TAMPA, Fla. — As the Yankees downstairs in the clubhouse embrace their renewed status as baseball’s Evil Empire, the would-be emperor, Hal Steinbrenner, isn’t fully on board with the whole Dark Side imagery. But it’s clear that the team’s managing general partner still can have some fun playing the bad guy.
“Nobody loves ‘Star Wars’ more than me,” he said with a smile during an interview with Newsday on Thursday. “I grew up with it. Remember seeing it in ’77 in the theaters.
“I don’t really ponder that [nickname] too much. But I will tell you one thing: It means you’re relevant again, if people are starting up with that stuff again. That people are concerned about us.”
With good reason. Steinbrenner, 48, brought the Death Star roaring to life during the offseason by making the trade that no other team could, mostly because Giancarlo Stanton used his no-trade clause to steer himself to the Bronx. Still, it was up to Steinbrenner to pay $265 million of the $295 million left on Stanton’s deal (the Marlins are on the hook for $30 million), and he recalled what his reaction was when he picked up the phone and took Brian Cashman’s call.
“That’s a big contract, a lot of money, and we already have a few outfielders,” Steinbrenner said. “But I was very interested in the idea because if you have a chance to get a player like him, you’ve got to look at it. Everybody started up with, ‘The Yankees are going crazy again.’ But [Starlin] Castro was in the deal, and then a few days later, we traded Chase [Headley], so essentially it was a wash.”
Steinbrenner declined to say specifically how much of a Stanton surge the Yankees received at the box office in the offseason — some reports put the number as high as 500,000 — but prices on the secondary market have skyrocketed to their highest levels since 2010, according to ticketiq.com.
“We’re a private partnership, so I’m not going to get into finances,” Steinbrenner said. “But yes, ticket sales are up significantly. I think part of it has to do with Stanton. But I think it was trending that way anyway.”
Staying below the $197-million luxury-tax threshold, however, is one fiscal strategy Steinbrenner is willing to talk about. The economic benefits are enormous under the new collective-bargaining agreement, perhaps allowing the Yankees to splurge again for 2019.
Don’t bank on Steinbrenner necessarily taking the plunge in a deep free-agent pool in 2019 that is likely to include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. This youth movement was engineered by Steinbrenner’s mission to upgrade the development side, and if players such as Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Estevan Florial perform as expected, don’t spend his money just yet.
“If you’ve got young players that deserve a chance, then my philosophy is give them a chance and let’s see,” Steinbrenner said. “Now you’re not going to have a great young player for every position, so you’re going to be active in the free-agent market, and we always will be. But if you’ve got players who are ready, keeping them at Triple-A because you’d rather take a more proven option isn’t always necessarily what we’re going to do.”
The Yankees took a similar approach with new manager Aaron Boone, an unorthodox choice plucked from the TV booth with no experience in uniform other than as a player. But Steinbrenner liked what he saw during those ESPN broadcasts, and Boone’s actions thus far in spring training have only confirmed that opinion.
“Very, very cool, calm and collected,” Steinbrenner said. “Very intelligent. Never afraid — like we should all be — to learn new things. I was there at the players’ meeting, the first one we had. He’s got a good rapport with the players as a group and individually. So I think he’s going to be great. I really do.”
Boone isn’t the only TV personality hired recently by the Yankees. Steinbrenner made sure to bring back Alex Rod riguez to reprise last year’s advisory role. He’s always seemed to be A-Rod’s biggest supporter, even during his Bronx troubles, and was happy to keep him in pinstripes.
“He wants to be a Yankee,” he said. “He wanted to come back. He’s got a lot going on, so we’re going to figure out what he wants to do and how much time he wants to spend doing it. At the end of the year, we’ll just see where we go from there.”
And what about those Sunday nights in the booth when A-Rod the Yankee butts heads with A-Rod the analyst?
“He’s a smart guy,” Steinbrenner said. “I’m sure he’ll figure it out.”