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A Method To Their Madness?

Hank SteinbrennerTo say that this offseason has been an emotional roller coaster for we Yankee fans would be a gross understatement. We almost lost the best player in the game, in fact we did for a period of time. The best closer in the game almost walked, right along with our long-time catcher. We've had to get our minds around seeing our starting centerfielder shipped out of town in the same package as the crown jewel of our farm system along with a bevy of other prospects.

It seems as though at every turn, there's been a worst-case scenario to prepare ourselves for. Of course, one of the heir apparents to the crown, Hank, has done nothing to ease our minds. In fact, at nearly every turn, Hank Steinbrenner's shoot-from-the-hip grandstanding has stoked the flames of our fears. He's seemed to undermine nearly everyone else in the Yankee organization, as well as quite a few people from other organizations. He's let his wants and desires become headline fodder across the country. If you only read his quotes, you'd think he's single-handedly bringing this team back to the eighties, when another Steinbrenner was making baseball decisions unilaterally, and ruining the Yankees in the process.

Of course, reading quotes doesn't tell the full story. In this case, the quotes themselves actually mean nothing at all when you take a look at what has transpired.
  • A-Rod opts out, then comes back for basically the same money the Yanks would've offered in an extension anyway.
  • The Yankees bring Mariano Rivera back with a generous contract, which is  more a reward for what he's done in the past than payment for what he will do in the next 3 years.
  • Ditto Jorge Posada, only his deal was for 4 years.
  • The Yanks sign LaTroy Hawkins to a one-year deal while other middle relievers sign outrageous multi-year deals elsewhere.
  • Luis Vizcaino walks when it becomes clear he's asking for too much money.
That's basically it. With all the bluster we've heard from Hank, the Yankees have followed the path Brian Cashman has set out for them since 2005 exactly. Their minor-league system remains in tact, high-priced free agents whom George would've insisted upon signing, like Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones, have signed lucrative deals elsewhere. Middling free agents have signed elsewhere as well. So what is Hank up to? Why is he making all of these headlines?

No one knows for sure, but I do have a theory. I think the Yanks are using Hank's big mouth to their advantage. I don't think he's such a loose cannon after all. Take a look at his most-recent statement.
The New York Yankees are still discussing whether to pursue a trade for Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana, and senior vice-president Hank Steinbrenner would like to make a deal.

"Nothing is really decided at this point," Steinbrenner said Friday night outside Legends Field at the team's spring training facility. "I'm still leaning towards doing it.

"There's others leaning not to do it. There are some others that are leaning to do it also. Disagreements within the organization. Nothing major, but just different opinions. I've changed my opinion a couple times."
Obviously, the first reaction is to hit yourself in the head and say, "Come on man, just keep your mouth shut." But look at the statement again. He's saying he's leaning toward doing a deal for Santana (he doesn't say which deal, mind you), but he's getting push back from others in the organization. If you're an exec for the Twins, and you see the market drying up for Santana, you may just say, "Hey guys, we're close on this deal. Maybe if we ask for a little bit less, we can get this deal done with the Yankees." Hank said nothing more than that. If Minnesota comes back to us with a lesser offer, I might be able to sell it to the rest of the organization. Not a bad negotiating tactic.

Hal SteinbrennerBy putting Hank out there as a loose cannon, the Yanks are effectively influencing the market. He did it with A-Rod as well, by saying the Yanks didn't want him because he didn't want to be a Yankee. That statement of disinterest cleared the way for A-Rod to show that he did, in fact, want to be a Yankee and in the end it resulted in the Yanks negotiating with A-Rod himself and avoiding the singular displeasure of sitting down with Scott Boras and getting thoroughly fleeced. Hank went to the press when Rivera balked at his 3 year/$45M offer, Rivera signed shortly thereafter.

Maybe I'm giving too much credit to Hank & Hal, but the only thing we can really go on is results. Every quote Steinbrenner has given up to this point has served a purpose. Saying that he's still very much interested in dealing for Santana, and even "leaning towards doing it," doesn't change anything from the Yankee perspective, but it does tell all of the other players in the sweepstakes that the Yanks haven't bowed out. It may make the Red Sox take drastic measures, it may make the Twins lower their demands. It may make the Mets up their offer, it may even bring someone new into the mix who will come in at the 11th hour and blow Minnesota away. None of these are undesirable results.

The main question everyone seems to be asking is, who's in charge? Is Brian Cashman still steering this ship? Judging from Cashman's own comments, the answer appears to be that he isn't steering it alone, at the very least. His role has changed, but I don't think it's Hank that's really taken control of the team, I think it's more Hal. He's the slick Steinbrenner son with the MBA in his back pocket and his finger on the purse strings of the organization. Hank is the blunt instrument, but I think Hal could be orchestrating everything from behind the scenes.

In the end, the Yanks may wind up dealing for Santana, they may part ways with Melky Cabrera and Phil Hughes. This may be a foregone conclusion at this point, for all I know. But until a deal like that happens, I'm going to take everything Hank says with a grain of salt and look for hidden meaning in his words. He's had plenty to say so far, and from where I'm sitting, the Yanks haven't made one mistake this offseason.



3 Comments

I think the most annoying off-season development has been the creation, mostly from the Boston media (see Simmons and ESPN) of "Hank Steinbrenner as Boss II". Thus far he's issued a few interesting quotes that weren't even that outlandish, and that's about it. He's done nothing to make me think we're about to go back to the Bronx Zoo days of the 70's/80's, yet they're managed to invoke that fear in Yankees fans.

I think ESPN and the Boston media (and eventually the local media) are trying to create a persona there that doesn't exactly exist yet, in the hopes of selling stories. Yawn.

Yep, like I said. I'm 100% fine with the moves the Yanks have made. I don't care what Hank says, all I care about are the results, and the team is still headed in the direction Cashman set, which I think is the right direction.

The Yankees may have a brilliant negotiating tactic here. They've kept A-Rod, Mo and Posada. So far, they haven't bet the farm on anyone. It's fun to watch a team that knows how to negotiate. If they don't land Santana, you can be sure their influence has driven his price way up there and put immense pressure on whoever does land him. Sometimes the best way to hurt your opponents is to make them overpay for talent. Masterful.

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