New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is announced before a baseball game against the Houston Astros, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
Updated: April 24, 2014 9:42PM
In 2013, the New York Yankees put themselves on a budget and missed the playoffs for only 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, Walmart; hello, Waldorf-Astoria.
In the past, the Yankees’ idea of fiscal restraint was to take lobster ravioli off the training table. Then last season, 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-year,
$153 million contract.
◆ Catcher Brian McCann: five years,
$85 million contract.
◆ Outfielder Carlos Beltran: three years,
$45 million contract.
The Yankees also paid a $20 million posting fee to Tanaka’s Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Money can’t buy happiness, but — in New York City — 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? — to free 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 pricier and 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. Earlier this year, the most expensive theatrical production ever staged, the $75 million Broadway musical ‘‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,’’ closed after three years of performances, proclaimed a bust.
‘‘Spider-Man’’ had similarities to the Yankees: injuries, backstage turmoil and exorbitant tickets that often went unsold.
Actually, to the Yankees’ credit, they haven’t raised ticket prices this year to cover their nearly half-a-billion-dollar personnel infusion. So a family of four still can 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 Japan last season.
Tanaka was sought by seven major-league 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 — email, faxes, video conferencing, et al — there’s no reason for business trips anymore. But, as he’d 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.
Ask the slouch
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, Va.)
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. If Northwestern’s football team is a labor union, doesn’t that mean Alabama’s is a corporation? (Stephen Clark, Richmond, Va.)
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, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!