Yankees magic number: 189

NEW YORK -- To spend or not to spend. That is the question.

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to muddle through on a budget or to revel in the benefits of spending an outrageous fortune, that is the choice confronting Hal Steinbrenner this offseason.

And if you ask me, Prince Hal will choose to spend, spend, spend.

I wrote this back on February 20, just a couple of days after the Yankees opened their 2013 training camp: "That $189 million? Forget about it. Large checks are about to be cut, not payroll."

I am more convinced of that now than I was back then. That was written before the Yankees had publicly downgraded Hal's decree from "mandate" to "goal." Before the Yankees lost more players in one season than they ever had, and more games than they had in nearly 20 years. Before they failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in 19 seasons. Before their voracious monster of a ballpark had disgorged nearly 10 percent of its attendance, and before the YES Network saw its ratings shrivel.

And that was with a payroll of $228 million for 2013.

It would seem that the last thing the Yankees need to do now is to spend less.

The thing is, they might not have to spend all that much more, either. Right now, they have $93 million committed to seven players: Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano and Vernon Wells.

If A-Rod and his $25 million paycheck get out down for the year, that number drops to about $68 million.

That leaves plenty left over to make Robinson Cano happy, re-stock the pitching staff and fill in the rest of the holes in the roster.

And let's not forget that the cost-cutting was supposed to begin in 2013. It was never supposed to be a case of the Yankees suddenly having to lose $39 million -- or 17 percent of their payroll -- in one fell swoop. They were supposed to attack the deficit in stages, so that it would not be a drastic cutback.

Well, that plan is out the window, and so, I am willing to bet, is the $189 million self-imposed salary cap.

As I wrote back in February, a couple of factors made the plan unfeasible in the first place. For one, the Yankees expected windfall in rebates from luxury tax and revenue-sharing was likely to add up to a lot less than the bean-counters had expected. For another, Hal Steinbrenner was genuinely "freaked out" -- a quote from one of the proverbial "sources with knowledge" -- over the media and fan reaction to what passes for an Era of Fiscal Austerity in Yankeeland.

That is why he eventually took the rubber-band off last winter to buy Hiroki Kuroda and Kevin Youkilis, although by the time he allowed to give Brian Cashman any real money to spend, the players the GM really wanted, guys like Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez, were already gone.

I doubt Hal will make the same mistake this winter.

This week, the Yankees will hold their annual organizational meeting in Tampa. The first order of business, I am told, is resolving Joe Girardi's contract situation, one way or another. The next will be what to do about Cano. The rest will probably involve a discussion of how much to spend on the rest of the team for 2014 and beyond.

That number should be considerable, since there are three starting pitchers and a set-up man to replace, high-quality backup third basemen and shortstops to be added, and more bench depth than they showed in 2013.

And there are season tickets and luxury boxes to be sold on the basis of the belief that the 2014 Yankees will once again be legitimate World Series contenders.

All of that will take money, and lots of it.

The odds are $189 million will not get it done.

The good news is, it probably wont have to.

QUESTION: Do you think Hal Steinbrenner will really trim the Yankees payroll to $189 million? Or will the reality of what it takes to keep the New York Yankees humming kick in and render the salary-cap obsolete?