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Bryce Harper, Manny Machado in pinstripes? Hal Steinbrenner says never say never

The Yankees' managing general partner likes the improvements to his team but is open to adding a big-ticket item.

Free agents Bryce Harper, left, and Manny Machado

Free agents Bryce Harper, left, and Manny Machado are expected to get long-term contracts worth at least $30 million annually.   Photo Credit: Getty Images/Rob Carr

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s unlikely that the Yankees will sign Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. But the man who signs the checks said he isn’t ruling it out, only because he doesn’t rule out anything until he has to.

Hal Steinbrenner, speaking Thursday at the owners’ meetings, said if general manager Brian Cashman came to him with a proposal to add a big-ticket player, he would listen.

Manager Aaron Boone said this week that he thinks the roster is done for 2019. Maybe not, Steinbrenner said.

“I don’t think it’s ever done,” he said. “Look, if somebody comes — I haven’t changed — I mean if somebody comes to me with a suggestion or a proposal, I’m going to seriously consider it right up until Opening Day or after. That’s part of my leave-no-stone-unturned [policy], right?

“But I’m excited about the roster. I think we’ve definitely got a better club Opening Day than we did Opening Day last year, particularly in pitching, which was my biggest area of concern.”

Machado and Harper can’t help the Yankees in that department. But because the talented young megastars remain on the market with spring training beginning next week, it means the Yankees will be asked about them until they sign elsewhere — or unless the Yankees swoop in with an unexpected offer.

Asked if he would be surprised if the Yankees made another major expenditure, Steinbrenner said: “I wouldn’t be surprised because these guys come to me all the time with stuff. I can’t tell you if 17 days from now, they come with some kind of proposal that I say no or I say yes. I just can’t tell you that right here on February whatever it is.”

So what are Yankees fans to think?

“Fans should keep an open mind that I’m never done until I’m done, and that’s not usually until Opening Day,” Steinbrenner said. “Proposals come to me every day with these guys, between the analytics guys and the pro scouting guys, and I’m going to consider every single one of them. But I have to look at the big picture, and it is my responsibility that my family expects and my partners expect not just to look at the present but to look at the future, too.

“Three, four, five years from now, we’ve got a lot of homegrown kids that we love, our fans love, that are going to be coming up for free agency, and that’s something I’ve got to keep in mind as well. This is why I take a long time and aggravate some people in my decision-making. But if I’ve got the time, I’m going to take it and I’m going to use it. I’ve got to think about everything. I just see that as my job. Present and future and whatever’s in between.”

Aaron Judge made headlines this week when he made an off-hand comment about being willing to change positions to make room for Harper. Steinbrenner said he heard about the comment from Cashman.

“I just think it’s a testament to the player he’s talking about,” Steinbrenner said of Harper. “He’s a tremendous player.”

After the death of his mother, Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, was unavailable when Cashman, Boone and team president Randy Levine met with Machado, his wife and his representatives at Yankee Stadium in late December.

“Everybody thought he was great,” Steinbrenner said. “Very down to Earth, intelligent. Everybody loved his wife. She was great. My people have been around long enough that I have implicit trust in them, and when Cashman and Randy tell me he’s a very good kid, then I’m going to believe them.”

Steinbrenner brushed aside the idea that the Yankees aren’t spending enough money to improve last year’s team, which won 100 games in the regular season but lost to the eventual world champion Red Sox in a four-game Division Series. He said he’s aware that criticism is out there, but he rejects it.

“If there’s a narrative that we’re not spending money and being cheap, it’s just false,” he said. “I mean, we’re well above $200 million [in payroll] — we’re at $220 [million] right now — and we’re well above where we were last year. We did everything we wanted to do to really improve, again, the pitching, because that’s where I wanted improvement, because as far as I’m concerned, pitching was a big problem in the Division Series, more so than anything else.”

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