Purgatory Online

Friday, December 27, 2002

With the addition of Cuban defector Jose Contreras ($32M over four years) to the pitching staff, and Japanese all-star Hideki Matsui ($21M over three years) to the lineup, the Yankees now have a $140 million dollar payroll for 2003. That's one-four-zero, zero-zero-zero, zero-zero-zero dollars, or well over twice the payroll of the Angels' 2002 world championship team. Actually, folks seem to disagree about the payroll - this New York Times story puts the number at $158M, and likely to grow to about $168M when they sign Clemens. The ESPN story puts the Yankees' luxury tax liability at about $7.5M.

Does Steinbrenner care about the luxury tax? It would seem not. Brian Cashman, the Yankees' GM, is quoted by ESPN as saying "The mindset is still for me to reduce payroll. Obviously, when the opportunities to sign Hideki Matsui or Jose Contreras presented themselves, it was time for us to make decisions, to move now and continue to work on cutting the payroll down the line.'' This explains Steinbrenner's physique; it's the same philosophy he applies to dieting. "The mindset is still for me to reduce fat. Obviously, when the opportunities to eat the cherry-cheese danish or the extra-crispy bucket from KFC presented themsevles, it was time for me to make decisions, to eat now and continue to work on cutting the calories down the line."

Ironically, Steinbrenner is one of the very few (if not the only) owners in the game to have the, uh, luxury of ignoring the tax, since his team has a huge built-in advantage in terms of popularity, the payoff for decades of dominance. So his TV deals are much more lucrative, his brand marketing is easier, and, as was the case with Contreras, he has a leg up on signing the most desirable free agents. The money being equal (and sometimes even if its not), free agents prefer the Yankees because they know they'll have a chance to win in New York. Occasionally, you'll find someone who offers a tepid defense of Steinbrenner along the lines of "well, he may be loathsome, but at least he spends the money necessary to improve his team." Bullshit. Steinbrenner spends money on the Yankees because he knows that a mediocre team won't cut it in New York - he's got so much money tied up in them that even a couple of seasons in which they're out of contention would collapse the whole thing like the proverbial house of cards. Admiring Steinbrenner for his willingness to spend money is like buying your local used car lot manager a beer for keeping the cars so shiny.

But the Yankees won't win forever - no team does. And when the collapse comes, complete with an apoplectic, desperate Steinbrenner, it will be epic, thunderous, and very, very entertaining.