Flirting with a .500 record is not what Hal Steinbrenner had in mind when he authorized spending nearly $500 million last winter to upgrade the Yankees. But that sizable investment won't stop Steinbrenner from reaching for his checkbook again in the next few months -- possibly to fortify a weakened pitching staff -- if taking on more payroll in a big-money trade is necessary for a playoff run.
"We're always willing to look at options come July, come the trade deadline," Steinbrenner said Thursday after the quarterly meetings of Major League Baseball's owners in Manhattan. "And I think we've shown that. Some years we've done stuff -- like last year with [Alfonso] Soriano. Some years we haven't.
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"But we're not going to ever lay down and die. We're going to do what we need to do stay in it."
A year ago, the two biggest questions facing Steinbrenner involved Robinson Cano's pending free agency and the Yankees' goal -- not mandate -- of cutting back the payroll to below the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season. Steinbrenner chose to stick with neither option, blowing past the payroll ceiling while saying goodbye to Cano. But now Steinbrenner's "struggling" Yankees entered Thursday night's game against the Mets 20-19 this season in the tightly packed AL East.
"It's significant when you lose three of your five starters," Steinbrenner said. "But it's early. And we're right in there. Our division has spent most of April beating up on each other it seems like, so everybody's right around .500. We just got to keep clawing away."
In Steinbrenner's mind, the reasons are twofold. While a rash of injuries has seriously wounded the starting rotation -- "That's obviously a concern," he said -- some of the Yankees' high-priced bats have underperformed as well. Carlos Beltran, who signed a three-year, $45-million deal, has a slash line of .234/.286/.430 and is now sidelined with a bone spur in his elbow. Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) was even worse at .223/.263/.362.
"The offense has been a concern, up until the last week," Steinbrenner said. "We're starting to score runs now. Guys that were struggling are starting to hit the ball hard. So I think that's going in the right direction. But for a while there, they were not living up to their potential, clearly, as well.
"Tough times. We've been through them before. We got a veteran club. They're going to keep grinding away."
The most senior of those veterans is Derek Jeter, who turns 40 next month and is looking like he chose the right year to retire. The irony is that Jeter, after fighting back from a serious ankle injury, has been one of the few Yankees to stay healthy this season, even if he's hitting a rather un-Jeter-like .262 and his numbers are not what the captain has been used to producing.
"I'm sure they're down," Steinbrenner said. "I haven't looked and analyzed the way you have. But he's Derek and nobody is going to try harder and nobody is going to give greater effort than him, so we're glad he's healthy."