MLB.com Columnist

Mark Feinsand

Yanks a trending team as owners meet

Steinbrenner praises Judge; Sternberg talks ballpark progress

Yanks a trending team as owners meet

NEW YORK -- The Yankees' fast start this season may have caught much of the baseball world by surprise, but not managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, who expected his team to be competitive even after becoming sellers at last year's Trade Deadline.

Steinbrenner lauded the offense, which has thrived through the first 36 games, leading the American League in runs despite missing Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius for most of April and getting virtually nothing out of Greg Bird before he landed on the disabled list on May 2.

While Steinbrenner cited the performances of several of his veteran hitters as a key to the Yanks' fast start, rookie Aaron Judge also earned words of praise from Steinbrenner.

"We knew the ability was there," said Steinbrenner, who was in attendance at Major League Baseball's Owners Meetings. "But then again, putting that ability into practice -- particularly in this town -- is sometimes tough. But he's been great."

Fans dress as judges for Judge

Has the Yankees' impressive start caused Steinbrenner to consider adding pieces this summer if he sees an opportunity to contend?

"Still a couple months away from that," Steinbrenner said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

"That's clearly going to be the second half of July. We're going to see where we're at, what options are available and what those options would cost."

If the Yanks -- who traded away four players before last year's Deadline -- decide to become buyers this summer, Steinbrenner indicated it's unlikely that they will move any of their top young players.

"I think we've been pretty consistent in terms of not trading away the young talent the last three to four years," he said. "I think, in part, that consistency has paid off in several areas. So that's not something I'm looking to do."

Steinbrenner repeated his long-standing belief that a team shouldn't have to spend $200 million to win. With Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia coming off the books after this season -- not to mention the possibility that Masahiro Tanaka could opt out of the remaining three years and $67 million on his contract -- the long-desired goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold (it will be $197 million in 2018) appears to be realistic, which would allow the Yankees to reset their tax rate just in time for the monster free-agent class of the 2018-19 offseason.

"Clearly there's a very good chance of that," Steinbrenner said. "And at the same time, still having a significant amount of money to spend where we feel we need to spend it -- and we will, if we feel we need to spend it."

Given Judge's successful sketch on "The Tonight Show" and the popularity of some of the Yanks' other youngsters, Steinbrenner admitted that the newer faces are quickly becoming the identity of the team.

Judge's Tonight Show appearance

"What's different this year is we actually have young players for fans to be excited about -- particularly the millennials who are always FaceTiming and Snapchatting," Steinbrenner said. "There's been a lot of excitement over some of the young players; they do these FaceTime interviews and these Twitter question-and-answer things that 10 years ago, none of us would be talking about -- and I still don't understand. They do that, and clearly younger fans are really enjoying it.

"But they've got to perform well in order for that to happen. It's not that they're good, young players; they have to be good, young players that can actually produce in New York City."

'Progress' for Sternberg in ballpark talks

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg reiterated his desire to keep his team in the Tampa Bay area, telling MLB.com that the club is "progressing" in its talks with both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties about a new ballpark.

"We're not having any backward steps," Sternberg said. "But sometimes we move along by feet, sometimes in yards and sometimes in inches."

Sternberg said both counties are "eager" to keep baseball in the Tampa Bay area, which is the first step toward making a deal.

"Having said that, there are logistic issues, there are money issues and all of that that goes along with it," Sternberg said. "We're working it through. Seeing the numbers at the gate this year again [isn't] helping the cause with people at MLB and everywhere else. Is it a viable market? There's no bigger supporter of it than I am, but even I have days or weeks I get up and go, 'Can this actually work here?' But I'm forging forward, and I think it will."

Steinbrenner 'happy' for Jeter

With Derek Jeter vying to become a part-owner of the Marlins, Steinbrenner was asked what kind of owner he thinks his former captain would be.

"He's a very intelligent, even-keeled guy," Steinbrenner said. "I think he would be a great asset to any organization."

Yankees retire Jeter's No. 2

Should Jeter's group win the bidding for the Marlins, would Steinbrenner -- who was on the field Sunday night as the Yankees retired No. 2 in Jeter's honor -- find it strange to see Jeter competing against the only team for which he played?

"Obviously we all consider him a Yankee, and hopefully that will remain the same his whole life," said Steinbrenner, who agreed that the initial sights of Don Mattingly in Dodgers and Marlins colors struck him as odd.

"We're just going to be happy for him. If this is a dream of his, being involved at a high level at a Major League club, it doesn't matter to me which league or which team, quite frankly. We just wish him the best."

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.