In 2013, the New York Yankees put themselves on a budget — and missed the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons. So in 2014, the familiar World-Series-or-bust Yankees are back, willing to bury the budget and break the bank.
Goodbye, Wal-Mart; hello, Waldorf Astoria.
In the past, the Yankees’ idea of fiscal restraint was to take lobster ravioli off the training table. Then last year, Yankees management decided to put itself in a position to get player payroll under $189 million — the cutoff for the luxury tax — but winning only 85 games dashed that impulse.
So in the offseason, the second-generation Steinbrenners went from penny-pinching to spree-spending. Stumbling along Madison Avenue with some blank checks, this is what they found:
●Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka: seven-year, $155 million contract.
●Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury: seven years, $153 million.
●Catcher Brian McCann: five years, $85 million.
●Outfielder Carlos Beltran: three years, $45 million.
The Yankees also paid a $20 million posting fee to Tanaka’s Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Money cannot buy happiness, but in New York, it still can buy you Hermes purses, million-dollar condos with no closets and exquisitely expensive Japanese pitching.
On the other hand, the Yankees let Robinson Cano walk away — what, you think he ran away? — freeing up fast cash, which they treated like a home equity loan. And when Americans get a second line of credit, what do they do? They spend, baby!
If George Costanza were still in the front office, the Yankees would be returning to plush cotton uniforms that breathe.
In addition to their massive free agent outlays, the Yankees also signed, on the cheap, reliever Matt Thornton (two years, $ 7 million), infielder Kelly Johnson (one year, $3 million) and second baseman Brian Roberts (one year, $2 million). All told, the Yankees’ offseason free agent tab exceeded $450 million.
Q. How many Yankees does it take to change a light bulb?
A. None — they’ll just buy General Electric.
Of course, spending a lot with just a little in return is a New York entertainment tradition. Just earlier this year, the most expensive theatrical production ever staged, the $75 million Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” closed after a little less than three years of performances, proclaimed a bust.
“Spider-Man” had similarities to the Yankees — cast injuries, backstage turmoil and exorbitant tickets that often went unsold.
Actually, to the Yankees’ credit, they have not raised ticket prices this year to cover their nearly half-billion-dollar personnel infusion. So a family of four can still enjoy field-level seating to a Yankees game for only $700, plus parking.
The centerpiece of the Yankees’ shopping binge was Tanaka, who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in the Japanese league last season.
Tanaka was sought by seven MLB teams, all given a chance to court Tanaka and his agent face-to-face. The Yankees sent an eight-man delegation to Beverly Hills to make their pitch — team President Randy Levine, Manager Joe Girardi, General Manager Brian Cashman, plus two assistant general managers, their pitching coach, a member of the team’s player personnel department with Japanese ties and the team’s Japanese liaison.
They brought everybody but the designated hitter and the Dalai Lama.
I am reminded of comedian Bill Maher’s old bit that, with modern technology — e-mail, faxes, video conferencing, et al — there’s no reason for business trips anymore, but as he would point out, business trips still exist because guys just want to get out of the house.
Indeed, the Yankees could have wooed Tanaka without sending a flotilla across four time zones first-class, but, you know, they just wanted to spend the money.
Q. If March Madness had existed in 19th-century Germany, would Karl Marx have been too zoned out to create his “religion is the opiate of the masses” maxim? (George Brazier; Arlington)
A. And I guarantee you he never gets around to finishing “The Communist Manifesto” if he were watching Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless every day.
Q. Did you feel an honest-to-goodness emotional tug when you heard that Daniel Snyder had created the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation? (Joe Tesoro; Harrisburg, Pa.)
A. Next for Snyder: Creation of the Washington Redskins Original Spinners Foundation, to assist founding members of the famed R&B group.
Q. If Northwestern’s football team is a labor union, doesn’t that mean Alabama’s is a corporation? (Stephen Clark; Richmond)
A. Nick Saban certainly gets paid like a CEO.
Q. By the original rules of college basketball, the game begins with a jump ball. By the current rules, does every game have to end with the refs looking at a replay monitor? (Don Pollins; Hyattsville)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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