CORAL GABLES, Fla. — As the Mets continue to play a waiting game with Yoenis Cespedes, holding out for the unlikely hope of a below-market bargain, their crosstown rival took the opportunity Wednesday to toy around publicly with the idea of adding the free-agent slugger.
The Yankees already have a full outfield, and presumably a 2016 payroll that’s nearly tapped out at roughly $220 million. But that didn’t stop Hal Steinbrenner from saying enough Wednesday to maybe rattle the Mets, and whoever else could be listening on Cespedes.
When Steinbrenner was asked whether or not he was “out on Cespedes,” the Yankees managing general partner at first made a joke, scanning the historic lobby of the Biltmore hotel.
“It’s a beautiful old building, don’t you think? 1920-something,” Steinbrenner said, before giving a more pointed response.
“I’m comfortable where payroll is right now,” Steinbrenner added. “But we’re always looking to improve the club. You never know with us. We’ve surprised people in the past.”
That’s true. Back in 2008, with the Red Sox apparently closing in on Mark Teixeira, the Yankees swooped in to sign the free-agent first baseman. Just last month, they sabotaged the Mets’ efforts to sign Ben Zobrist by pulling off a last-minute Starlin Castro trade that allowed the Cubs to nab Zobrist instead.
This time, however, it appears Steinbrenner was merely having some fun. When another Yankees official was asked about signing Cespedes, it was quickly dismissed. In order to do so, the Yankees presumably would have to trade Brett Gardner to open up a spot in the outfield for Cespedes, as well as clear space for a significant chunk of payroll.
As for the Mets, they still consider themselves in the running for Cespedes. On Tuesday, during a fan event, Sandy Alderson said he remains in touch with Cespedes’ agents but did not handicap the Mets’ chances. Principal owner Fred Wilpon acknowledged Wednesday that his GM is involved, but did not go any further in his comments. When asked about the Mets’ chances of signing Cespedes, Wilpon replied, “Your guess is as good as mine.”