“I get hammered every year about something,” the New York owner said Thursday. “If you don’t win the World Series, that’s perfectly justifiable.”
What isn’t justifiable to Steinbrenner is the talk that the team has been cheap this offseason.
“If there’s a narrative that we’re not spending money and being cheap, it’s just false,” he said. “I mean, we’re well above $200 million [in payroll] — we’re at $220 [million] right now — and we’re well above where we were last year. We did everything we wanted to do to really improve, again, the pitching, because that’s where I wanted improvement, because as far as I’m concerned pitching was a big problem in the division series, more so than anything else.”
Speaking at the owners meetings, Steinbrenner would not rule out more moves before Opening Day but sounded as if a deal for a high-priced free agent is unlikely.
“Fans should keep an open mind that I’m never done until I’m done, and that’s usually not until Opening Day,” he said. “Proposals come to me every day with these guys, between the analytics guys and the pro scouting guys, and I’m going to consider every single one of them.”
New York’s offseason moves included re-signing CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, J.A. Happ and Zack Britton, acquiring James Paxton in a trade, and signing reliever Adam Ottavino and infielders DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki.
After New York avoided the luxury tax last year for the first time since it was established in 2003, the contracts with LeMahieu and Ottavino have lifted the Yankees’ projected luxury tax payroll to about $220 million, well above the $206 million threshold.
Still, not the splashy moves his father, George Steinbrenner, was famous for.
And although Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t listen to sports radio and devour the tabloids, he has kept abreast of the vox populi by nephew Stephen Swindal Jr., assistant director of player development.
New York had the major leagues’ top payroll for 15 straight years through 2013 but has not had the top spot since then and was sixth last year. Many fans say because the Yankees have the highest revenue, they should spend the most on players.
“With no discussion of our costs, that’s always the problem,” Steinbrenner said. “I hear everything about our revenues, I hear nothing about our cost. I hear nothing about the gargantuan debt service payment that we have to pay every year [on bonds that financed new Yankee Stadium], nothing about all of our stadium operations, all the security, not to mention player payroll, not to mention revenue sharing.”
“I have to look at the big picture, and it is my responsibility — that my family expects, my partners expect — not just to look at the present but to look at the future, too,” he said. “Three, four, five years from now we get a lot of homegrown kids that we love, our fans love, that are going to be coming up for free agency.”
Steinbrenner has said many times he didn’t think a team had to spend $200 million to win a championship. New York reached the 2019 threshold by signing Britton, and Steinbrenner gave general manager Brian Cashman authority to keep spending.
“We weren’t good enough, so we went out and signed a really good contact hitter in DJ, who can play multiple positions,” Steinbrenner said. “And then we went and got Ottavino really to secure a pretty good bullpen, which can certainly help the starting rotation, right?”
New York went 100-62 last year, its best record since its last championship season in 2009, yet finished eight games back of AL East champion Boston. The Yankees beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game, then lost to the Red Sox 3-1 in the division series. Boston went on to win its fourth World Series title in 15 years.
“I think we’ve definitely got a better club Opening Day than we did opening day last year, particularly in pitching, which is my biggest area of concern,” Steinbrenner said.
Steinbrenner said ticket sales are about flat, though premium seat sales are down because of the expiration of 10-year contracts that began when their new ballpark opened in 2009. He said talks are ongoing about a potential repurchase of 21st Century Fox’s stake in the team’s YES Network.
A big move might spark sales. He hasn’t ruled that out completely.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, because these guys come to me all the time with stuff,” he said of his staff. “I can’t tell you if 17 days from now they come with some kind of proposal that I say no or I say yes.”
Paxton, speaking at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa, understands the expectation. “It’s kind of World Series-or-bust for Yankees fans, and I’m excited about having that pressure, and just being on a team that’s so committed to winning,” he said. … Happ threw a 30-pitch mound session to Sanchez. … SS Didi Gregorius, recovering from Tommy John surgery, swung a bat one-handed in an indoor cage.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.