Revitalizing The Yankee Brand With A Budget

...we'll market it as New Slurm. Then, when everyone hates it, we'll bring back Slurm Classic and make billions!

The above quote from Futurama refers to a real-life Coca-Cola conspiracy theory. In 1985, Coca-Cola released New Coke, completely changing the formula and leaving Coke drinkers incredibly disappointed. The conspiracy theory says that the Coca-Cola marketing department did this to counter declining sales, and the awful-tasting New Coke replaced regular Classic Coke to stir up free publicity. Of course after everyone protested the new formula, Coca-Cola went back to Coke Classic, and their brand was rejuvenated as soda drinkers returned to stores to grab up the original drink. Whether this was done by accident or with purpose will continue to be debated, but marketing vice president of Coca-Cola USA, Sergio Zyman, concluded that, "Yes, it infuriated the public, cost a ton of money and lasted only 77 days before we reintroduced Coca-Cola Classic. Still, New Coke was a success because it revitalized the brand and reattached the public to Coke."

So what does this have to do with the Yankees? When the budget talks started in 2012, most of the media and fans were doubtful that they'd actually get to $189 million. When the team started preparing for the 2013 season, it grew clear that the budget was a serious possibility, as the team signed Ichiro Suzuki and traded for Vernon Wells, while leaving Chris Stewart as the starting catcher. Despite spending $228 million in 2013, the organization was dubbed the New Yankees, a team that was financially responsible and headed by a new ownership in Hal Steinbrenner.

But by December 6th of this year, the budget was already dead. The math says that the Yankees have little more than $2.7 million left until they reach $189 million. This completely excludes Alex Rodriguez' ridiculous $33.5 million salary for 2014. Yet despite all this, on December 13th, President of the Yankees, Randy Levine said, "Right now, Alex is in the budget and we have a shot to do that (getting below $189 million). Alex is in the budget. We count him as he’s coming back until there’s a change in circumstance. Right now there is no change in circumstance."

Either Levine is extremely bad at math, or he's attempting to keep up a charade that should have reached its end weeks earlier. The Yankees still plan to add two potent bats to the lineup, they need another starting pitcher, and major help in the bullpen. They recently signed Brian Roberts to a $2 million deal, and in the mean time offered Robinson Cano and Omar Infante salaries that would throw them well beyond $189 million. Unless the organization finds a way to cut a massive chunk of payroll, the budget is dead.

Why is Randy Levine, and at times Brian Cashman, still talking like the budget is still active? It's a decent negotiating tactic, perhaps allowing them to appear less insulting when offering lower average annual salaries to free agents. I also think it helped them in the beginning of the winter with their three big signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, when they emerged out of nowhere to surprise everyone with early agreements. The budget was also little harm due to the awful 2012-2013 free agent class.

And as this offseason continues, and I keep hearing Hal Steinbrenner reiterate just how much he's willing to spend his money for a winning team, I think about New Coke and Coke Classic. The 2013 New Yankees were a budget-driven team looking to reap the benefits small market teams receive. The possibility of incentives and tax breaks were always nice, but there was also a ton of money to lose in poor attendance and missed postseason opportunities. With fans believing that Yankee ownership grew frugal, a team that spends so wildly is bound to rejuvenate their brand. It's not necessarily the Yankees that will return in 2014 as Yankees Classic, but rather ownership who returns as Steinbrenner Classic.

When Hal Steinbrenner goes out to invest $400 million in the offseason, the days of "If the boss were still alive..." should be long gone. Whether it was done on purpose or not remains to be seen, but the fallout of this whole process will grant the team brand revitalization.

When George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973, he built the team on winning, and spending became the greatest infamous character of both him and the team. Whether it is lesson learned or an elaborate plan all along, Hal Steinbrenner is rebuilding his father's image with an unexpectedly big offseason this winter.