NEW YORK (AP) — Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner would consider boosting payroll above the third luxury tax level in an effort to help New York win its first World Series in a decade.
Despite placing 20 players on the injured list and matching last season’s total, the Yankees lead the AL East as the season approaches the halfway point. New York already has added AL home run leader Edwin Encarnación.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Steinbrenner said Wednesday at the major league owners meetings. “We don’t like to complain about injuries, but it’s just a fact that this has been a season to remember when it comes to ILs and injuries, and a lot of these young kids have come up and taken advantage of the opportunity that was given to them.”
New York in 2018 dropped below the luxury tax threshold for the first time since the restraint on spending started in 2003, resetting the team’s tax rates to lower levels. The Yankees started the season with a $225.9 million payroll for purposes of the tax, well over the $206 million initial threshold and on track to pay just under $4 million.
Last weekend’s acquisition of Encarnación added $3 million to the 2019 tax payroll, which will finish above the $226 million threshold, when the tax rate becomes 30 percent. If the Yankees go above $246 million, the rate would rise to 50 percent and New York’s top amateur draft pick next year would be pushed back 10 places.
“If we feel we need another starting pitcher or even more help in the bullpen, we’re going to look at it,” Steinbrenner said. “If I really felt we needed that deal that takes us over the top then, yes, I would, but we still have a decent amount of cushion.”
Ace Luis Severino, a 19-game winner last year, has been sidelined since spring training but could return in late July or early August. Domingo Germán, 9-2 with a 3.86 ERA, is on the injured list with a left hip flexor strain and has just begun to throw on flat ground.
San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer and Zack Wheeler are among the starting pitchers who could be available ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.
“Pitching is still a concern and has been for me for a while, but having said that we’re still six weeks away from the trade deadline, so there’s not a whole lot happening right now,” Steinbrenner said. “Still interested to see Sevy, how he progresses and continues to progress. But if we feel we need to improve we’ll be right in the middle of it.”
Steinbrenner would consider trading young talent, if needed.
“I’m absolutely willing to look at that if I feel it’s going to get us over that threshold, up to the level we absolutely want to and need to be at to win a championship,” he said. “We get asked by enough teams about a number of younger people, so I know we have people that other teams would be very much interested in.”
Outfielder Clint Frazier could be among those desired by other teams. The 24-year-old was hitting .283 with 11 home runs and 34 RBIs before he was dropped to Triple-A on Monday as Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge prepared to come off the IL. Frazier has struggled defensively in right field.
“I think he’s got a great career ahead of him. He’s got a lot of talent,” Steinbrenner said. “He’s been working very hard on his defense and will continue to do so. Everybody has ups and downs. We’ve seen what he can do offensively. … He’ll be a big part of this team going forward. He certainly has the capability of doing that.”
Drafted fifth overall by Cleveland in 2013, the enigmatic Frazier drew unwanted attention after refusing to speak to reporters after a rocky game.
“He didn’t come up through our system,” Steinbrenner said. “Some of the issues you’re talking about, I know what you’re talking about, we work on from day one when these kids are 16 years old … maybe more so than other organizations, because other organizations don’t play in New York City. The maturity, in many respects, is there, but we all become more mature every year of our life, so there’s going to be improvements in all areas.”
Steinbrenner has tried to pinpoint possible reasons for the large number of injuries, examining weight training and workouts at the team’s minor league complex.
“I’m very hands on and I can assure you the injuries have been a concern and we have looked,” he said. “I wish I could tell you there was a smoking gun. There is no smoking gun.”
The Yankees would not be in first place without contributions from Luke Voit, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin, players the Yankees pursued because of advanced metrics.
“Our pro scouting is still an integral part of everything that goes on, but the analytics side has grown, will continue to grow, and so has performance science,” Steinbrenner said. “I think no team is doing more in the performance science world than we are. … These are the types of investments that don’t make the papers and the fans don’t know about, but player development and scouting, it’s a big part of our budget.”
Despite four home rainouts and the loss of stars to injuries, Steinbrenner says the club’s income hasn’t suffered much.
“I think our revenue’s almost identical to last year,” Steinbrenner said. “Individual game sales are down, group sales are up, so overall we’ve been happy considering the weather has been less than ideal and some of our big stars have been injured for a significant amount of time.”
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