Originally written on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 11/18/14
Phillies-yankees

While I have a few spotty memories from 1998, I started consistently watching baseball during the 1999 season. It was a good time to be a Yankee fan, as the team about to win its second consecutive World Series and third in the last four seasons. I have truly been spoiled throughout my time as a Yankee fan, as the only “down” year the team had was in 2008, when they missed out on the playoffs despite winning 89 games. As I sit here in 2012, it is a pretty cool thing to know that my favorite team has not had a losing season since 1992, or when I was one year old. While a lot of the Yankees success has been attributed to the fact that they put a stronger emphasis on homegrown talent – both at the end of the 90s and again towards the end of the 00s, one cannot overlook the fact that the team had an owner that would spare no cost to put the best product on the field. George Steinbrenner would often spend his money with reckless abandon to ensure that the best free agents signed with the Yankees. Yes, the Yankees gave out more than their fair share of bad contracts during Steinbrenner’s rein, but it was still nice to know that the team would never be outbid for the best free agents. When George’s health began to decline a few years ago, his son Hank seemed poised to become the new face of the franchise. Hank, much like his father, soon became a tabloid darling, and would frequently supply the New York media with inflammatory remarks. However, after Hank gave Alex Rodriguez his 10-year $275 million deal, the team announced that Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s younger brother, would assume control of the team’s day-to-day operations. Hal is the opposite of Hank and rarely makes headlines for outlandish behavior. He is also much more reserved in terms of spending and has made a commitment to lower the Yankees payroll under the $189 million luxury cap threshold by 2014. O’Meara/AP The reason the Yankees want to get their payroll under $189 million is because the luxury tax will increase to 50% in 2014 for teams who routinely exceed the limit. The Yankees are the only team in baseball that had a higher payroll than the luxury tax threshold since it was instituted. At a first glance, Hal’s proposition seems rather reasonable. All the teams that have won the World Series this past decade have done so with a lower payroll with the Yankees. The Athletics found a way to win the American League West with the second lowest payroll in the baseball. However, due to recent events I am beginning to feel a bit differently about the proposed payroll plan. The Yankees make a lot of money. They do so through several different avenues, but the YES Network is their ultimate cash cow. Recently, the team sold part of their stake in YES to News Corporation, which reportedly net the team $270 million up front. This does not include the $85 million in rights fees paid out to the team each year. The rights fees have a 4% escalator clause. It has also been reported that the Yankees could receive anywhere from $400-500 million from News Corporation for signing the deal. So now that we are armed with this information, why is getting under the $189 million threshold such a must for the Yankees? It is pretty clear that whatever luxury tax dollars they will be paying would simply be a drop in the bucket. Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that the Yankees should spend with reckless abandon now that they have agreed to this YES Network deal. It would be a dumb idea if Hal Steinbrenner to suddenly decided to give Josh Hamilton a 7 year $160 million contract because of this influx of cash. But I do have a problem with the fact that the Yankees are crying poor at an integral time for their franchise and I’m starting to feel a bit cheated as a fan. Right now, the Yankees have holes at catcher, right field and designated hitter. Not to mention they will be without their starting third baseman until mid-season. Russell Martin signed with the Pirates for 2 years at $17 million. The Yankees claimed they could not afford that. Eric Chavez bolted to Arizona on a one-year $3 million deal. Re-signing those players would have been pretty solid solutions to two of those problems. However, now the remaining free agent options are not as appealing. I was pretty upset when Martin left. Look at the teams that have won the past ten World Series. They have all had very good catchers. Re-signing Martin for a couple years to bridge the gap to when top prospect Gary Sanchez is potentially ready to contribute at the MLB level would have been a smart idea. Not only were Martin’s contract demands reasonable, but the fact that the Yankees claimed they did not have the money to bring him back is pretty ludicrous. So, what happens next offseason when Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are free agents? If Granderson’s 2013 is similar to his 2012 then I wouldn’t expect him to be re-signed. But what about Cano, who is next in line to become the face of the franchise when Derek Jeter eventually retires? Will the Yankees give in to his steep contract demands or will they hold a hard line, only to watch Cano get a massive contract from the Dodgers? Only time will tell. But the events of this offseason have made me more inclined to believe that the latter is an increasingly more realistic scenario. Photo Credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Time As a whole, Yankee fans are a very impatient bunch. They expect their team to be the best in the league and are quick to point fingers and want change when something goes wrong. I am not part of that bunch, largely because baseball is a game built around a combination of failure and patience. I do not think the Yankees need to sign every single top free agent that hits the market. They do not need to grossly overpay to re-sign their own free agents. While most people would love to see those two things happen, the reality is that they are unnecessary. But there is a difference between not being able to afford players in the way the Royals can’t and saying there is no money to spend in the way the Yankees are. For the past two summers, I have interned with the Tampa Bay Rays. Not only is the Rays organization an incredible place to work, but they are one of the most fan friendly teams in all of sports. Despite the fact that they have a perpetually low attendance, the Rays stop at nothing to ensure that their fans have a positive experience when they step into Tropicana Field. This is not to mention the large amount of goodwill the team has generated throughout the Tampa Bay community through things like player appearances and charitable events. I talk about my experiences because I have asked myself what the Yankees are doing for their fans while they have decided to lower their payroll. The Yankees are one of the only teams who do not have a Fan Fest in the winter and have seemingly fewer player events within the community than most other teams. Part of this is due to the fact that the Yankees are going to be popular whether or not they do these sorts of things, but the team is still not very fan friendly. Another question I have asked myself is whether it will be worth it to spend money on tickets to Yankee games if the team is not using all of its resources to put the best product on the field. I am not suggesting that the team lower its ticket prices, but it will be hard for the Yankees to justify charging the same prices if they are not committed to signing high quality talent. Part of the reason George Steinbrenner was so successful as an owner is because he understood all of the aspects of the business of baseball. He was the first person to dish out a large free agent contract when he signed Catfish Hunter and he was the first to realize that TV contracts were going to become an immense source of revenue within the sport. That is why the YES Network was created. But most importantly, he cared about how Yankee fans perceived the team. They say that any press is good press, so it is reasonable to assume that part of the reason George would stir up controversy in the tabloids was because it could keep fans engaged when the team was not good. Now that the Yankees have lost out on several free agents and have been outbid on some, it is hard to not wonder what George would do if he were still calling the shots. Kevin Youkilis, who has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Yankees would surely have been brought into the fold at a much quicker pace. Nick Swisher would probably have re-upped to be the right fielder. Maybe the Yankees would be making a bid for Josh Hamilton. Nobody knows. But I do think it is safe to say that if George were still running this team, Jack Hannahan would not even be in the discussion to fill in for A-Rod at third base to start next season. He would probably be insulted if someone broached the subject. There is still a lot of offseason left. Hopefully the Yankees will make some sort of big splash that both improves their team for 2013 and the long term. But the fact remains that the Yankees are claiming to not have money at a time when they just agreed to a massive sale of the YES Network and have a few glaring holes on their major league roster. If you’re a die-hard Yankee fan and you’re feeling cheated, you’re not alone. -Cohen

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