We are left to conclude that George Steinbrenner, presumably from the heavens, lashed out at his sons and reminded them that they haven’t won a World Series since he passed away. “DO NOT WORRY ABOUT THE DAMNED TAX THRESHOLD! THE RED SOX HAVE WON THREE WORLD SERIES IN THE LAST DECADE! DO SOMETHING, YOU DOPES!!!” he said, or something like that.
Which might explain why the Yankees, old and irrelevant, have invested $254 million in two players who may or may not be gate attractions and may not be worth the money. They followed the Johnny Damon model by raiding the World Series championship rivals in Boston for Jacoby Ellsbury, who will get at least $153 million over seven years — $169 million if an eighth-year option kicks in — and become the third highest-paid outfielder in baseball history. This comes after catcher Brian McCann, tortured body and all, signed a five-year, $85 million deal.
And they’re hardly finished. They haven’t yet said goodbye to Robinson Cano, who originally wanted $305 million in an absurd demand by agent Jay-Z and now might have to bolt to a baseball outpost, Seattle, just to get $200 million. They’re still considering another speed outfielder, Shin-Soo Choo. They’d like to re-sign pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, if not pursue Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka, who may require a $120 million outlay between his major-league contract and a posting fee to his homeland league.
But if Cano does end up calling their bluff and going elsewhere, a question may loom for years: Why did the club devote so much money to Ellsbury — who has been injury-prone and power-sporadic in a promising but somewhat unfulfilled career — when Cano is one of the sport’s finest hitters?
So much for the un-Boss-like concept that the front office is shrinking its player payroll. The $189-million tax threshold is in jeopardy, as it should be in the Bronx, and the new question is whether Hal and Hank Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman are severely overpaying for Ellsbury and recklessly tossing around megabucks like the old man always did. Yes, the Yankees are in organizational pain after watching the Red Sox, their blood rivals, win their third Series since 2004. Facing a TV ratings slide, empty seats in their hulking stadium, the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the demise of Derek Jeter, a lean farm system and a flood of unwanted Alex Rodriguez news, they have no choice but to spend, spend, spend. If they can weaken the Red Sox at the same time, it’s all the better, they figure, as seen years ago when Damon was signed in free agency after a Boston title run.
“Our work this offseason has just begun,” declared Hal Steinbrenner, the managing general partner, who promised that 2014 will be “exciting and rewarding for our fans.”
You can’t miss the beauty of the backstory here. The Yankees have signed Ellsbury, a Scott Boras client, ahead of Cano, Jay-Z’s guy. Not only did Jay-Z declare war on Boras in a rap lyric, he once sang of the ballclub, “(Bleep), I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.”
This is what happens when the Yankees miss the playoffs for the second time in 19 years. They overpay for veterans, which is why the club grew old and broken-down in a hurry. But unlike their spree in 2008, when they spent more than $400 million, you don’t sense a championship around the corner. The Red Sox are on top because they are smarter, dividing a pie into seven moderately priced pieces last offseason and watching all seven elements contribute to their bearded glory. The other postseason team in the American League East, Tampa Bay, stays competitive with fiscal shrewdness inside a lean budget.
The Yankees, in contrast, are desperate.
And, once again, bloated.