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Improved AL East Will Force Yankees to Scrap Their $189M Payroll Goal for 2014

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 24: Hal Steinbrenner, Managing General Partner / Co-Chairperson speaks to the media after Jorge Posada announces his retirement from the New York Yankees during a press conference at Yankee Stadium on January 24, 2012 in the Bronx borough of  New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2013

Friends, it's time to step back from the ledge of that overpass on the Major Deegan and take a breath.

Despite Hal Steinbrenner's edict that the New York Yankees get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season, the Yankees will spend money—and field a competitive team—for years to come.

Luxury tax be damned.

Bob Watson, who preceded Brian Cashman as general manager of the Yankees, agrees with that premise, as he recently told Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News:

You’ve got to remember, George (Steinbrenner) had fiscal restraints this time of year. But spring training, the first month or in the heat of the pennant chase, that went off.

When the guys in New England or the guys in Canada now are beating up on them and they find they need a couple of players, I guarantee you they want to win and if they have to pay something, they’ll pay it.

Watson is right.

If the Yankees are struggling and falling behind the rest of the division, does anyone think Steinbrenner won't allow Cashman to make the moves necessary to get the team back into contention?

Does anyone truly believe that?

I certainly don't.

It's important to take note of something Steinbrenner said when explaining his goal of getting under the luxury tax: (via the Journal News):

I’m a finance geek. I guess I always have been. That’s my background. Budgets matter, and balance sheets matter. I just feel that if you do well on the player development side, and you have a good farm system, you don’t need a $220 million payroll. You don’t. You can field every bit as good a team with young talent. When you consider Banuelos and Betances and some of the pitching we have coming up with Nova and Hughes and Pineda, next year, when one of those two or both of those guys are up, we’re going to have the kind of young pitching, I don’t know when the last time was.

Well, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are nowhere near ready, having both taken major steps backward in 2012.

Ivan Nova looks more like a so-so fifth starter than a big-time stud, and nobody knows what, if anything, to expect from Michael Pineda.

Things have changed, in more ways than one.

While the Yankees have remained relatively quiet this winter, re-signing most of their free agents (with Russell Martin the notable exception) and third baseman Kevin Youkilis being the only "major addition" to the club, the rest of the AL East has improved.

Baltimore, the team that gave the Yankees fits during the ALDS, may not have added anyone significant through free agency, but a full season of Manny Machado and the expected addition of top prospect Dylan Bundy to the team's starting rotation at some point this season makes them a better club.

Boston, a team that looks nothing like the squad that opened the 2012 season, has a new manager in John Farrell and nowhere to go but up.

Tampa Bay added a major offensive piece in outfield prospect Wil Myers, and the Rays remain a thorn in the Yankees side.

By adding Jose Reyes atop the lineup and big-time starting pitchers in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and the reigning National League Cy Young award winner, R.A. Dickey, Toronto has completely reshaped its roster.

When you take into consideration the return of slugger Jose Bautista, who missed much of the 2012 season with injury, the Blue Jays are gunning for the top spot in the AL East and pose the biggest threat to the Yankees.

But forget the division for a second.

Take a look at some of the other perennial contenders around the American League. Detroit and Los Angeles have gotten better. Oakland continues to produce young pitching that shuts down even the most prolific lineups.

Texas, while it has taken a hit with the loss of Josh Hamilton, is still formidable.

Teams like Kansas City, Cleveland and Seattle have improved.

The competition in the American League is fierce, and the Yankees are too proud a franchise to allow self-imposed budgetary constraints stand in the way of on-field success.

Hal Steinbrenner is no fool.

He knows that a mediocre on-field product, one that misses the playoffs, is a far more costly price to pay than whatever the team's luxury tax bill would be.

Prince Hal only said that he wants to be under the luxury tax threshold. Never did the words "we will not go over the threshold" come out of his mouth.

Everything costs more in New York. and that includes ballplayers.

The Yankees will add salary when they need to—and that day is drawing closer.

 

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