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Start Spreading the Payroll Blues

November 13, 2002|Ross Newhan

TUCSON — Brian Cashman has worked his way through the frustration and sleepless nights that immediately followed the four-game loss to the Angels in the division series. There is less pain now as the general manager of the New York Yankees talks about being "steamrolled and outplayed" in the series that catapulted the Angels to their first American League pennant and World Series title.

The reeling Yankees might have recovered some from the mental scars and wounded pride -- "We didn't bring our 'A' game and you'd better have it in October or you're going to be sent home quickly, and that's exactly what happened to us," Cashman said -- but they now face a task as challenging as the Angels proved to be.

"We need to cut payroll," Cashman said of a concept alien to the team owned by George Steinbrenner and brought about by the new bargaining agreement and not, the general manager insisted, by any reevaluation initiated by the loss to the Angels.

After all, Cashman said, those were four games and the Yankees had won 103 before that. Any evaluation, he said, would be made on the basis that the Yankees remain a team of Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Alfonso Soriano and so many others.

"When the dust settles, no matter what we do between now and spring training," Cashman said, "when you have players of that caliber, you're going to be good. How good remains to be seen, but we've set a high ceiling [with four World Series titles in the last seven years] and I feel no less confident about the future just because of the loss to the Angels."

Perhaps, but it's a new game this winter.

The new bargaining agreement has created an uncertainty affecting even the free-spending Yankees with their industry-high local revenue of more than $250 million.

Of course, observed Cashman, "Wasn't that the intent? Weren't we the target?"

With its increased revenue sharing and so-called competitive-balance tax on the high-payroll clubs that have driven the market, the new agreement was aimed at slowing the Yankees and tempering the overall salary growth.

Cynics, of course, may question the sincerity of the Yankees' payroll reduction -- they are believed to be so close to an agreement with Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui that Cashman is expected to travel to Japan on Thursday to consummate it -- but then hasn't Steinbrenner already made some of his little people pay, lopping off elevator operators and other fringe personnel at Yankee Stadium, and reportedly eliminating a dental plan from the club's medical package?

It comes down to this: Steinbrenner didn't follow through on his threat to sue baseball over the new agreement, but when he sinks his teeth into it, he will have to digest the projected loss of more than $50 million next year through the payroll tax and increased revenue sharing.

The Times obtained a copy of the official and complete 2002 salary and benefit tabulations that were distributed to general managers here by baseball's labor relations department.

Although the 17.5% tax on all payroll above $117 million will be based on figures in 2003, the first year of the new agreement, the 2002 numbers illustrate the extent of the disparity between the Yankees, at a total of $175.3 million, and the 29 other teams. In fact, only two others -- the Texas Rangers at $130.6 million and the Dodgers at $120 million -- would have been taxed if the $117-million threshold had kicked in this year, and there is no greater disparity between any two teams than that between the Yankees and No. 2 Rangers.

Based on the 2002 numbers and a 17.5% tax, the Yankees would have paid $10.2 million, the Rangers $2.3 million and the Dodgers, who are determined to get below the threshold next year, $525,000. The tax and the threshold increase each of the four years of the agreement, and repeat offenders are penalized.

As for the Yankees, Cashman would have to be a magician to get his team below $117 million by cutting $58.3 million of payroll this winter alone.

He would not say how much he needs to cut. Nor would he outline the specifics of how he intends to do it while also filling potential holes if he doesn't re-sign his own free agents, including third baseman Robin Ventura, relief pitchers Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza, and starter Roger Clemens. Clemens' option was not picked up and he is owed $10.3 million by the Yankees, whether they sign him to a new contract or not.

"In general, I'd like them all back, but it may not be realistic," Cashman said. "How our team manifests itself when we're done remains to be seen, but I need to cut payroll."

It has been a long time since the Yankees faced a similar personnel/payroll dilemma.

Will Steinbrenner agree to re-sign the expensive Clemens at 38 so Clemens can notch his 300th win on the YES network?

Will Cashman decide by Friday's deadline to pay a $2-million buyout or pick up the $11.5-million option on Andy Pettitte and his tender elbow?

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