Yankees payroll talk leaves little room for Scherzer

David Lennon

Hal Steinbrenner wouldn't say the Yankees are finished spending for this season. But in talking about his investment for this year's team, coming off two nonplayoff years, Steinbrenner also made it sound like free-agent pitcher Max Scherzer shouldn't be waiting by the phone.

"There's just a certain amount I'm going to go," the Yankees' managing general partner said Wednesday at the owners meetings. "You all know my opinions about payroll. Where you should be and where you really don't need to be to win championships."

Where the Yankees are now is at roughly $209 million, behind only the Dodgers ($264 million) for the biggest payroll in baseball. And Steinbrenner is the latest — not to mention the highest ranking — member of the front office to express reluctance to adding another mega-contract.

Steinbrenner said the Yankees "had a certain amount of dollars to work with" heading into this offseason, and Brian Cashman "did a great job" upgrading the roster inside that margin. In typical Steinbrenner fashion, however, he did leave the door slightly ajar when pressed on the possibility of another major bump in the payroll.

"Look, it's not over till it's over, OK?" Steinbrenner said. "We've still got a full month until spring training, and we're always going to continue to improve."

Steinbrenner chose to blow past the $189 million luxury tax threshold last year after cautioning for months that it was a goal and not a mandate. But the Yankees still failed to make the playoffs.. Steinbrenner insisted Wednesday that the Yankees' efforts to get younger — with a more flexible payroll — are a necessity.

"You don't have to have a $200 million payroll to win," Steinbrenner said. "Particularly in New York, we do have to have marquee players. Players that people really want to come out to see, that they're excited about. But you got to have a balance of young talent, too.

"We had a couple bad years in our player development system where we just didn't have anybody coming to help. Now we do. Now they're starting to come."

Even closer on the horizon is Alex Rodriguez, who already has been relegated to a DH role with the signing of Chase Headley to play third base. But Steinbrenner echoed his GM's remarks about not knowing what to expect from A-Rod, and hasn't spoken to him about his diminished role, either.

"I know that he works hard and I know that he's going to show up in shape," Steinbrenner said. "I'd be surprised if he didn't. But the questions are just physical questions that none of us can answer because of his age and because of his surgery."