Steinbrenner won't rely solely on high-priced free agents in offseason
By Richard Justice
DALLAS -- This was progress, real measurable progress. In the end, that's what the 2015 season represented to the Yankees on so many levels. It wasn't just that they returned to the postseason, although that's the ultimate measuring stick. It was how they got there that was so impressive.
It was two rookies -- right-hander Luis Severino and first baseman Greg Bird -- making significant contributions when called upon. It was the progress that catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Aaron Judge, right-hander James Kaprielian and others made in the Minor Leagues.
It was the realization that the franchise finally is capable of being what managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has envisioned them being: a roster not built largely around big-ticket free-agent signings.
"I feel better than I did two or three years ago," Steinbrenner said Wednesday during a break in a regularly scheduled quarterly Owners Meetings. "It was frustrating. It's frustrating to have all the injuries we had two years in a row and not have anybody that's capable of coming up and filling the void.
"We've been saying these names to our fans for two or three years now. We've been showing video highlights of [Double-A] Trenton and [Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre], what they accomplished and what they do. Hopefully, people are getting excited about them."
Steinbrenner will not apologize for his team's wealth. He emphasized that the Yankees will continue to spend on big-ticket free agents when it's needed. But Steinbrenner has never seen it as the best way to do business. His ultimate goal is to get the Yanks under baseball's $189 million luxury-tax threshold.
"All I know is what I've said before," Steinbrenner said. "I shouldn't have to have a $200 million payroll to win a world championship. It's been proven over and over again. The last couple of years, the money that has come off [the books], we've had to put it back in to fill voids because we haven't had the young players to do it with."
At the time, Steinbrenner believed he had no choice. This summer, though, when injuries hit the Yanks, there were some internal solutions. One thing baseball has shown us again and again in recent years is that it's not simply about payroll size anymore. This season, eight of the top 11 payroll teams missed the postseason, and Nos. 17 (Royals) and 20 (Mets) played in the World Series. In the past 10 seasons, the average payroll rank for baseball's 10 championship teams has been eighth.
"I've always said we need a good balance," Steinbrenner said. "This is New York; we need marquee players. We know that. But we also need the veterans, and we need the kids. We need the veterans to be mentors. A lot of older guys really helped guys like [shortstop] Didi [Gregorius] this year. Alex [Rodriguez] was helpful with Didi when he was struggling at first. We need that mix.
"Young kids need mentors, especially when you're playing in a big market in New York. You need guys who've been in the limelight and championship games. But there's no doubt -- you can see it from just about every other club -- when you've got young talent, you can win championships. It gives you more flexibility toward the payroll."
The Yankees made their first significant acquisition this offseason by trading catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for switch-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks, who is widely projected as an everyday player.
But with Ellsbury, Beltran and Brett Gardner in the outfield, Hicks could have a part-time role. Or general manager Brian Cashman could include an outfielder in a deal to acquire a starting pitcher, which is the No. 1 priority.
"That doesn't mean we're not going to be active on the free-agent market," Steinbrenner said. "I just got the list two days ago. We prioritize every player based on their strengths and weaknesses. It's something we'll be talking about in the weeks to come. But I'm excited about Bird and Severino. We've got Sanchez coming. See some [second baseman Rob] Refsnyder and Judge at some point. We're going to fill some gaps with young guys, too. We finally have the ability to do that."
When the Yanks missed the postseason in 2014, their reward was the 16th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, which they used on Kaprielian.
"I don't think we would have got him if we were picking 56th," Steinbrenner said. "It's important not to be giving away those Draft picks. It doesn't mean if the situation requires, we've got to do what we've got to do to win. That's always the goal. But I was very excited about the Draft in June. I was very excited about the No. 1 pick."
Steinbrenner touched on an assortment of other topics, including:
"There's nobody more deserving. My memories of him are just watching him and [wife] Carmen interact. He was such a great husband, such a great person. I never saw one person that went up to him, and he wasn't respectful to and nice to and interactive with. Great father. Great husband. Great player. Great for all of baseball, not just the Yankees."
"Great player. Great franchise player. That's what you love to see. It's great to see a player that's the face of a franchise. He's certainly one of them for him."
• CC Sabathia entering rehabilitation for alcohol addiction.
"Look, we all know somebody in our lives that has had an addiction. We were there for them. We've always considered our players family. We'll be supportive. We just hope he gets well. It's a tough thing."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.