TAMPA, Fla. — Did Hal Steinbrenner mention he’s excited?
Twelve times in an eight-minute, 30-second meeting with reporters Wednesday, the Yankees managing general partner used a form of the word in describing his thoughts about the 2017 season, specifically the number of young players his team will be relying on.
Despite the youth movement, that doesn’t mean the season is without expectations, even if those set from the outside are modest at best.
“The expectations are great, as they always are,” Steinbrenner said after Yankees pitchers and catchers went through their first official workout together.
The franchise’s shift toward youth has dominated talk about the team since last year’s trade deadline, and it continued throughout the offseason and into spring training.
“I just think we’re in a good place right now,” Steinbrenner said. “But now we’ve got to prove ourselves. We’ve got a good thing going, everybody’s excited about it, and now we’ve got to prove ourselves.”
And that extends to general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi, each of whom is in the final year of his contract. Cashman is in the last year of a three-year deal, Girardi in the last of a four-year deal.
To be clear: Steinbrenner didn’t come close to delivering any “World Series or bust ultimatums,’’ or ultimatums of any kind. He started one response with “We love Joe.” But he also didn’t provide a fait accompli message about a new contract while answering a question about the criteria he uses in evaluating a manager.
“I think they’ve got to be great at both working with the young players and the veterans,” Steinbrenner said. “I think it’s certainly a cerebral job, Joe’s a very smart guy. There’s a lot of aspects to it, especially when you’re doing it in New York City. You’ve got to have tough skin, which he does, and he’s done a good job, but we’ll have to see how this year goes.”
Perhaps sensing how that could be interpreted, Steinbrenner answered this way to a follow-up about how this season might impact his thoughts on retaining Girardi, who is entering his 10th year as Yankees manager.
“I could say that about any employee whose contract’s coming up,” Steinbrenner said. “How was your performance the last year, two, three years of your entire contract? Not so much just that last year, but throughout the course of the entire contract. It’s not just going to be any different for me, whether it’s Joe or somebody else.”
The Yankees haven’t won a playoff game since 2012 and missed the playoffs three of the last four years.
As for Cashman, Steinbrenner said: “I think he’s done great. Look, the changes we’ve made in player development the last few years . . . He oversees.”
He also touched on Alex Rodriguez, a special adviser to Steinbrenner, and when he might stop in as a guest instructor. “He’s going to be here at least once, I think twice,” Steinbrenner said. He said he could see an expanded role in the organization for A-Rod but that “I haven’t thought about” anything specifically.
Steinbrenner did not offer much when asked to describe his thoughts on the seven-year, $153-million investment he made in Jacoby Ellsbury before the 2014 season. While not a bust, Ellsbury hasn’t been close to a star, producing a .264/.326/.382 slash line over three seasons.
“Jacoby’s a great player,” Steinbrenner said. “He comes to play every day, he’s been great with the young kids. The stats are what the stats are.”
Any mention of those young kids, of course, has Steinbrenner enthused or, to be more precise, excited.
“I’m excited, my family’s excited and I think everybody in this organization is excited. And I think a lot of our fans are excited. It’s been a number of years since we’ve really had a good crop of young players, some of which have proven themselves to certain degree, some of which have a lot to prove. But it’s neat to be in that situation.”