Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t often talk to the media, but he stopped to take questions for several minutes on his way out of the Major League Baseball owners’ meetings Thursday in Paradise Valley, Ariz. Here’s what he had to say:
Question: On the state of the Yankees’ off-season
Steinbrenner: “We’ve signed three or four of the biggest free agents on the market. We’re pretty happy with that. It’s great to have Andy (Pettite) back and (Hiroki) Kuroda and Ichiro (Suzuki). (Kevin) Youkilis I’m excited about. I’ve always liked him as a player. We’ve got some work to do, still. We need another bat. We’re not done yet.”
Question: Is your plan to get your payroll under the $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014 while maintaining a championship-caliber team looking more challenging than it did a year ago?
Steinbrenner: “It was looking challenging a year ago. But again, as I’ve said all along, the young players that have stepped up are going to have to continue to do so, and some of the ones that haven’t yet are going to have to. That’s always been part of the equation. But the commitment to field a championship team is paramount, and that won’t change. Our fans expect that.”
Question: Are you concerned about some of the things you saw in the playoffs last year – fan anger, empty seats, etc.?
Steinbrenner: “I’m surprised to hear that there’s anger if you see what we’ve done this off-season. Like I said, we’ve signed three or four of the top free agents on the market, because we’re going to continue to field a championship-caliber team. I’m a little surprised to hear that. The empty seats in the playoffs were due to a variety of reasons, quite frankly. The schedule, Stubhub, things like that. A lot of tickets being available shortly before the game. We didn’t know we were going to be in it. Obviously we went to Game 5 in the first series, you got the next game the day after, so it was challenging. … I’m a little surprised to hear about the anger. But look, all I can continue to tell everyone is our commitment to the fans is never going to change. We will always field a championship-caliber team. Is our goal 189 next year? Yes. But only if I’m convinced that the team I see we put together is a championship-caliber team.”
Question: Are you absolutely committed to getting the payroll under $189 million by next year, or could that change based on how the team performs in 2013?
Steinbrenner: “I’ve been resolute that that is our goal. And that is our goal. But I’ve also said, including at spring training a year ago, that in order to achieve that goal, these young players have to step up and get the job done. How many World Series winning teams the last 10 years had a payroll over 189? One. You don’t have to have a $200 million payroll to do that. And I’m a big believer in that. But you’ve got to have a good mix of veterans and young talent. … If the young players, the [David] Phelps of the world, who did step up continue to do that and some of the other guys like [Manny] Banuelos, [Michael] Pineda we’ve yet to see. If they get the job done, the math works.”
Question: Will $189 million be less of a goal in future years once you get under in 2014, since the luxury tax rate goes down once you’re no longer a repeat offender?
Steinbrenner: “I don’t see it being less of a goal. I believe that you don’t have to have a $220 million payroll to win a world championship, and you shouldn’t have to.”
Question: Is cutting payroll something you need to do to remain profitable or is this strictly about eliminating wasteful spending?
Steinbrenner: “It’s about, to me, being fiscally responsible. I know everybody looks at our attendance and our revenues and all that. But you also have to look at our expenses — $100 million a year in revenue sharing; we pay for every dollar of the debt service on the bonds that build the stadium, which doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything. We pay it every year. We have significant expenses along with those significant revenues, believe me.”
Question: Any chance you work out a contract extension with manager Joe Girardi, whose deal is up after this season?
Steinbrenner: “I’m not a big believer in extensions. There’s exceptions to every rule, but I’m just not a big believer in extensions. I’m worried about this year. He’s not the only guy who’s coming up, obviously. I’m focusing on 2013, as I should.”
Question: Are you pleased with Girardi’s performance?
Steinbrenner: “Last year, obviously nobody is happy with the end results, but we still had a hell of a record and a hell of a season, in my opinion, and I’m proud of that. I’m not proud about where we ended up, believe me.”
Question: Do you foresee reaching an extension with Robinson Cano before he hits free agency next winter?
Steinbrenner: “Again, I’m not a big believer in extensions, but there are exceptions to every rule. We’ll see what happens. There’s been no real significant dialogue as of yet.”