The Yankees, Stephen Drew, and the worst part of the hot stove season

When the Yankees agreed to sign Masahiro Tanaka to his massive seven-year contract, it eliminated any small remaining chance they would stay under the $189M luxury tax threshold this coming season. Their payroll currently sits around $204M and, based on their Opening Day payrolls over the last three years, it appears they have another $10M or so to spend. Once you’re over the threshold, might as well go way over, right? Fill out the rest of the roster as needed.

As Joe mentioned earlier, the Yankees were predictably connected to free agent shortstop Stephen Drew less than two days after the ink dried on the Tanaka contract. Jon Heyman had the news:

The Yankees are now considering free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, which could potentially put another dent in the rival Red Sox’s up-the-middle alignment only weeks after the Yankees signed Boston star center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

There has been a thought the Yankees might be willing to keep spending after landing star Japanese free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. But while there doesn’t seem to be a push for another top starter or reliever, Drew is one free agent the Yankees are at least weighing, according to people familiar with their thinking … Although the Yankees apparently aren’t quite a bottomless pit of cash, a possible run at Drew “depends on the price” according to a person familiar with their thinking.

This makes sense, right? The Yankees have an obvious need for infield help and Drew is substantially better than any other free agent infielder left on the market. Agent Scott Boras has indicated Drew is willing to play somewhere other than his natural shortstop position according to Peter Gammons, which is good because Derek Jeter isn’t going to change positions. I know it, you know it, and the Yankees know it. It ain’t happening.

Now, just a little more than 14 hours after Heyman’s initial report, Buster Olney reported this:

Ken Rosenthal backed up Olney’s report, saying “sources say team essentially has reached spending limit” while noting a more likely move is a trade involving players with similar salaries, like Ichiro Suzuki for a reliever (J.J. Putz?).

The whole “sources say team has interest in a player, team then denies report and interest in a player” routine is so very common during the offseason. Both sides, the club and the player (and his agent), want to control information. Agents will float reports about teams being interested in their players even if they aren’t just to drum up some leverage. Teams will deny interest in a player even if they want him because they don’t want other clubs to get involved and potentially drive up the price.

We see this all the time and it’s possible (if not likely) that neither Heyman and Olney (and Rosenthal) is wrong. The Yankees could indeed have interest in Drew and be denying it at the same time. They may want to keep things quiet so the Red Sox stay out of the mix. It’s also possible Boras leaked a fake rumor as a way of creating the appearance of a bidding war in an effort to coax every last dollar out of Boston. This isn’t some kind of crazy conspiracy theory. This stuff happens all winter and especially with rivals like the Yankees and Red Sox.

Teams and agents manipulate the media in an effort to control information and, for the most part, fans eat this stuff up because we love talking about potential roster moves and playing GM. At the same time, all the conflicting reports are just awful. The 24-hour news cycle is really second-by-second, given me updates in real time news cycle nowadays, so every little blurb finds it’s way onto the web and in front of fans. It’s exhausting. It really is.

It makes perfect sense for the Yankees to have interest in Drew following the Tanaka signing. It also makes sense that Boras would try to use them as negotiating leverage against the Red Sox. I don’t know what to believe and this is the aspect part of the offseason.

Must Click Link: The Randy Levine-Alex Rodriguez emails

This is too great. Steve Fishman of NY Mag published some email exchanges between Randy Levine and Alex Rodriguez late last week as part of their big A-Rod feature. Apparently Levine, who is unwilling to fully type out “you” and “are,” frequently emailed Alex after games to offer words of encouragement, stuff like that. Oh, and he also once said Robinson Cano “needs some steroids fast!” He really said that. (Mike Puma says Levine claims it was a “bad joke.”)

The whole MLB/Yankees vs. A-Rod spectacle is pretty much everything I hoped it would be. It’s completely chaotic and both sides look like total buffoons. I can’t believe a team president said his best player “needs some steroids fast!” in an email to another player. That’s hilarious.

NYT: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks inquired about A-Rod last winter

Via Ken Belson & David Waldstein: The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan inquired about the availability of Alex Rodriguez through an intermediary over the winter. The Yankees never bothered to follow up because they knew A-Rod needed hip surgery at the time, plus there’s pretty much no chance he would have agreed to the move anyway.

The Hawks are owned by a prominent technology company, which uses the team as an innovative promotional tool despite taking a loss. They lead the league in attendance and won the pennant as recently as 2011. Rodriguez, 37, is currently working his way back from that hip surgery and is expected back around the All-Star break if there are no setbacks. It is so very unlikely he would have agreed to a move to Japan at this point, and besides, New York’s third basemen are hitting .262/.306/.365 (84 OPS+) this year. There’s a spot for him in the lineup.

Sherman: “Top of the Yankees hierarchy” was behind Ichiro re-signing

This isn’t the most surprising thing in the world, but Joel Sherman reports the “top of the Yankees hierarchy” demanded the re-signing of Ichiro Suzuki this past offseason following “a strong Division Series and adoration from the fans.” Who knows what “top of the hierarchy” actually means, but it sure sounds like something above the baseball operations department.

Ichiro, 39, has managed to raise his early-season batting line to .185/.233/.296 following a multi-hit game and a homer against the Indians these last two days. The Yankees gave him a two-year, $13M contract over the winter and it just so happens he has a shot to record his 3,000th MLB hit next September. He’ll have to pick-up the pace to get there though, he’s currently 389 hits away from the milestone. It seemed like a move motivated more by off-field interests (marketing, merchandise, etc.) than on-field production from the start.

Passan: MLB targeting A-Rod (and Braun) in Biogenesis probe

Via Jeff Passan: MLB is primarily targeting Alex Rodriguez (and Ryan Braun) for potential discipline as part of their investigation into Anthony Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic in South Florida. “There’s no question in my mind they want those two guys,” said one of Passan’s sources.

A-Rod, 37, was linked to Biogenesis and performance-enhancing drugs back in January. MLB’s investigation isn’t gaining much steam, so the league has considered offering other players immunity (!) in exchange for cooperating with their efforts to bring down A-Rod and Braun according to Passan. That would be hilariously hypocritical. Apparently MLB is so concerned with PEDs that they’re willing to let some cheaters go unpunished just so they could beat their chest after bringing down some big names. How exactly would that make the game clean? Baseball would be dirtier than ever.

The Yankees are officially* the Evil Empire

Via Ashby Jones: A panel of trademark judges ruled earlier this month that the Yankees have rights to the phrase “Evil Empire” when used in connection to baseball. A private company called Evil Enterprises Inc. tired to trademark the phrase “Baseball’s Evil Empire” back in July 2008, but the Yankees fought them and won. Pretty silly.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino first slapped the Evil Empire tag on the Yankees back in 2002 after losing out on free agent right-hander Jose Contreras. Given how that whole turned out, I’m guessing Lucchino isn’t all that upset anymore. The Yankees argued that they are commonly called the Evil Empire and it would create confusion, especially since they’ve embraced the moniker by playing Star Wars music — as the opponent’s lineup is being announced, mind you — at Yankee Stadium. Evil Enterprises Inc. has yet to decide whether to appeal.

* Kinda sorta, anyway.

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.