he said. “I have no problems saying that. I think they’ll come into this spring with a new hunger, and that’s what it takes to win.”

When a reporter noted that only Jeter built a mansion this past year, Hank backtracked a bit. He didn’t, however, note that the mansion under the microscope had been under construction during the Yanks’ 2009 World Series run. “I’m not singling anybody out,” he insisted. “Maybe they were riding the wave of ’09 a little too much. It happens. Psychologically, it happens.”

Except for a digression on Rafael Soriano, those were Hank’s most strident words during the nine-minute session with reporters. Afterwards, Erik Boland of Newsday took to Twitter to remind the amused masses that the eldest Steinbrenner son has “little influence on day-to-day operations.” The comments are, in other words, “nothing more than entertainment.”

But I think there’s more going on than just entertainment. Hank is defensive about his money. He’s made that perfectly clear in his repeated attacks on Major League Baseball’s revenue sharing system, and again yesterday, he called it either communist or socialist. Bud Selig, he says, wants to “do something” about it.

With Jeter, then, Steinbrenner, who doesn’t involve himself with the Yanks too closely, saw what we all saw. George’s golden boy — the short stop/captain who could — is getting older. With free agency looming, the 36-year-old hit .270/.340/.370 last year and produced career lows in nearly every offensive category. He was also coming off of a 10-year, $189-million contract but still wanted to be paid like the icon he is and the player he was.

After bitter negotiations made worse by incessant media coverage, the Yanks and Jeter struck a deal. For the next three years, Jeter will average $16 million in annual salary, and he holds an $8 million player option for 2014 that could be worth as much as $17 million. As Jeter noted this weekend, he intends to play out the duration of the contract. “That’s my option, buddy,” he said.

We don’t know what kind of season Jeter will have this year. We don’t know if Kevin Long can stave off an age-related decline. We don’t know what 39-year-old or 40-year-old Jeter will look like. We do know that he’ll be living in a mansion in Hank’s backyard that’s bigger than any house around. No wonder the Yanks’ owner is taking jabs at mansions.

Hanks likes to roar; that’s nothing new. But taking aim at Jeter won’t earn him many accolades from the fans. The Yanks are moving forward with Jeter, as they should, and that’s just the way of things, mansions and all.

A Note on Soriano

In the same interview, Steinbrenner defended the Yanks’ signing of Rafael Soriano, and he adamantly compared the reliever to Cliff Lee. “Everybody’s missing the point,” he said of the criticism surrounding Soriano. “We didn’t get Lee, but we got the second best relief pitcher in the American League next to our own guy…They seem to be conveniently forgetting that fact.” He again repeated, “We didn’t get the starter, but we got the reliever.” As the Yanks head into the season with a mixture of Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon holding down the back end of the rotation, I wonder who exactly is missing the point.

A hat tip to Marc Carig for the Hank Steinbrenner audio.

A roar from Hank but a looser Front Office

The Yankee ownership has spent the winter on ice, in a sense. They had to wait for Cliff Lee to return to Philadelphia as the Red Sox made moves to bolster their immediate prospects. They’re waiting for Andy Pettitte to decide he wants to come back. They’re waiting for some starting pitching to materialize, and they’re waiting to see how an aging core of players performs. From what I’ve heard, they waited almost too long to re-sign Mariano Rivera, but all’s well that ends.

With all of this waiting, though, Hank Steinbrenner is growing impatient. In an extensive talk with Kevin Kernan, the Yanks’ General Partner and Co-Chairperson had some choice words for his team. “We will do what we have to do to win. We have the highest payroll and the reason is we are committed to our fans to win,” he said. “We just have to (bleeping) win.” Of course, he didn’t really say bleeping, but I’ll let you use your imagination.

Hank went on about the Yanks’ off-season. He’s excited about the bullpen and thinks Joba Chamberlain will have a bounce-back year. He’s not happy about Cliff Lee’s decision though. “The fans pay the bills, we owe it to ourselves and to them to put the best product out there,” he said. “If we couldn’t get Cliff Lee, I’m really happy about getting Soriano. I just wish Lee would have given Brian the chance to meet with him, but he was on a hunting trip. He’s got his own reasons.”

Channeling his dad, he spoke about the Yanks’ youngsters and the club’s high hopes for them. “We got those kids coming too, Nova more as a starter, and the others,” he said. “You never know, one or two of them may join the team,” Steinbrenner said. “I know some of our baseball people don’t agree with our other baseball people a lot of the time, but they all like Nova.”

