TAMPA, Fla. — The questions regarding the Yankees and getting under the luxury-tax threshold have been the same all offseason and so too have been the answers.
Most of the time it’s GM Brian Cashman providing the response; Wednesday it was his boss.
“It’s absolutely my goal, still, to stay under the threshold,” managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said at the club’s minor-league complex where watched a simulated game. “And we’ve got a good deal of breathing room right now [under it] and we’re not afraid to spend it come July or even sooner if we feel that we’re not good enough in a certain area. But it’s absolutely my goal to stay under that threshold.”
The threshold for this season is $197 million and the Yankees’ payroll currently is in the range of $20 million below that, the “breathing room” Steinbrenner speaks of.
The Yankees entered the winter with two major needs, one of which, infield depth, was addressed recently with the acquisition of Brandon Drury, the odds-on favorite to start at third.
The other need was starting pitching, something Cashman has made no secret about wanting more of. But the general manager has also said plucking available starters such as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn from the free-agent market isn’t likely because of cost.
“You can never have enough starting pitching, I hate to give a silly answer, but that’s just a fact,” Steinbrenner said. “But we have a rotation. It’s just a question of it being a long season and can everybody stay healthy. If somebody does get injured, where do we go from there?”
That’s where the trade deadline comes in. The Yankees have one of the deepest farm systems in the sport, which Cashman has already utilized in the last year to grab Drury, Giancarlo Stanton and righty starter Sonny Gray.
The system is crammed with touted position prospects such as Gleyber Torres and Estevan Florial and pitchers Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield.
“The one thing I keep telling everybody is I can’t ever remember a time like this, even 20 years ago, when so many of our fans knew about players that had never before even set foot in the Bronx yet,” Steinbrenner said, ticking off a short list of names, including those mentioned above. “To me that’s different. We’ve made an effort the last few years to acquaint all these kids with our fans . . . I think they’re all really excited not just about what they’re going to see on the big team but they’re really intently following them [these prospects] as they progress through our system, and that’s pretty cool to me.”
Steinbrenner declined to wade into the dispute between MLB and the Players Association. The argument centers around the MLBPA’s contention that not enough teams are committed to winning and therefore not spending on free agents that could help them, “a race to the bottom,” in the words of MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.
“I’m not a forensic accountant, so I haven’t gone team to team and kept track of every dollar they spend,” Steinbrenner said. “There’s arguments on both sides. Clearly the purpose of revenue sharing was to create competitive balance. Period. Has it always been the case that some teams haven’t used it in the last 20 years for the right reasons? I think it’s fairly safe to say that’s probably occurred from time to time.”
Steinbrenner, the owner of the biggest of big-market teams, did leave some room for tea-leaf reading.
“If a team takes the money they get [via revenue sharing] and put it into their player development system to produce better players, is that OK? There could be arguments either way depending on who you talk to. I’m probably the wrong guy to talk to. But there’s no doubt the sole purpose [of revenue sharing] was competitive balance so that fans, this time of year, of any team wouldn’t feel like their team has no chance whatsoever to make the playoffs.”
Yankees fans, of course, are as far away from that group as there is.
“Gotta stay healthy,” Steinbrenner said. “That’s half the battle.”