Hal Steinbrenner didn’t say he knew all along — or predicted as far back as last year’s July fire sale — that the 2017 Yankees would be sitting atop the American League East through the first six weeks of this season. But Steinbrenner, who attended Wednesday’s owners meetings at MLB’s Park Avenue headquarters, sounded more shocked about fans not recognizing 6-7 Aaron Judge during a recent “The Tonight Show” skit with Jimmy Fallon.
“It’s amazing to me,” Steinbrenner said. “But I guess the glasses somehow change the face.”
The trick worked for Superman’s alter ago, Clark Kent, so why not Judge, the bright, young face of Steinbrenner’s remodeled Yankees, a team that has “pleasantly surprised” the Yankees’ managing general partner. As a restless fan base lamented the Yankees missing the playoffs three out of the last four years, Steinbrenner remained a big proponent of rebuilding from within the organization, and that patience now is paying off.
How far it takes these Yankees, as well as what needs to be done to accommodate those goals, is the bigger question. And one that Steinbrenner believes maybe is still two months away from needing an answer. Conventional wisdom suggests the Yankees are going to need rotation help to be a serious contender, despite their 23-13 start, and that could tempt Steinbrenner to move some of his better prospects, an action he’s not thrilled about doing.
“I think we’ve been pretty consistent about not trading away the young talent the last three to four years,” Steinbrenner said. “And I think, in part, that consistency has paid off in several areas, right? So that’s not something I’m looking to do, is trade away all of our top prospects.”
Not all, of course. But the Yankees do have some surplus, and Clint Frazier — the Triple-A outfielder acquired from the Indians in last July’s Andrew Miller swap — would seem to be in that group. As far as the date for knowing when these Yankees are worth considering such deals, Steinbrenner indicated they’re not at that point yet.
“That’s clearly going to be the second half of July,” Steinbrenner said. “We’re going to see where we’re at. What options are available and what those options would cost. That’s something we go through every year in the last two weeks of July. You know us — we always think we’re in it. So that’s why we go through that exercise every two weeks in July.”
The successful development of this year’s prospect crop may also embolden Steinbrenner beyond this season, as he looks to get below the $197-million luxury tax threshold for the 2018 season. As it stands now, the Yankees are well-positioned to do so, with five players coming off the books — CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda and Tyler Clippard — for a payroll-tax savings of $74 million.
As much as Steinbrenner has made that a priority, while insisting he’d return a percentage of that money back into the team, don’t automatically assume it’s ticketed for the prized 2018 free-agent class that includes Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The recent impact of the Yankees’ homegrown players also gives Steinbrenner the ability to be more frugal if the controllable, cost-efficient young talent is carrying most of the team’s workload.
“Look, everybody’s talking about [the ’18 free-agent class],” Steinbrenner said. “But it doesn’t come into play with me much because I’ve got to see how our guys mature at Double-A and Triple-A. And how the guys that are now up are going to continue to do. So it’s just way too early for that.”
One homegrown Yankee who earned more than $265 million from the Yankees is Derek Jeter, whose No. 2 was retired Sunday night in the Bronx. Steinbrenner said “nobody deserves their number retired more than him for all he’s done for the organization,” but seemed to wrestle with the idea of him being part-owner of the Marlins, if the former Yankees captain wins out with partner Jeb Bush.
“Obviously we all consider him a Yankee,” Steinbrenner said. “And hopefully that will remain the same his whole life. But you never know. I’m sure for a brief amount of time, it’s kind of like seeing [Don] Mattingly as a Dodger manager, or Marlins manager. That was a little odd, because I always think of him as a Yankee. He was always one of my favorites growing up, so I’m sure it will be [odd] for a time. But we’ll see what happens.”