(Budget cutbacks in the style department too, huh? Courtesy of Getty Images)
After a dark, dismal offseason, there may be some rays of spending sunshine peeking through the clouds. At least that's the implication in Wally Matthews' latest post from yesterday afternoon. In it, Matthews suggests that Hal Steinbrenner's sudden willingness to engage in contract extension talks with Robinson Cano could signal a shift in Hal's philosophy on spending and the eventual end of the $189 million payroll budget for next season. Matthews cites "sources" in the story, unnamed ones of course, and the whole concept of the story seems like a big conclusion to jump to based on a few reports of the two sides talking. It's great in theory, but being willing to negotiate a new deal with Cano before his current one is up doesn't exactly trump every other offseason decision the Yankees made.
The more likely scenario is that Hal and the rest of the Yankee front office are finally starting to realize just what an arduous task it's going to be to get under the $189 million threshold and still maintain the championship-caliber team he continues to tell fans is a goal. Shame on them for not realizing that earlier if this is truly the explanation, but at the same time kudos for reacting in the appropriate way with respect to Cano. The payroll cutting plans went against Yankee tradition to a certain degree, so if the spending rules are going to change it's only logical to be willing to change other facets of "The Yankee Way" as well.
Obviously keeping Cano in the fold guarantees nothing in the way of championship contention in 2014, but the Yankees' chances are much better with him than they are without him. The $189 million goal itself will be easier to achieve by attempting to re-sign Cano before he hits free agency regardless of whether he gives the Yanks a hometown discount, which he won't, so once again this development seems more about getting to 189 the right way than bailing on that plan entirely. Scott Boras' MO is always to not deal with extensions and get his clients to the open market, where Cano will fetch a pretty penny, but it still doesn't hurt the Yankees to try to get a new deal done and puts the ball back into Cano's court to get serious about the talks if he wants to stay.
This is not to say that Matthews' theory is completely bogus. Hal could very well be re-thinking his payroll decision after seeing how this offseason played out and listening to the public outcry against the new plan. But there has been too much done already in support of the $189 mil plan to just ignore now in the face of a few negotiating rumors with one player. Hal lost a few players this offseason that probably could have fit into the payroll plan, and he stands to lose at least a couple more after this season. As misguided as some of his ideas are, he still has to be smart enough to realize that he can't stick to his "championship-caliber" commitment without Cano. Until talks with Cano get serious and involve actual numbers, and until the Yankees make a move or two that adds payroll and talent to the lineup, there's no reason to think that anything related to the Cano negotiations is a sign that the payroll plans are out the window.