The Yankees’ plan to slash payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold was destined to fail at inception. As early as last April, the Yankees were already back tracking toward the inevitable, even though many in the media remained fixated by the smokescreen that was left behind. However, with the signing of Masahiro Tanaka to a massive seven year, $155 million deal (not including the $20 million posting fee owed to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), Plan $189 million, which had been on life support for so long, is now officially dead. But, what does that mean about the future of the Yankees’ financial commitment, both in 2014 and beyond?
Earlier in the week, I suggested that the Yankees’ luxury tax scheme was a financial smokescreen designed to distract fans and media alike from the franchise’s more subtle belt tightening. By defining expectations down, the Yankees put themselves in a position to be lauded for surpassing the $189 million threshold even though that limit was well below the team’s payroll structure over the last decade-plus. I also expected the organization to take a victory lap and say “I told you so” to those who doubted their financial commitment. It’s only been hours since the deal was announced, but it seems like the organization has already run a marathon. “I told you so” is right.
If the Yankees are lucky enough to sign Tanaka, it will be the crowning achievement of their off season. The move will give the team’s brass an opportunity to crow about their commitment to winning and willingness to spend well in excess of the $189 million luxury tax threshold.” – Captain’s Blog, January 20, 2014
“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to win. Anybody that questioned our commitment to winning is going to have to question themselves.” – Hank Steinbrenner, quoted by AP, January 22, 2014
“I have been saying for well over a year now that it makes sense to meet [the $189 million threshold], but not at the expense of a championship-caliber team.” – Hal Steinbrenner, quoted by NY Post, January 22, 2014
“Hal Steinbrenner decided winning games trumped saving money, and authorized his baseball people to forget the Yankees’ $189 million goal for the 2014.” – Joel Sherman, NY Post, January 22, 2014
“The addition of Tanaka validated Steinbrenner’s comments because Tanaka’s deal, which averages $22.1 million a season, will catapult the Yankees over that threshold.” – Jack Curry, YES Network, January 22, 2014
Should the Yankees spend to past levels? Is Hal Steinbrenner bound by the same commitments his father was willing to make? There are many sensible arguments on both sides of that question, but there is no logical way to conclude that the Yankees are already spending up to the levels of the recent past. Who knows, maybe the organization is being overwhelmed by other hidden expenses, or perhaps the robust revenue estimates bandied about significantly exaggerate the team’s financial strength? Barring these mitigating circumstances, the team should be judged by the standards of the past, especially because the Yankees brand is based upon an expectation of excellence, and the “World Series or bust” mantra has been imparted from the top down.
If the Yankees are no longer committed to a “win at all costs” identity, the franchise’s brass should make that clear to the next generation of fans. Pretending that the organization’s financial commitment is just as strong now as ever might fool some people at the onset, but all smokescreens eventually dissipate. The team’s attendance and ratings decline in 2013 is evidence of that. And, just because the Yankees have killed a self-created boogeyman doesn’t mean the franchise can now shrink from the same high standards it once proudly set for itself.