Torii Hunter seemed like a perfect fit for the hole the New York Yankees have in right field. Many insider reports indicated that the Yankees themselves even thought so. Yet, when it became obvious the veteran Hunter had other suitors and it was going to require a two-year deal to get Hunter to sign, the Yankees never even made an offer.
Former Yankees' and New York Mets' pitcher David Cone, now an analyst with the YES Network, says Yankees' fans -- and all of baseball -- need to get used to this new reality. The Yankees "are not in the game" when it comes to the free-agent market, according to Cone, who is as well-connected inside the Yankees organization as anyone.
"A lot of agents are out there waiting for the Yankees to get back in the game and they’re not in the game. It may take a couple of more years. I think most people realize this is probably a one-year thing with the Yankees so they can reset the tax rate. If they get under one year then maybe the Yankees will be back in play again. Free agents do not need to apply here, as far as right now.”
That is very un-Yankee like. At least, very much unlike the try-to-win-no-matter-what-it-cost George Steinbrenner Yankees. These, however, are the Hal Steinbrenner 'winning would be nice but we are a business first and we spend too much money' Yankees.
“Definitely, the philosophy has changed. George, he would have been the one knocking on the door of some of these free agents. He would have been on Albert Pujols last year. He would’ve been in on some of the big free agents. That’s just not the case right now. Not to say that they won’t do that in the future, but they’re going to be very careful about which guys they choose, and how far out they go on long term deals.”
The Yankees have been saying they will do everything they can to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold for 2014, and the more you see them stay out of the free-agent market and refuse to enter into trade discussions for players who would end up needing rich, long-term deals the more you have to believe they are serious about it. Even if it winds up costing them a chance to win in the short term.
More from Cone:
“I think they’re hungry to win, but I think it’s a different philosophy. There are more metrics being used, more analysis on the back end. There’s definitely a different way of going about business. They really do need to get under the threshold to reset the tax rate. They’re serious about it, there’s no doubt it’s going to happen, so for a year or two here they’re going to have to get creative.
“I’m sure revenue is an issue for them, but they make money on the YES Network. They have a lot of sources of revenue. Honestly, I think it’s more about the brand with them; protecting the brand. Winning is a big part of that, without a doubt. They really need to get creative in terms of their roster for a year or two, even though it’s hard to feel sorry for the Yankees at $189 million."
Beyond Hunter, it seems another casualty of this new-found commitment to get under the luxury tax threshold might be Hiroki Kuroda. The veteran right-hander was often the Yankees' best starter a season ago and the Yankees want him back. He reportedly has several other suitors, however, and you have to think that if the price for Kuroda winds up being a multi-year deal the Yankees might move in another direction.
That could involve a potential trade for Miami Marlins' right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who is on the last year of his deal. It could even involve leaving a spot in the rotation for young David Phelps.
Whatever ends up happening, this is definitely a different mind-set for the Yankees. It is going to take some getting used to.