In parts I’m not going to quote here, Steinbrenner spoke about having faith in A-Rod and not regretting the 10-year deal he handed out. He speaks about re-upping with Jeter — “We do have a budget and we’ve got to be somewhat careful. We’ve made all our players rich. Our guys do deserve it.” — and he talks about staying healthy. Ultimately, he has faith: “I say we have one of the top four teams in baseball, whether we end up being the best or not, we’ll see.”

As Hank breaks his silence, another member of the Yankee Front Office spoke about his own relationship with his bosses this week. After a strained press conference with Rafael Soriano, the New York media wondered about Brian Cashman‘s comments, and during his Tuesday appearance on The Michael Kay Show, Cashman spoke about his reaction. He had, he said, “full authority from Hal” to dissent from ownership during the Soriano presser and did so for a reason.

“For me to be able to do my job, I have to be able to communicate with GMs, agents and media, and part of those conversations are very, very important,” he said. If he’s talking to other relief options such as J.J. Putz, Kerry Wood or Bobby Jenks, he can’t tell them that the Yanks won’t pay $7-$8 million per year for a set-up man if the team is going to sign Soriano for even more. “During those conversations,” he said, “your credibility comes into play when you make statements.”

By talking about at the press conference, he sent the message that he did not lie to other clubs and players. He was simply out-voted by those in charge of him. “It’s not the first time I’ve been overruled,” he said, “and it won’t be the last.”

Cashman respects his bosses. He says he lines everything that he says up with ownership first to make sure they’re on board, but every now and then, they’re not on board. It happens to everyone. These days, Cashman has been preaching patience, but those above him on the pecking order seem to be chomping at the bit. Even as the off-season of Andruw Jones, Russell Martin and Rafael Soriano drags toward Tampa, things are rarely quiet for the Yankees.

Hank speaketh and Derek benefiteth

Since Hank Steinbrenner outbid himself for the services of Alex Rodriguez, the Yanks’ General Partner has been generally silent. He hasn’t tried to erupt at the media, and his brother Hal has emerged as the public face of the franchise. Still, now and then, Hank speaks, and we cringe a bit. Yesterday, that’s exactly what happened.

In an interview with AP on Thursday, Hank spoke generally about the Yankees. He thinks the Yanks are going to repeat; he likes the additions of Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez; yadda, yadda, yadda. They are the typical comments of a General Partner on the eve of Spring Training.

One thing that Hank said bears a little bit of scrutiny, though. When asked about Derek Jeter‘s impossible-to-ignore pending free agency, Hank had a few words to share. “We’ll get into all of that eventually,” Steinbrenner told AP. “Jeter’s place in Yankee history is obvious, so I think you can pretty much assume from there.”

Ah, yes, let’s make some assumptions based upon what Derek Jeter has done over the course of his career. We knew this was coming, and Jeter probably deserves the payday that awaits him. However, it’s tough for the Yankees on a budget to justify this future expenditure to such an extreme degree.

Once or twice this winter, we’ve looked at Derek Jeter’s career and his contract status. We saw him win a fifth World Series ring, and we heard false rumors of an impending three-year extension. We know that Derek Jeter is a shortstop with a career OPS+ of 121 and a batting line of .317/.388/.459 who sits on the edge of 3000 hits. He will get paid.

When Johnny Damon and the Yankees seemingly finalized their divorce, Damon spoke about how he hopes the Yanks don’t treat Jeter the same way they treated him. Of course, that was a bit of hyperbole on Damon’s behalf because the Yanks were never attached to Damon the same way they are connected to Jeter. They won’t throw out Jeter with the bathwater as they did Damon. He will get his due.

The bigger question right now isn’t an “if”; it’s a “should.” The Yankees have millions of dollars committed to Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. The latter two make up a core of players at the right age playing out their peak years with the Yankees, and A-Rod, while older than we’d like, is still a great player. Now they have to figure out how to approach the old guard as Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be without contracts in 10 months, with Jorge Posada following a year later.

We know that the Yankees will reward these players. We know the team will spend what it takes to keep them around. We know the trio will see the dollars flow their way when the time comes. But the Yankees, as with any other business, operate with a business and with a goal in mind. Does signing Derek Jeter to an above-market deal make sense in that regard? Probably not. Yet, he will get paid. After all, Hank said so.

