After a year of planning a team around a $189 million budget, after thousands of blog posts, millions of water cooler chats, billions of comments about how to spend and who to trade, and one unhappy general manager, Steinbrenner might have a change of heart. But before you get too excited, I'll warn you that this comes from Wallace Matthews. Despite his reputation for wild speculation, I have to agree with some of Matthews' conclusions. In the last few months, Yankee fans have grown uneasy with the increasing age of the team, as well as the organization's reluctance to spend on free agents. The team's last big signing was Rafael Soriano, and before that you have to look back to 2009. After watching Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Soriano walk without the team bringing in reasonable replacements, Yankee fans have grown uneasy. Hal Steinbrenner was taken aback by their disappointment.
“I’m surprised to hear that there’s anger, if you see what we’ve done this offseason. …We’ve signed three or four of the top free agents that were on the market, because we’re going to continue to field a championship caliber team."
After this, Steinbrenner came out of hiding, and insisted numerous times that the budget was a goal, but not necessarily a mandate if they couldn't field a "championship caliber" team. As soon as the budget was suddenly no certainty, Robinson Cano's looming free agency grew in media coverage. The fact that the Yankee might not be able to afford Cano next season was just another opportunity to call the new Yankee ownership cheap.
"This is the first time since George died that it appears a Steinbrenner is actually running the Yankees."
Matthews believes that Hal Steinbrenner, distressed by fans calling him cheap, has decided to pull the plug on the budget. Considering all the comments Steinbrenner made in January about the budget being just a guideline, and his recent eagerness to talk to the media (I've probably read about 3 to 4 articles a day on Steinbrenner over the last week) tells me that he's trying to save face. It seems that he's exclusively negotiating with Scott Boras and Cano at this point, leaving Cashman out of the picture, and I wouldn't be surprised if he plans to announce this big extension, a new team policy towards keeping players, and a reconsideration of the $189 million plan all in the same breath.
Of course this is all speculation at this point, and Matthews' anonymous sources are far from reliable, even the quotes don't tell much of a story. When you layout the offseason though, Cashman's unhappiness, the Yankees inability to replace key pieces, Steinbrenner talking about the budget as guideline, and his new eagerness to extend Cano and break team policy look sort of fishy.
On the other side of this thought process, the Yankees have a ton to lose if they completely ignore the $189 million budget. If the team manages to fall below this for just 2014, they stand to save nearly $60 million even with the recent revelation that refunds are decreasing. To go back on this plan they've been working on for the last year and a half sounds too good to be true from a fan's perspective, and from a business stand point, may not be worth it.
But if they do so, the way the team is set up right now could mean bright things for the future. The Yankees have a ton of money coming off the books and a farm system that could be ranked very highly by the end of 2013. If the organization is now willing to spend $20 or $30 million more than they were for next season, the team is in fantastic shape.
When Steinbrenner is asked about the budget over the next couple of days, he'll probably just reiterate that it was always a guideline. I expect to know what the future plan is after a Cano extension is or isn't finalized.