Payroll-cutting Yankees face temptation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The New York Yankees have put themselves on a financial diet.It isn't easy. The Yanks are used to overindulging in the finest of free-agent players, but they have paid the price for their luxurious extravagances. They claim they aren't going to do it anymore, but there are temptations, like Josh Hamilton, daring them to take another bite off the free-agent tree. General manager Brian Cashman says the Yankees are tired of exceeding the payroll level that kicks in a luxury tax, which will be $189 million in 2013. It sounds so good in the planning session, but avoiding the lure of a prime-time free agent, like ignoring the ice cream stand, isn't easy. These are, after all, the Yankees. They wear the pinstripes of excellence. They are willing to do whatever it takes to get whomever they want in order to ensure they can win every year. Except this year? Don't bet on it. The Yankees are in need of a catcher (Russell Martin followed free agency to Pittsburgh) and an outfielder (Nick Swisher filed for free agency). They needed another starting pitcher a year ago, and still need one today. Then came confirmation this week that third baseman Alex Rodriguez faces left hip surgery. The expectation is he won't be back before July at the earliest. Could Hamilton be a one-stop shopping trip? He has, after all, been an All-Star each of the last five years, won the American League MVP Award two years ago, and is coming off a 43-homer, 128-RBI season with the Rangers. And don't forget New York was swept by Detroit in the AL Championship Series, the 11th time in 12 seasons the Bronx Bombers haven't won a World Series. That might be a big deal in most cities, but in the Bronx, success has a higher standard. The Yankees, however, are trying to get their finances in order after seven consecutive seasons of a payroll in excess of $190 million, including five in which $200 million was eclipsed. Consider that the Yanks have accounted for nearly 84 percent of the luxury taxes that have been paid since the rule's inception, and if they exceed $189 million in 2013, the luxury tax will be 50 percent of the excess. Upper management and ownership decided enough was enough. So far, they have been avoiding temptations, but there is a growing desire within the organization to ignore the diet and splurge again. Oh, they have some viable alternatives. They could give Austin Romine a deserved chance to handle the regular catching chores, and if Rodriguez really can return by June, there is reason to feel Eduardo Nunez can at least fill the third-base need for a couple of months, given his offensive potential. And who is to say that won't work. It was less than two decades ago that the Yankees broke down and gave a nucleus of home-grown talent a chance to step into big league roles, and the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada became the foundation for the team making 13 consecutive postseason appearances beginning in 1995, during which they won four World Series. But these are the 21st century Yanks. They have a hard time with patience. They are looking for instant gratification. They have won 27 World Series championships, the most in Major League history, and 40 AL pennants. They have made a record 51 postseason appearances. And they want to build on those numbers, not rest on past success. That's why the Yankees kicked the tires on the likes of a Kevin Youkilis as a third-base possibility and A.J. Pierzynski as a catching candidate, feeling they would command the type of salary that might give New York a chance to avoid that magic number of $189 million. But is that seriously a Yankees-type move? For all the patience that they stress, there is a growing argument from within that these Yanks can't afford to ease into things. They are getting near the end of a cycle and better cash in now, before time runs out. This winter, they did re-sign Rivera for one year, but he is 43. They did re-sign Andy Pettitte for one year, but he is 40. They did re-sign Hiroki Kuroda for one year, but he's 37. And the left side of the infield is aging, too, Jeter having turned 39 and Rodriguez 37. The Yankees do not have much wiggle room. They have nine players on guaranteed contracts, which account for $150.5 million in 2013 salary. There is a faction from within the organization that is adamant these Yanks need to splurge once again and swoop in on the run-producing Hamilton with a preemptive offer that stuns the other pursuers, including Texas. The Rangers have provided a safe haven for Hamilton the last five seasons, which has been enough time to make them hesitant to make a four-year offer, much less the seven-year deal Hamilton was expecting. Can the Yankees, however, really afford not to try one last quick strike? That is a debate among Yankees officials.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.