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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Hal's plan could make him a villain

By Andrew Marchand
ESPNNewYork.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The new boss is riding a $189 million locomotive into a borough where the Dolans and the Wilpons have presided. It is a place where owners are shunned, slighted and held in disdain by the kingdoms they preside over.

Hal Steinbrenner is about to face a fan base that was raised at the knee of his father. The venom Hal will encounter from the masses will contain the psychological residue of years of worshipping The Boss' mantras.

You can already hear the throngs, channeling George: "$189 million? This better work -- or else!"

Hal Steinbrenner
Hal Steinbrenner's $189 million locomotive could be headed for the borough in which James Dolan and the Wilpons already reside.

Hal has called an audible on the family legacy and, ultimately, it may result in a smarter, sleeker version than the Boss' model of win or destruction. Sensibly, as a businessman, Hal wants to pocket the near $50 million that would come in luxury tax and revenue savings by dropping payroll below $189 million by '14.

In the meantime, the Yankees must withstand the pain of guys like Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Jeff Keppinger slipping through their clutches as every penny must be preserved as the winter meetings conclude.

The Yankees might be in the midst of -- to use one of Brian Cashman's old pet phrases -- a market correction, where they take a step back for a couple forward down the road.

The way the collective bargaining agreement works, if the Yankees fall below the tax threshold in '14, they would then reset their bracket to zero. By 2015, when there is a mammoth free agent class -- currently featuring names like Justin Verlander and Elvis Andrus -- the Yankees possibly could return to being the Yankees of old, George's Yankees. Without a 50 percent tax, it could be bombs away all over again in two years.

If they were to go over the $189 million threshold after '14, they would be taxed at just 17.5 percent so you can understand why this appeals to Hal's psyche.

"I'm a finance geek," Hal said in spring training 2011. "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 can field every bit as good a team with young talent."

But the fans never want to wait on winning, and we can only imagine what the aging triumvirate of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are really thinking these days as they look for support for one more ring.

"I'm not just coming back to play," Rivera said just the other day, when he officially re-signed. "I'm coming back to win."

Rivera, 43, will return from knee surgery. Jeter, 39, will race against the clock to heal his fractured ankle by Opening Day. The ace, CC Sabathia, had spurs cleaned up in his elbow. Alex Rodriguez is out until near the All-Star Break and that might be optimistic. The Yankees don't have major league starters at right field, catcher and third base, and Cashman is on the record that he doesn't like the prospects out there.

If Joe Girardi, in the final year of his contract, wins this season, he may take home the AL manager of the year trophy because help does not appear on its way. At least, not right now.

The Yankees don't have that much ability in the upper levels of the minors. Outfielders like Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin are years away, having spent '12 mostly in Single-A. The young, up-and-coming starting pitching prospects aren't even trade chips anymore, with Manny Banuelos out for the year and Dellin Betances going the wrong direction in the minors. Michael Pineda could be back in June, but after shoulder surgery he is a large unknown.

Still, these are the Yankees, so a rope-a-dope ending with a big offseason punch wouldn't surprise anyone. A trade for Curtis Granderson would shake things up for certain, but they already have to replace the 79 homers lost from Swisher, Martin, Rodriguez and Chavez, so can they afford to lose Granderson's 43?

Josh Hamilton is still out there, but any dollar that would go to him would be one you couldn't offer to Robinson Cano and/or Granderson. Trading Granderson, a free agent after 2013, would seem to be the best way to fill multiple spots, pocket money and get younger. But, still, where do you find the lost homers?

Yankee officials insist they can do something big, if they want to, and still find their way under $189 million. If you do the math -- and you subtract the money that would have gone to Swisher, Martin and Rafael Soriano -- you realize they could. There is nearly $30 million of savings there.

If they were to trade or not sign Granderson, who is a free agent after 2013, they would stash another $15 million way. Rivera seems likely to retire, which would free up $10 million more for '14. Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda -- another $27 million -- may not comeback for '14 either.

Of course, you have to replace all these players eventually, so Cashman must be stingy with each nickel and dime he spends because, despite how much the Yankees liked Martin, they did not want to give him money that they may need one day to keep Cano.

The new boss is not like the old Boss. Well, he could be in one way. It is forgotten in The Lore of The Boss, but when the father was suspended from baseball in 1990 by commissioner Fay Vincent, Yankee Stadium erupted in a standing ovation. The crowd chanted, "No more George!"

Hal is quieter than his father. He will remain in the background. But he owns this plan. The fan base, raised on the irrationality of a "championship or else!" mentality, is already shaking a fist, demanding, "It better work!"