- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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Call off the benefits. Cancel the telethon. Don't bother passing the hat. New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner says that when the free-agent season gets into full swing, the Yankees will have some cash to go shopping with.
"Even with [Alex Rodriguez] as our third baseman, we will have a fair amount of money to spend to try to fill the holes, and that's what we're going to do," Steinbrenner said Tuesday night in Orlando, Fla., during a break in MLB's general manager meetings.
According to Steinbrenner, the well-documented $189 million payroll for 2014 remains a goal, not a mandate, and will not stand in the way of rebuilding a team that won just 85 games in 2013 and missed the playoffs for only the second time in the past 19 seasons.
"We know what the fans expect of us," Steinbrenner said. "We're going to field the best team we can every year."
While conceding that "this is not as strong a free-agent market as in past years," Steinbrenner said the Yankees would re-open negotiations with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano in the next week or so.
"It's only the beginning of the process," he said. "We really haven't had any talks in the past week or two, but we're going to start the process. We're going to be talking to him whether it's in person or on the phone."
He added, "We're going to be talking to him, and talking to some other guys, too."
General manager Brian Cashman conceded that New York could be out-bid for Cano's services.
"I think he loves the money but I think we're going to have a substantial offer, but somebody might come in and have a much more substantial offer," Cashman said. "That's just the way it works."
"He's in free agency and that's the feeling I get," Cashman added. "Doesn't make it wrong at all. That's what makes the U.S. the greatest place in the world. We just have to compete for that. I feel very comfortable that we'll firmly compete for the player, but the value we put on him, the value someone else puts on him could be vastly different, and if it is we'll lose him."
Cano is seeking a 10-year deal in excess of $300 million.
"The best way to go about this process is to put your best foot forward and live with it, and if it's not good enough I'm comfortable with it. And whatever that foot is, from my end, is going to be very good, as it should be to retain the player," Cashman said. "We obviously have a strong interest in retaining him. There's nothing better ... he has a chance to be the first Dominican-born player to have his number there in Monument Park and that's a big deal. A real big deal. But it's going to take a big deal I'm sure to make that happen."
Cashman doesn't expect Cano to make a quick decision.
Among other topics Steinbrenner addressed was the recent contract adjustment made for Derek Jeter, who had a player option that called for a $9.5 million salary for 2014 which the Yankees tore up and replaced with a one-year, $12 million deal.
"Given what Derek has meant to the organization, does mean to the organization, both sides needed to be comfortable with a number," he said. "We needed to come up with a number both sides thought was fair and that's what we did."
But Steinbrenner conceded the Yankees are concerned about Jeter's ability to play at the level he displayed before breaking his ankle in the 2012 American League Championship Series, an injury that limited him to 17 games in 2013.
"Given his age and given what his injury was, I think we all have concerns, yes," he said. "But we're also confident that if anyone can come back, he can. No one is tougher and no one is going to work harder to get back. So there are concerns. But we're also confident that he's going to come back and be the player he was two years ago."
Steinbrenner said "dozens of changes" were made in the Yankees department of player personnel in response to the lack of development in the club's farm system, but that Mark Newman, the senior vice president of baseball operations, and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer would remain in their jobs for the upcoming season.
"It's been disappointing with players like [pitchers Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos], who we thought would do well and as of yet they haven't," Steinbrenner said. "And it's easy to say get rid of this guy, get rid of that guy, and there are certainly some owners who might do that, but that doesn't always solve the problem."
Instead, Steinbrenner said some "procedures" would have to change. "We're teaching our scouts to look for different things, things that maybe they hadn't looked for before, things Cashman thinks are important," he said.
As Cashman had said earlier in the day, Steinbrenner reiterated that the Yankees are proceeding as if Rodriguez, who is in the middle of his grievance hearing against MLB's 211-game suspension for alleged PED use, would be the team's starting third baseman next year.
"Obviously, we've got a lot of holes and third base is not our only problem," Steinbrenner said. "We've got a lot of concerns, but we're going to keep plugging away, leave no stone unturned, as always. We've also got some pitching programs we've got to take care of. We've got to start filling those holes one by one."
"I'm not sure that Robertson is capable yet. He's never done that before," Cashman said. "I think he's earned the right to take a shot at it and may very well be the guy. We'll wait and see how it plays out."
Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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