Someone very close to the pursuit of Jacoby Ellsbury was asked Tuesday night what this all means. The person was reminded that the New York Yankees were supposed to be cutting costs this holiday season, that they were downsizing the payroll to a nickel or two below the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, and that they were not expected to throw 85 mil at Brian McCann one week and 153 mil at Ellsbury the next.
The person measured the question, sighed, and then stated the obvious.
"They're the Yankees," he said. "They're always going to be the Yankees, and that's never, ever going to change."
In other words, this is why there was a Broadway musical called "Damn Yankees" and not Damn Anyone Else, and certainly not Damn Mets (though, technically, the New York Mets didn't exist when the musical debuted in 1955, but you get the point). The Yankees are always going to be the Yankees. They couldn't even get McCann to a news conference in the Bronx on Thursday before cutting a deal with another free agent that makes the catcher's catch look like lunch money.
What's that you say, Mr. Robinson (Cano)? You're worried now that the Yankees will pull their offer of $160 million, or refuse to budge on it? Don't sweat it too much. The Yanks believe they can still pay you, maybe as much as $175 million, while remaining under the tax line and saving themselves a boatload of cash to reinvest in talent sooner rather than later.
Only if you demand at least eight years and $200 million, have fun in Seattle, because even the Yankees have their limits. They swear they're not starting any offer with a "2," and this time they sound like they mean business.
But then again, the Yankees sounded like they meant business after the 2007 season, when they warned Alex Rodriguez that if he opted out of his contract, he'd end up playing third base for the Toledo Mud Hens. A-Rod opted out, begged the Yanks for forgiveness, and then was reprimanded with a $305 million reward, including $30 million in career home run bonuses.
The franchise came to see that as the worst business deal it ever made, and that was long before the arbitration fight over A-Rod's 211-game Biogenesis suspension turned as ugly as it did. If Rodriguez is suspended for the season, the Yankees won't pocket the savings; they'll throw every last dollar at another area of need.
As it turns out, center field wasn't among the team's most conspicuous holes, not with Brett Gardner a reliable defender with exceptional speed. So seven years after signing Johnny Damon, why would the Yankees take away from the Boston Red Sox another fast left-handed hitting outfielder, other than to prove to the Red Sox and the rest of creation that they could?
"You're building up the middle with McCann and Ellsbury," one source said. "Ellsbury is a dynamic player in his prime, and [the Yankees] liked him a little more than they liked Shin-Soo Choo. He's going to hit more home runs in Yankee Stadium than he did at Fenway, and you can put him or Gardner in center and move the other one to a corner."
So the Yankees made two monster deals, with more to come, after scaring their fan base to death with so much talk about payroll restraint this offseason. "People forgot," the source said, "that $189 million would be the second-highest payroll in baseball."
It's good to be a Yankees fan, even in bad times. They missed the playoffs last year for only the second time since the players' strike of 1994, and attendance and TV ratings took a significant hit when A-Rod and Derek Jeter were nowhere to be found. Worse yet, the Red Sox won it all for the third time since they humiliated their blood rivals with their deferred sweep in the 2004 American League Championship Series, putting the parade count at 3-1 in favor of Boston since that historic series.
The Yankees responded the only way they know how, the Steinbrenner way. With George gone, son Hal had to show he has some of the old man's fire in his own belly. He'd refused to match Russell Martin's reasonable two-year, $17 million bid from the Pittsburgh Pirates, of all corporate raiders, only to watch the catcher's position become the kind of glaring weakness that inspired McCann's big-money score.
Meanwhile, across town, the Mets had allowed themselves to play the fool in a high-profile sit-down with Cano and Jay Z, a practical joke of a negotiation that left a lot of observers laughing at the Mets, not with them. The Yankees don't do fake sit-downs, unless you count the one Brian Cashman once did with Carl Crawford's agent to drive up the price Boston would ultimately pay for the outfielder. In explaining why he wasn't interested in Crawford, Cashman said, "I feel like we've got Carl Crawford in Brett Gardner, except [Gardner] costs more than $100 million less, with less experience."
The same could be said of Ellsbury-Gardner, but the Yankees went all-in anyway. Maybe they'll end up back on top of the AL East because of it, or maybe they'll end up a big box-office bust the likes of the Brooklyn Nets, already in turmoil two months into a season that will cost their owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, about the same figure -- $189 million -- the 2014 Yankees plan to hit.
Either way, after adding another championship-level player and another huge contract that will almost certainly hurt on the back end, the world's most famous ballclub made a bold statement here. No proposed budget, or league-wide luxury tax, will ever stop the Damn Yankees from being the Damn Yankees.