As 2014 Begins, The Yankee Payroll Is Not A Surprise

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Jacoby Ellsbury

New York Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As soon as Jayson Nix popped out for the final out of the 2012 season and through most of last season, there was one key number associated with the Yankees.

It was not 42 (Mariano Rivera‘s number), 85 (amount of Yankee victories) or 56 (amount of players used by the Yankees to attain those 85 wins)

The key number was 189.

It represented a financial mindset for Hal Steinbrenner and his desire to get the Yankee payroll at or even below that threshold so they could avoid paying luxury tax like the $28 million they were charged after last season for having a final payroll of $237 million.

Since 2003, the Yankees have paid $250 million in luxury taxes, two million shy of Alex Rodriguez‘s original 10-year contract.

The idea was they could avoid that by having younger talent (cheaper) produce in the way that they experienced in the mid-1990s with Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. When the Yankees won their first championship,that foursome made a combined total of roughly $3.5 million and two years later with Posada added to the mix the combined salaries were about $13.9.

Over last year, the Yankees realized they couldn’t quite duplicate the production from the farm system, despite the production of David Robertson and Ivan Nova, who were accumulating decent numbers and service time.

And once the ratings declined, along with the attendance and the revenue from missed postseason games, $189 was put on hold and it was not a surprise to see a story entitled “Hal aimed for $189M mandate, but Yanks can’t win that way” in Sunday’s New York Post.

During the course of this talk about $189 million, various Yankee officials maintained the stance of “it’s a goal and not a mandate.” The goal was getting under there for the first time since being at nearly $183 million in 2004, a year when they added Rodriguez’s original 10-year contract to their books and were about halfway through Derek Jeter’s 10-year deal.

It couldn’t be a mandate because the desire to meet the expectations of the fans couldn’t be met. That became apparent throughout 2013 even with a late charge into the wild card race that fell short and resulted in the Yankees playing games at home out of the playoff race for the first time in two decades.

So once the playoffs were missed, a new mandate was developed and that was to acquire what the key decision makers believe is the best talent available.

That meant going into stealth mode half a billion dollars later the Yankees wound up adding Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka. Four lavish press conferences later, the Yankees have their payroll to $211 million, which actually isn’t the game’s biggest, thought it might have been had Robinson Cano taken their seven-year, $175 million offer.

That distinction of having the game’s highest payroll belongs to the Dodgers but the Yankee way remains the same at least until they can replicate the mid-1990s through their farm system.

Whether that turns into a spectacular season like the last Yankee spending spree of 2009 or is the disappointment of missing the playoffs gets underway Tuesday in Houston.

Larry has covered sports in various capacities for the better part of a decade. He spent eight years working for SportsTicker and now covers the Yankees and Nets for Metro New York newspaper and other outlets. Also Larry is a co-author of a baseball blog at gothamhub.com