ATLANTA — Wondering how much the Yankees plan to spend this winter?
Put it this way: Whatever amount Hal Steinbrenner believes will buy his team a 28th world championship, give or take a few million. And the Yankees aren’t anywhere close to that yet.
“We have to add pieces,” Steinbrenner said Wednesday at the MLB owners meetings in Atlanta. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I think our starting pitching struggled, obviously, in October. We’ve got work to do. We’re well under the threshold right now.”
Steinbrenner is referring to the luxury-tax threshold, which increases to $206 million for 2019, up from $197 million. Last season, the Yankees operated under a mandate to stay below that number in order to reset their tax penalty, which had been at the max of 50 percent, and Steinbrenner believed that they were able to construct a “championship-caliber” club within those parameters.
“My psyche is kind of the same every year, which is we need a team that’s going to win a championship,” Steinbrenner said. “We’re going to get to that threshold, and if we’re not where we need to be, we’re going to keep making moves.”
This year, the Yankees’ managing general partner described avoiding the tax as a “goal” but not nearly as inflexible as in 2018. Heading into last season, the Yankees had paid the luxury tax for 15 straight seasons — at a total cost of $341 million —and only two teams were over the threshold in 2018: the Nationals and Red Sox, whose fourth title in 15 seasons was aggravating to Steinbrenner for a number of reasons.
The less obvious one was Boston paying $238 million to be champs, a figure that scuttled Steinbrenner’s annual proclamation that you don’t need to spend $200 million to win the World Series. “Now I guess there’s one team that has,” Steinbrenner said. “There always was zero. They blew me right out of the water.”
While Brian Cashman called Boston’s triumph in the World Series a “horrible outcome,” Steinbrenner insisted he didn’t watch the rest of the playoffs after the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the Division Series, but gave the impression of still being a bit irritated by what might have been.
“To me it hurts no matter what because I really felt we had the team,” Steinbrenner said. “And I really felt going into Game 3 that we had the advantage in that series. Having accomplished what we did at Fenway in Game 2, when I was down in the clubhouse, I really felt we had a team that could beat them.”
As for having the same urgency this winter, regardless of the Red Sox parade, Steinbrenner added, “Absolutely, because that’s what our fans expect, and rightfully so. That’s never out of my mind. It’s in my DNA.”
Steinbrenner put the emphasis on pitching, and the Yankees are clearly in the mix for free agents such as Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ, or potential trades for James Paxton, Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco. Beyond that, Steinbrenner isn’t principally against adding another long-term deal — like for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper — to the 10-year contract he’s already paying for Giancarlo Stanton.
"I don’t know that I’ve thought about it quite in those terms,” Steinbrenner said. “OK, it will be two now instead of one. But I will be thinking about anything like that in the terms of this is going to be a long-term deal with a lot of money. Who is the person? How old are they? What are their abilities? What is their injury history? Do we really need that particular position. I’m not against looking. I say this every year — we leave no stone unturned.”