Q&A with Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Hal Steinbrenner held court on Wednesday at The Sanctuary, the hotel that is hosting this week's Owners Meetings. The Yankees managing general partner discussed suspended third baseman Alex Rodriguez, revealed that he is a fan of the New York Rangers, who will play two games at Yankee Stadium later this month, and reported that the retirement of Joe Torre's number is under consideration as the former manager's Hall of Fame induction approaches.
The suspension of Rodriguez for the entire 2014 regular season and playoffs with loss of salary was foremost among the subjects. A-Rod is still a Yankee with a contract worth $61 million from 2015-17. But Steinbrenner also spoke about the team and the derby for pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
MLB.com: Would you welcome A-Rod back on the team in 2015?
Steinbrenner: He's a great player. I have not thought about 2015 nor am I going to. My focus has to be on right now. But when he's on and when he's healthy he is obviously an asset. Let's see what happens. Those of you who know me, I'm pretty objective in my thinking. This is business. I'm just focusing on the team. A player -- is that player an asset to the team or not. That's as far as I want to go. I don't get personal.
MLB.com: So you consider him to be an asset starting in 2015?
Steinbrenner: When Alex Rodriguez is healthy, and himself, I think most objective baseball people would say he can be an asset to a club.
MLB.com: Where are you guys on the Tanaka negotiations?
Steinbrenner: We all know that the deadline is Jan. 24 so something is going to happen with someone by then. He's certainly one of the pitchers (we're interested in). Pitching, starting pitching, is an area (in which) I believe we still need some help. We're looking at a number of possibilities and we're talking to a number of people.
MLB.com: Have you talked with Tanaka or his agent, Casey Close?
Steinbrenner: I'm not going to get into any of that. I did have one conversation with Casey on the phone just to express that he's a great pitcher and that we have a lot of respect for him. And he's certainly one of the possible, potential signings we're looking at.
MLB.com: What's your feeling about these outdoor hockey games coming up at Yankee Stadium? Rangers-Devils on Jan. 26 and Rangers-Islanders on Jan. 29.
Steinbrenner: I'm excited. I think it's pretty exciting. I hope the weather is good and it's not 10 below zero there as it has been at times. Look, the whole reason we built this type of facility is to do these kind of things. The soccer games, the concerts, we had a boxing match. I think it's going to be great. I love hockey. I don't follow it as much as some people do, probably. I love the sport and to see it outdoors is going to be something special.
MLB.com: Are you going to be there?
Steinbrenner: I'm hoping to be there for at least one of them. My wife wants to be there for both of them. She's a big Rangers fan so we'll probably be there for both of them.
MLB.com: How about you? Are you a Rangers fan or a Tampa Bay fan, considering that you live in Florida?
Steinbrenner: I am a Rangers fan and I root for the Lightning as well. Those would be my two teams. I have no others.
MLB.com: So, you have a month to go to Spring Training. Where do you feel the Yankees are at this point?
Steinbrenner: I think our offense is significantly improved from last year even before all the injuries. We're bringing some exciting guys to the club, the guys we signed. I think the fans are excited. I still think pitching is a concern. But we're going to keep plugging away here.
MLB.com: How about second base and third base as you're making transitions away from Robinson Cano and A-Rod?
Steinbrenner: Obviously, we have Brian Roberts. Let's see if he can stay healthy. He can be very impactful. We picked up Dean Anna from San Diego, a young guy. We have Kelly Johnson. We've got Eduardo Nunez. Joe (manager Joe Girardi) is going to have to figure a few things out. We can't go out and get a big-time free agent at every position.
MLB.com: How about your big signings -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran? You have to be excited with those.
Steinbrenner: I am. Ellsbury has been there and done that. We know how tough he is. He's a great player. He's going to be a great center fielder for us, hopefully for a long time to come. McCann is a great guy. He's an extremely tough player. When we were sitting around our meetings in October, the one name that was brought up by Gene Michael was Thurman Munson when talking about McCann. I said, "I'm in!" He's got that toughness. He's going to be fun to watch. He's spirited. The pitchers love him. I was talking to (CC) Sabathia about a month ago about him. Pitchers know he's got their back. Beltran is Beltran. He's just a great player, he's a clutch player. Yeah, I think the fans are going to be excited to see these guys.
MLB.com: What's your feeling on how the budget and payroll is shaking out?
Steinbrenner: It hasn't changed. We're going to field a championship team, that's what our fans expect. Regardless of where I feel we are (financially) right now, if we're not where we need to be with pitching or with hitting or with fielding, we're going to keep going to get there.
MLB.com: Last year was tough for the Yankees in the standings, attendance, TV ratings. What's your sense of it now?
Steinbrenner: Everything right now looks pretty good. Last year, I don't know how many times we used the disabled list, (numerous) times. We had a team in late April that wasn't the team we had on March 1. It was just unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it. That was all bound to happen. New York is a star town. The fans want to come out to see Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. That's what they've grown to love and that's what they want to see. That was tough, but hopefully that's behind us and we'll have a more normal year when it comes to injuries and the team we hope and the fans expect to see is on the field.
MLB.com: You're coming out of an era now when you had your core guys to surround with other good players: Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada. Even with Jeter coming back, that's basically over. How do you feel about that?
Steinbrenner: That's a very special four guys. It's tough. I wish our Minor Leagues were a little bit better than they are. I wish that some of the prospects we were so excited about had panned out the way we thought and hoped they would. But it is what it is. We're going to have to find some answers from within. We're pretty aggressive in the free-agent market. You can tell that. We did what we needed to do to field this team to be a championship-caliber team.
MLB.com: Now that Joe Torre is being inducted in the Hall of Fame, is his No. 6 going to be retired this year?
Steinbrenner: We're going to figure out just whose numbers are going to be retired. He may not be the only one. We'll figure that out. We haven't gotten into that yet, to answer your question.
MLB.com: So sometime this year you'll come to a decision on this?
Steinbrenner: Sometime in the next few weeks we'll be talking about it. It could be none, one or multiples. You've been around long enough to know that it's a very special thing for us. It's not something we do lightly.
MLB.com: Rivera's No. 42 was already retired because of Jackie Robinson and was officially retired by the Yankees at the end of this past season, his last. Obviously, Rivera's number is part of the group that will go into Monument Park in the near future.
Steinbrenner: He's certainly the caliber of Yankee who belongs in there on his own merit. Technically, his number is retired by baseball anyway, so no one else is going to be able to wear it.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.