Hal: Yankees committed to fielding elite ballclub
Steinbrenner still desires lower payroll but leaves door open if prospects don't pan out
NEW YORK -- Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner offered his first public comments on the state of the team's offseason, saying that the organization's commitment to winning has not wavered and that the club is not finished adding players for the 2013 season.
Steinbrenner spoke to reporters from the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal on Thursday in Paradise Valley, Ariz., as he exited the Major League Baseball Owners Meetings, and he painted a positive picture concerning the Yankees' winter work thus far.
"We've signed three or four of the biggest free agents on the market. We're pretty happy with that," Steinbrenner said. "It's great to have Andy [Pettitte] back and [Hiroki] Kuroda and Ichiro [Suzuki]. [Kevin] Youkilis, I'm excited about. I've always liked him as a player. We've got some work to do, still. We need another bat. We're not done yet."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been seeking a right-handed hitter who can play outfield and serve as a designated hitter. The team has shown interest in the Nationals' Michael Morse and has been in contact with free agent Scott Hairston.
Steinbrenner said that there has been "no significant dialogue as of yet" concerning a possible contract extension for second baseman Robinson Cano, who can become a free agent after the 2013 season. Manager Joe Girardi also appears to be headed into his final season under contract without a new deal.
"I'm not a big believer in extensions," Steinbrenner said, reiterating a longstanding position. "There's exceptions to every rule, but I'm just not a big believer in extensions. I'm worried about this year. [Girardi is] not the only guy who's coming up, obviously. I'm focusing on 2013, as I should."
But Steinbrenner's attention has also been directed toward the 2014 season. He maintained that he intends to reduce payroll below $189 million for 2014 while still fielding a team that can realistically compete for a World Series title.
"All I can continue to tell everyone is our commitment to the fans is never going to change," Steinbrenner said. "We will always field a championship-caliber team. Is our goal $189 [million] next year? Yes. But only if I'm convinced that the team I see we put together is a championship-caliber team."
Steinbrenner expects the club to continue to stay under $189 million for the 2015 season and beyond. The luxury-tax penalty rate -- 50 percent if exceeded in 2014 -- resets to a first-time offender status of 17.5 percent if the Yankees were to exceed $189 million in a subsequent season.
"I don't see it being less of a goal," Steinbrenner said. "I believe that you don't have to have a $220 million payroll to win a world championship, and you shouldn't have to."
Steinbrenner believes that the reduction in payroll has become necessary.
"It's about, to me, being fiscally responsible," he said. "I know everybody looks at our attendance and our revenues and all that. But you also have to look at our expenses -- $100 million a year in revenue sharing; we pay for every dollar of the debt service on the bonds that build the stadium, which doesn't cost the taxpayers anything. We pay it every year. We have significant expenses along with those significant revenues, believe me."
Last spring, Steinbrenner said that he was looking to the team's younger pitchers -- Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Michael Pineda among them -- to develop. Thus far, their returns have been minimal, but Steinbrenner said he remains hopeful that the progress of the Yankees' prospects can help their financial objectives.
"In order to achieve that goal, these young players have to step up and get the job done," Steinbrenner said. "How many World Series-winning teams the last 10 years had a payroll over $189 [million]? One. You don't have to have a $200 million payroll to do that. And I'm a big believer in that.
"But you've got to have a good mix of veterans and young talent. If the young players -- the [David] Phelps of the world, who did step up -- continue to do that, and some of the other guys like Banuelos, Pineda, we've yet to see. If they get the job done, the math works."
The Yankees were booed at home during their American League Championship Series loss to the Tigers, and some of the negative outcry has spilled into the team's offseason. Steinbrenner said that those reactions have caught him off-guard.
"I'm surprised to hear that there's anger, if you see what we've done this offseason," Steinbrenner said. "Like I said, we've signed three or four of the top free agents on the market, because we're going to continue to field a championship-caliber team. I'm a little surprised to hear that."