The Yankees typically have far exceeded most other teams in payroll -- and the hefty price includes more than big-dollar contracts for players. Major League Baseball, with the Yankees top of mind, instituted a 50 percent luxury tax that requires teams spending beyond a certain threshold to make an additional payment to the league -- which then redistributes the revenue to smaller market teams that would go bankrupt if they tried to match the big-boy Yankees dollar for dollar.
So what's behind the new penny-pinching in pinstripes? The New York Times said Steinbrenner was finally won over by a combination of things: First, the team with the highest payroll has only won the World Series once in the last decade (the 2009 Yankees), meaning there is no direct relationship between the highest payroll and postseason success.
Also, MLB changed how the luxury tax is structured, offering a carrot alongside the luxury tax stick. If the Yankees spend less than $189 million, the luxury tax threshold, next season (they are currently committed to $207 million in player salaries for this season) they will get a larger share of league revenue.
"OK, let's put things in perspective for a minute," Derek Jeter, the Yankees' star shortstop, said recently at the team's spring training facility in Tampa, Fla. "First of all, you can preface it with, I have no idea what it all means. I don't understand it fully. But we're talking about $189 million being un-Yankee-like? Last time I checked, that was still a lot of money."
Some have suggested Steinbrenner -- who associates say is reserved and thoughtful, the polar opposite of his bombastic late father, George -- is clearing the decks so his family can sell the team.
Steinbrenner has denied the rumors.
"We're still looking for the most talented players and trying to find a championship team every year," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "As Hal said, we're going to give this a try, but the priority is the same as always, to produce a winner."
What that means exactly is unclear. The team let fan favorite Nick Swisher, along with catcher Russell Martin, leave in free agency (to the penny-pinching Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates, respectively).
Now facing injuries expected to sideline starters Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira for at least the first month of the season, a team that's traditionally opened the checkbook at the first sign of trouble will need a different answer by opening day.