Not a peep out of Hank

On June 11, after the Yankees had dropped their eight straight game to the Red Sox, there was no outburst from ownership. On June 23, after the Yankees had lost five of six, including the final two games of the Nationals series, Joe Girardi‘s job was not publicly threatened. The Red Sox had rolled since beating the Yankees, widening their division lead to five games. Still, all they got was a visit from Brian Cashman. There was no statement to the newspapers, no subtle threat that if things didn’t turn around, heads would roll.

Such are the days post George Steinbrenner. As recently as a few years ago, The Boss was still working his old angle. He hadn’t fired a manager on an impulse in over a decade, but it seemed he was ready to let Joe Torre have it. In 2005, when the team got off to a slow star, Steinbrenner mused, “It is unbelievable to me that the highest-paid team in baseball would start the season in such a deep funk. They are not playing like true Yankees. They have the talent to win and they are not winning. I expect Joe Torre, his complete coaching staff and the team to turn this around.”

The Yankees turned it around that year, but found themselves in a similar spot in 2007. After an April sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, the Boss again threatened Torre’s job. They made a turnaround in the second half, though, and convincingly took a playoff spot, only to find themselves down 2-0 to the Indians. Said Steinbrenner: “His job is on the line. I think we’re paying him a lot of money. He’s the highest-paid manager in baseball, so I don’t think we’d take him back if we don’t win this series.” The Yankees did not win the series, and although they made a PR effort to bring back Torre, it did not appear to be a sincere one.

As the 2007 season turned over, it appeared as though there would be a successor to Big Stein: his eldest son, Hank. It was a natural fit. Right away he displayed the temperament of his father, constantly issuing public statements that sometimes made us laugh, sometimes made us cringe. He certainly looked the part, but he clearly wasn’t a natural at it like his father. But it appeared we did have our succeeding Steinbrener.

Over that winter, Hank personally negotiated a new deal for Alex Rodriguez, after the superstar opted out of his contract. Brian Cashman had said multiple times that the team would not negotiate with the superstar if he exercised the opt-out clause in his contract. Yet once A-Rod came begging back to the team, Hank was receptive.

Then came the Johan Santana situation. The Yanks were going to be major players in the sweepstakes, and the Twins knew what they were dealing with. They insisted on the inclusion of Phil Hughes in the package, and Hank took the bait. He said that they’d add Hughes, but that there was an expiration date on the offer. What that was supposed to accomplish, none of us knew. It blew over, though, and by that time Brian Cashman and Hank’s younger brother Hal had wrested enough power to decline a deal for Santana.

Since then, Hank has been mostly silent. Jim Baumbach of Newsday tackles the subject in a recent article. He has quotes from multiple Yankees executives claiming that Hank is “intimately involved” with the team’s doings, but there’s never any concrete roles mentioned. In fact, Baumbach said he had trouble tracking down Hank at his office, and noted that his employees “described him as not quite a 9-to-5-er.”

Most surprisingly, Hankenstein has changed his phone number. That must have irked a reporter or two, who could just hit up his speed dial for an easy quote. According to Baumbach, Stein “was sick of seeing his words get twisted in the papers and then see himself get ripped for it.” He can view it that way, but it doesn’t seem his words were twisted much. It seems to me that they were just misguided words in the first place.

At his height, maybe George Steinbrenner would have fired Joe Girardi after the Yankees eight straight loss to the Red Sox. Maybe if Hank and not Hal had been named general partner, the same would have happened. The Yankees made the right choices along the way, and they’re reaping the benefits now. This is to say that I don’t think anyone really misses the outbursts of Hank Steinbrenner.

Hank responds to Boston salary cap jabs

When the Red Sox leadership blamed the Yanks and called for a salary cap yesterday, it was really only a matter of time before Yankee attack dog Hank Steinbrenner got in on the action. While Hank’s comments were not up to their usual biting self and generally pale in comparison to anything George used to unleash, the Steinbrenner son did not disappoint.

In his response, he defended the Yanks’ spending on revenue sharing grounds. “Along with a few other teams, we’re basically baseball’s stimulus package,” he said. “As long as we’re..giving all this money to other teams in revenue sharing, a staggering amount, we should be able to spend on salaries what we want to. Because of revenue sharing and because of the popularity nationwide, the Yankees are critical to baseball.” Amen, Hank. Amen.