PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. - Hal Steinbrenner wouldn't say the Yankees are done spending for the 2015 season. But in talking about his investment so far, coming off two non-playoff years, Steinbrenner also made it sound like Max Scherzer shouldn't be waiting by the phone.
"There's just a certain amount I'm going to go," Steinbrenner said Wednesday at the MLB owners meetings. "You all know my opinions about payroll. Where you should be and where you really don't need to be to win championships."
Where the Yankees are now is at roughly $209 million, behind only the Dodgers ($264 million) for the biggest payroll in baseball. And Steinbrenner is the latest -- not to mention the highest ranking -- member of the front office to express reluctance for adding another mega-contract.
Even without signing a costly, ace-type starter like Scherzer, Steinbrenner sounds pleased with the Yankees' direction this winter.
"We had numerous goals," Steinbrenner said. "But two of the goals were certainly to get younger and better defensively and I think we did that. I think our bullpen's better. I think it's one of the best in baseball, quite frankly, in my opinion. So there's been some improvement.
"We started out with a payroll that was already high before we did anything, so we knew we had a certain amount of dollars to work with. And I think [GM Brian Cashman] did a great job."
Steinbrenner wasn't ready to declare the Yankees a finished project. He did leave the door slightly ajar when pressed on the possibility of another significant bump in the 2015 payroll.
"Look, it's not over 'til it's over, OK?" Steinbrenner said. "We've still got a full month until spring training and we're always going to continue to improve."
A year ago, Steinbrenner chose to blow past the $189-million luxury tax threshold after cautioning for months that it was a goal and not a mandate. But the Yankees still failed to make the playoffs, despite handing out nearly $500 million in new contracts, and Steinbrenner insisted Wednesday that the Yankees' efforts to get younger -- with a more flexible payroll -- are a necessity moving forward.
"You don't have to have a $200-million payroll to win," Steinbrenner said. "Particularly in New York, we do have to have marquee players. Players that people really want to come out to see, that they're excited about. But you got to have a balance of young talent, too.
"We had a couple bad years in our player development system where we just didn't have anybody coming to help. Now we do. Now they're starting to come."
Steinbrenner mentioned Dellin Betances at the front of that pack, but also singled out Double-A righthander Luis Severino as the team's "best prospect" and someone who will "probably" help at the major-league level this season. The starting rotation, which is saddled with injury issues left over from last season, might need reinforcements at some point, if the Yankees don't add any before spring training.
"I think if there's one concern, it's our starting rotation," Steinbrenner said. "Not because of their ability, but because of their health.
"I think the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, we're looking pretty good. So it does shorten the game somewhat for these guys to take a little bit of pressure off them. But we'll see. You can't predict injuries."
On a different front, when asked about the chances of retiring Derek Jeter's No. 2 this season, Steinbrenner replied, "I'm not going into that. All the pregame stuff is a surprise."
The Yankees may choose to wait for Jeter's induction to the Hall of Fame, which won't be until 2020 at the earliest. But Steinbrenner did suggest Willie Randolph could be getting a day soon -- perhaps a plaque -- just as Tino Martinez and Paul O'Neill did last season.
"I'm not going to get into the specific list, but Willie's important to all of us," Steinbrenner said. "We know what he meant to the franchise. He's always been one of my favorite players growing up, so I think you can look for something in the future, absolutely. Because he's earned it."