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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Hal Steinbrenner eager to get Yankees under luxury-tax threshold

The Yankees boss wants to field a champion with a payroll under $200M.

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner wants to

Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner wants to get under the luxury tax threshold for the first time in 14 years. Photo Credit: AP / John Raoux

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Yankees came within one victory of advancing to their first World Series since 2009, and surprisingly ahead of schedule. An eight-year championship drought, by Steinbrenner standards, is a fairly lengthy period.

But the Yankees have a chance in 2018 to do something this franchise has not done in 14 years, and Hal Steinbrenner, after getting this close, is not about to let that golden opportunity slip by again. The goal? Finally getting beneath the luxury-tax threshold.

On its own, trimming payroll is not a practice worthy of praise. Look at all the abuse heaped upon the Mets, year after year, for spending as if Citi Field is located in Pittsburgh, not New York.

But here’s the key difference. When you can build a World Series contender that appears sustainable — as the Yankees did in 2017 — and still have a chance to benefit from a little belt-tightening, we’re able to cut Hal some slack. For years, Steinbrenner has preached how it should be possible to win a World Series without spending more than $200 million, and it’s hard to disagree. Plenty of other teams do it.

Not only was Hal probably fed up with everyone saying the Yankees merely buy their titles, he also had to be tired of shelling out the $325 million in luxury tax the team has paid since 2003, according to figures reported by The Associated Press. Last winter, the Yankees were forced to pony up $27.4 million, a toll that was more expensive than CC Sabathia, who made $25 million in ’17.

If Steinbrenner can get under the $197-million threshold this year — they’re sitting around $160M — it’s a pretty big deal. Rather than pay a whopping 50-percent tax as a multiple offender, the Yankees would get to reset the penalty clock, meaning zero tax this year and only 20 percent the next time they go over. That’s significant, and with the threshold going up to $206M in 2019, $208M in 2020 and $210M in 2021, Steinbrenner still would get to write his usual big checks before too long.

“I don’t want to get into the numerous reasons,” he said. “But for one, it’s going to give us more flexibility in the immediate years to come if we should decide to go over it again. You can have a world championship-caliber team and not have a $200-plus million payroll, and I think we’re finally getting to a point where that’s coming true for us because we’ve got a lot of good young players on our team.

“I think that flexibility is going to be a reality for us to do that and still field the kind of team that our fans demand.”

A Steinbrenner talking about austerity is not something anyone is accustomed to. Particularly the super-agent Scott Boras, who for years has relied on the Yankees’ deep pockets to either pay his high-end clients, or at the very least, drive up the price for them. Aside from his usual jabs at the more frugal Mets, Boras did take exception to Hal’s uncharacteristic change of direction when he spoke with reporters Wednesday outside the hotel where the owners’ meetings are being held.

“The Yankees are so well run,” Boras said. “They do a great job. They’ve added billions of dollars to their franchise value in the last 10 years. Their revenue is over double what it was 10, 15 years ago. We all know when you have choice, what do you do with your success, what do you do with the greatness of your business operation and how do you reward the fans that allow that to happen? I have to leave that to them.”

Steinbrenner laughed when told of Boras’ comments, adding, “I can see Scott saying that.” But Hal didn’t feel compelled to go on the defensive. Why would he? The Yankees have the charismatic baseball-destroyer Aaron Judge, the makings of another Core Four and even more talent in the system. There’s also the perfect timing of the posting of Shohei Otani, the two-way Ruthian talent who would fit easily under the $197M limbo bar because he’s 23 and can’t make more than the $3.5 million in the Yankees’ international bonus pool.

It’s all coming up Hal these days.

“I really think we’ve turned a corner here,” Steinbrenner said.

Another title for less money? Even the Yankees can’t resist a bargain.

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