Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner gave a state of the franchise and talked offseason strategy, free agent Manny Machado’s “I’m not Johnny Hustle” comment, catcher Gary Sanchez’s poor 2018 season and a lot more in a mid-November taped interview that aired for the first time Monday Night on YES Network’s “Yankees Hot Stove.”
Here is some of what Steinbrenner had to say in a one on-one with YES clubhouse reporter Meredith Marakovits:
(Note: The interview was done prior to the Yankees acquiring left-handed starter James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners for three prospects – left-hander Justus Sheffield, right-hander Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams)
Chris O’Meara | Associated Press
Who’s on short?
We’ll start with one of the Yankees’ biggest offseason question marks”
Who’s playing shortstop for the first few months of the 2019 season while Didi Gregorius completes his recovery from Oct. 17 Tommy John surgery to his throwing elbow?
“Clearly we have some options,” Steinbrenner said. “Gleyber (Torres, an All-Star second baseman as a rookie in 2018,) can play short. We’re just going to have to see. It’s a half a year (without Gregorius), not a whole year.
“Right now we’re leaving no stone unturned. That’s what we do right now. We had our pro scouting meetings. There’s a lot of talk about free agents. There’s a lot of talk about free agents, there’s talk about trades, who’s out there for a potential trade.
“Clearly we need to do something about the first two or three months of the season.”
Jeff Roberson | Associated Press
Yay or nay on Manny?
Steinbrenner made headlines at the owners’ meetings in mid-November by saying free agent Manny Machado’s October admittance to not being the hustling type were “troubling” comments “that ain’t going to sell where we play baseball.”
In his interview with YES, Steinbrenner said that he’d need to hear an explanation from Machado before considering whether he’d sign off on the Yankees making a contract offer.
“Any guy we look at, whether it’s a $10-million guy or a $300-million guy, those comments would be troubling and they need to be addressed,” Steinbrenner said. “I think it’s really going to be up to (GM Brian) Cashman sitting down with him – and me hopefully – face to face and really trying to get an explanation as to what was the context of when he answered that question.
“‘Were there things that weren’t printed? What were you trying to say? How do you explain yourself? Do you understand that this kind of stuff concerns a lot of our fans if not most of our fans?’ There needs to be a sit down before we’re comfortable.
“But we’re looking at three or four guys right now, whether free agent or a potential trade, where makeup issues (and) work-ethic issues are a concern, and that’s always a part of any person we’re going to bring into this environment.”
Setting the budget
Even though the Yankees’ luxury tax clock has been reset, Steinbrenner says next season’s payroll may or may not exceed the luxury tax threshold, which climbs from $197 million in 2018 to $206 million in 2019.
Asked if this offseason has a different feel due to the Yankees staying under the luxury tax threshold last season, Steinbrenner responded:
“Every year is the same, and what I mean by it is this: We’re going to field a championship-caliber team. And even though we started the season in ’18 under (the luxury-tax threshold), we felt we had a championship-caliber team and a lot of other people did too.
“We’re going to keep adding pieces that we need to add. We’re going to get to the threshold and if I’m not convinced we’re where we need to be, we’ll keep adding pieces.
“I use four or five years ago as an example. We were right at the threshold. We weren’t good enough. We went out and got (Masahiro) Tanaka. That’s the way I approach this every year.”
It was January 2014 when the Yankees signed Tanaka to a seven-year, $155-million contract after the right-hander was posted by his Japanese club.
Five seasons later, the Yankees’ championship drought is up to nine years and there are two superstar position players in the free agent pool – outfielder Bryce Harper and Machado.
Will Steinbrenner allow GM Brian Cashman to add one of those big fish to an offense that in 2018 finished second in the majors in runs scored and hit a record 267 homers?
Patrick Semansky | Associated Press
Avoiding another Sonny Gray
Righty Sonny Gray is on the trading block and almost certainly will be dealt this winter because he was unable to thrive in big-market New York after being an All-Star in small-market Oakland.
Interestingly, Steinbrenner was asked how he decides on whether a free agent or trade target can handle playing in New York.
“It’s tough,” Steinbrenner added. “That is the one thing that is tough because you can have guys that have an incredible skillset. They’ve been very successful where they’re at and they’ve been successful in high-leverage situations like playoffs.
“Even that sometimes isn’t enough to tell you. Sometimes you’re just not going to know until you get them there. But believe me, you try to ascertain that, whether that trait is within or not. But it’s not always the easiest thing to do.”