Steinbrenner: Payroll factor in Yanks' pursuits

Steinbrenner: Payroll factor in Yanks' pursuits

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Hal Steinbrenner, principal owner and managing general partner of the Yankees, said Wednesday he believes his team is better than a year ago despite not substantially increasing its payroll.

In 2015, the Yankees made the postseason for the first time in three years, but they were knocked out in the American League Wild Card Game by the Astros. Steinbrenner spoke to a small group of reporters on the first official day of the quarterly Owners' Meetings.

Steinbrenner added, however, that he wouldn't rule out the franchise making eye-catching free agent acquisitions, once a Yankees hallmark, in the future.

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"I've always said when we have a significant amount of money coming off the payroll in any given year, I'm going to put as much of that as I can back into the team," Steinbrenner said. "We had no money come off this year. The money that came off went right back into arbitration."

The number for the upcoming season is expected to be in the $215 million range.

Steinbrenner based his optimism on a rotation he thinks will be strong if the starting pitchers -- Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino and Ivan Nova -- can stay healthy, as well as a bullpen anchored by Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances and the addition of second baseman Starlin Castro.

Yankees acquire Castro from Cubs

Steinbrenner said that he thought long and hard before approving the trade that added Chapman from the Reds in exchange for four prospects shortly after the hard-throwing closer was investigated by the police for a domestic violence incident in December. Chapman was not arrested or charged with a crime, but he could face disciplinary action from Major League Baseball under the league's new domestic violence policy.

"I'm not going to get into that aspect of it, because obviously there's still an investigation going," Steinbrenner said. "I guess what I would say, in this count, when allegations are brought against a person, that person is completely innocent until proven otherwise. Not the other way around. So I think we should keep that in mind right now.

"It's a touchy subject. I understand it's a very sensitive subject -- as rightfully it should be. But we'll just have to wait and see. Obviously, as a player, he's tremendous. The benefit for the organization, if you just look at the baseball side, tremendous upside, needless to say."

Chapman to close for Yankees

Steinbrenner returned to the theme of health repeatedly during the 10-minute session.

"I think there are some concerns because several of the [starting] pitchers were injured last year," he said. "And those concerns aren't going to go away. But I believe we have a very good rotation right now. Health is going to be the issue. Bolstering the bullpen obviously alleviates that situation somewhat, shortens the game. And I think we've certainly done that with the three guys we've got at the back end now.

"But look, there is a concern about injuries, because the injuries were there last year. If we stay healthy, I think we're good to go as far as the rotation. We've got a good rotation. We've got a good six guys, plus [Luis] Cessa, plus [Bryan] Mitchell."

Steinbrenner also believes that it's not necessary to greatly inflate the payroll because several young players -- like Greg Bird, Severino, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge -- are ready to take on more significant roles.

Bird ready to break free in 2016

Because of that, Steinbrenner thinks the Yankees will be well-positioned to aggressively seek proven talent, if needed, in the next few years.

"Everybody knows in the next few years, we've got significant amounts of money coming off the payroll -- just with a few guys," said Steinbrenner. "We're going to do as much as we can to put as much of that back into the team as we possibly can. There's money coming off, and it's going to give me a chance to do a lot of things, have a lot of flexibility that we just haven't had.

"We're definitely a better team. We're a bit younger. What we did at second base, I'm excited about. We were certainly struggling there. So we've improved some positions. In any given year, I think health is one of the biggest factors, anyway. Again, I think if we had not lost Eovaldi and [Mark] Teixeira at the end of the season, we might have had a better chance. Who knows? But you'd better stay healthy."

When asked if the Yankees were out of the pursuit of free-agent slugger Yoenis Cespedes, Steinbrenner laughed, and he pretended to change the subject by admiring the ornate interior of the hotel lobby.

"We're always looking to improve the club," he said. "I'm comfortable with where the payroll is now, but we're always looking to improve. You never know with us. We can surprise people."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.