Thursday, December 6, 2012

If Moreno Has Drawn a Line, What in the World Are the Yankees Doing?

       By Ross Newhan

       Baseball's winter meetings ended Thursday, but the head shaking signings will continue, and two things are now clear:

       1. Arte Moreno may have a new TV contract, which admittedly was why he felt comfortable committing $317.5 million to Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson last winter, but he apparently won't let the 2013 Angels surpass last year's record payroll of $159 million.

      2. Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have tightened the New York Yankees budget to such an extreme that their late dad, Boss George, must be screaming from his unknown location, be it heaven or hell.

     The Yankees, whose industry high payroll has topped $200 million in each of the last five years while producing only one World Series title, are not hiding the fact that they are determined to be under the 2014 luxury tax threshold of $189 million, taking advantage of financial covenants in the . collective bargining agreement.

   The 2013 lineup will include some familiar faces such as Derek Jeter, Mark Texeira, Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera back as closer after losing a year to surgery, but it isn't going to be the intimidating Wall Street of the Bronx. They have gaping holes at catcher (they wouldn't match the two year, $17 million contract Pittsburgh gave Russell Martin), at third base (while Alex Rodriguez recovers from a second hip operation that will sideline him until mid season or longer) and in right field (where they refused to meet the years and financial requests of Nick Swisher).

  Typical of the Yankees' new financial restraints is the situation at third base.

  They let Eric Chavez leave as a free agent (he signed a $3 million contract with Arizona) and they refused to give free agent Jeff Keppinger a three year contract that he then received from the Chicago White Sox at $12 million. Chavez and Keppinger are utility types who don't resemble Rodriguez (even the fading Rodriguez) but they were cheap alternatives in a market not overflowing with third basemen. Now, Kevin Youkilis may end up there, and Nate Schierholtz, who has never hit more than nine home runs in a season, may be the inexpensive replacement for Swisher's 24.

   At the winter meetings, renown agent Scott Boras told reporters he couldn't speak for the Yankees, but he then couldn't resist doing just that.

  "I think the model to be a Goliath is wholly different than the approach they're taking," he said. "They're reducing their payroll from past practices, despite record revenues in the $800-$900 million area, and frankly, when you look at the collective bargaining agreement, their reason for doing it, (given) the value of their brand, has to be looked at very closely."

   Responded Yankee President Randy Levine: Scott's a great agent, but he's an agent. Last I looked, he had zero experience running a professional sports team. I think the Yankees have done pretty well following our own course. My advice to Scott is stick to your day job representing players."

   Boras, however, isn't alone in wondering about the Yankees' motivation given their flagship status and industry high revenues, which were further enhanced recently by a reported $420 million check from News Corporation as a part of a complex deal that enabled Rupert Murdoch's company to buy a 49% equity stake in the club's YES network.

   The Angels' new TV deal may surpass $4 billion with built-in options but Moreno seems to have drawn a line. They have apparently withdrawn from the pursuit of Zack Greinke, initially thought to be their No. 1 winter objective, and gone a much more modest route. To this point they have added starters Tommy Hanson (who has gone backwards from his once thought of ace potential) in a trade with Atlanta and the homer vulnerable Joe Blanton for a questionable two years and $15 million as a free agent, in addition to relievers Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson.

   The Angels could be through, in fact, since general manager Jerry DiPoto seems to have satisfied his stated goal of flushing out a pitching staff now devoid of Ervin Santana, Dan Haren and Jordan Waldon. The Yankees still have holes to fill, but who would have thought they'd be looking only for bargains?            

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