With a 2015 payroll already surging past $200 million, the Yankees appear to be done shopping for the priciest free agents. And general manager Brian Cashman isn't the only one in the front office saying so.
"We're always out there looking, but it has to be tempered by the reality of the organization," team president Randy Levine said Thursday. "You look at our pitching staff, for example. We have two guys who make a lot of money, so you have to build around them. The chances of us bringing in another guy who makes $25 million or over are, in my opinion, virtually none."
The two guys to whom Levine was referring are CC Sabathia, who will earn $23 million this year, and Masahiro Tanaka, due $22 million. Sabathia is returning from knee surgery after making only eight starts in 2014. Tanaka has decided to pitch with a small tear in his right elbow that cost him 10 weeks last season.
Those sizable question marks would seem to make the Yankees an obvious suitor for a free-agent ace such as Max Scherzer. But like Cashman before him, Levine indicated they aren't likely to get involved in that price range.
At last week's winter meetings, agent Scott Boras floated the idea that Scherzer would be angling for a deal similar to the seven-year, $215-million contract Clayton Kershaw got from the Dodgers. Scherzer is a free agent; Kershaw was not. Jon Lester's six-year, $155-million deal with the Cubs is the biggest for a free-agent pitcher this offseason, and Scherzer is expected to go well beyond that.
Levine wouldn't mention Scherzer's name, but it's pretty clear the Yankees are fairly close to where they want to be payroll-wise for 2015. Alex Rodriguez's return from a season-long PED suspension and the signings of four free agents -- Chase Headley, Andrew Miller, Chris Young and Chris Capuano -- have added more than $65 million, easily pushing the payroll over $200 million again.
"I think the payroll right now is right at the top," Levine said. "I think the Dodgers will be ahead of us -- nobody else. We're a business with a big payroll. If an exception comes up that makes sense, we look at it and we decide. Like any business, we have a budget and we have an idea of what we want to spend. It's been that way since George [Steinbrenner] was here. It's been that way in all the years."
The Yankees were able to take A-Rod's monster contract off the books last season, but they'll have plenty more to deal with than just his $21-million salary this year. If this week's Headley signing -- four years, $52 million -- wasn't obvious enough, Cashman spelled it out by saying A-Rod's days as the Yankees' third baseman are finished.
As for what Rodriguez might have left, Levine wouldn't venture a guess.
"Just got to get to spring training and see what happens," Levine said. "Everything else is just speculation."
When A-Rod finally arrives in Tampa, it will be interesting to see if the cold war between the sides heats up again. Levine said he hasn't seen Rodriguez since his appeal hearing in early 2014 or spoken to him. Like Cashman, he doesn't feel it's necessary.
"Alex is on the Yankee roster," Levine said. "He's a Yankee player. Gets treated like every single other player. And you have channels of communication that run through baseball operations and Cash. That's it. There's no reason to talk to me. I don't talk to our other players. He's been treated like everybody else."
If nothing else, A-Rod should add some star power -- and maybe an attendance boost now that Derek Jeter's farewell tour is over. But Levine said there hasn't been any concern about ticket sales or a ratings drop in the wake of Jeter's exit.
"I don't think so," Levine said. "Our attendance pre-sales are very, very strong. Derek Jeter is somebody you can't replace, but Yankee fans are loyal and I think we have a really good team. I think that we're going to be very competitive and I think our attendance will be fine. Not worried about it at all."