Hal Steinbrenner has been involved with the Yankees in some form or fashion for most of his adult life, but 2017 is his ninth season running the show.
For Steinbrenner, the Yankees' burgeoning youth movement is a nod to his longstanding vision of another homegrown team, reminiscent of the one that won four World Series titles in a five-year span from 1996-2000.
MLB.com caught up with the Yankees' managing general partner to get some more thoughts on the state of the franchise, his vision for the next few years, Alex Rodriguez's future with the team and much more.
MLB.com: This is your ninth full season in control of the Yankees. How has this year been compared to the others?
Steinbrenner: Look, every year has its ups and downs, its injuries, its disappointments and its pleasant surprises. In that way, I guess no different. Obviously what is different is the youth movement and the number of good young players, many of whom have come up through our system and we've been following for years and some of which we got last year when we made those trades in July. There's no doubt there's been a youth movement, and it's been exciting. That's certainly a difference.
MLB.com: Prospects don't often pan out like this at the same time. Is it rewarding as an organization to see these guys emerge and live up to the hype?
Steinbrenner: It is. As you know, we've been talking about the (Aaron) Judges, the (Gary) Sanchezes and the (Luis) Severinos for years; the (Greg) Birds -- you're going to see Bird, and he's going to be good. It's great after following them for three or four years and talking about them to everybody and acquainting our fans with them through video and in-game things we do, to finally see them here contributing at the highest level. It's very rewarding.
MLB.com: When you watch these guys have the kind of success together over the past year or so from the time Sanchez and Judge came up last year to now, you see what Severino did when he first came up and what he's doing this year; does it give you the sense that you've started to form the core of your next great championship team?
Steinbrenner: I think Bird is going to be great for us as well. They've already proven they can be at this level. They deserve to be at this level, and they've performed well. That's going to continue. I'm also excited about the fact that we're strong up and down our system. If you take pitching, for instance, and you look at the categories we look at -- ERA, strikeouts per nine, fastball velocities -- we're first and second in a lot of different categories throughout the system in the different leagues. That's pretty exciting. I think this is going to bode well in the future for many years to come.
Video: Hal Steinbrenner discusses Yankees' youth movement
MLB.com: Which of the next wave of prospects has you the most excited?
Steinbrenner: Obviously you're going to be looking at some of your higher teams in Scranton and Trenton. You look at (Miguel) Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Chance Adams, (Domingo) Acevedo, (Justus) Sheffield, (Estevan) Florial, who just moved to Tampa here from Charleston and is a kid we signed at 16 a few years ago from the Dominican. (Albert) Abreu, the kid we got, is in Tampa as well -- the pitcher we got in the (Brian) McCann trade.
There are a lot of guys to be excited about. We finally, I think, are doing a good job about getting the fans excited about them by doing these "Road to the Show" (scoreboard features) during the game, and the YES program ("Homegrown: The Path to Pinstripes") has been very well-received by the fans. It gives them an opportunity to see these kids, even if they're a year or two out.
MLB.com: It used to be you guys would have a top prospect, and you'd get them hyped up so you could trade them. Does that mindset change now? As more money is in the game, other teams are competing with you financially for players, but also that you've seen that some of these guys can produce at the big league level, and there's more excitement and more optimism over them actually helping your team sooner.
Steinbrenner: My family and I, we really came to this decision three or four years ago. The Trade Deadline the last three or four years, it was always Judge, it was always Sanchez, it was always Bird or Severino. We just realized that if we're going to have a good, solid future and a good, solid mix of veterans -- which you always need -- and kids throughout the system, particularly at the highest level, we had to quit trading away a No. 1 prospect to get a guy for two months. We just haven't done it really, since. There were certainly opportunities a month ago to do it, and there were certain guys that were just a no-go for me; I wasn't even going to talk about them. Guys that were top prospects that we would consider possibly trading, I wasn't going to do it for a rental. I was going to do it for a guy like Sonny Gray that was young and we had under control. That's the way it's going to stay -- I can assure you of that.
MLB.com: What has impressed you most about Judge this season?
Steinbrenner: He's a tremendous young man. He comes from a great family, great parents. He's very down to earth and humble. It's amazed me -- when you consider how quickly he's succeeded, and in the biggest market in the country -- how well he handled it, how humble he still is, how great he still is with the fans and the kids. He's going through a tough time right now, but it won't be his last, right? They all do. I think he's going to handle it great and come out of it. He's been great for the organization and really great for the fans.
MLB.com: There have been a lot of comparisons between Judge and Derek Jeter in terms of the way they handle themselves. Knowing both of them, is that a fair comparison?
Steinbrenner: Yeah. Obviously Jeter was with us a long, long time, and he was great leader in the clubhouse and great with the fans. As far as the personality of being confident yet humble -- which is the perfect combination in my opinion -- there's no doubt he's similar there. Derek's parents are just great; I've yet to meet Judge's parents, but I've heard great things about them. There are certainly some comparisons; they're both great with the fans, and Judge has a long way to go to rack up the kind of numbers that Derek did, but we're excited about him and all of our young guys.
MLB.com: I feel like I've asked this question for the last five or six years, but I'm going to ask it again: After all the talk about getting below the luxury-tax threshold, does it feel like that's finally a realistic goal for 2018?
Steinbrenner: It is. It was a realistic goal a few years ago, but as I've always said, it's not going to come at the expense of fielding a team that can make the playoffs and succeed in the playoffs. We were right at that threshold, and we weren't good enough, so we went out and got (Masahiro) Tanaka, and that blew us right past the threshold. There's no doubt that last year and this year, we've got a fair amount of money coming off the payroll. We're going to put more money back into it; we're going to be active on the free-agent market -- we always are. There's always room for improvement. But there's no doubt we have a good, legitimate shot of being under this year. It's still an important goal to me, because I don't feel we need to have a $250 million payroll to be contenders. I've always said that.
MLB.com: There's been a lot of talk already about how big that post-2018 free-agent class is going to be. How much does that factor in your mind about getting the luxury tax reset before that free-agent class?
Steinbrenner: It's not foremost on my mind. First things first, we have to get under the threshold, and then we go from there. It is a big free-agent class. But having said that, we still have a lot of guys like Torres and Andujar that are at Triple-A and guys below them, so we'll see how active we need to be, quite frankly, a year-plus from now. Right now, I'm just focusing on 2018 -- and we'll be focusing on that in a month or two pretty intensely. I have my sights on next year, I guess is the way to answer that more than anything.
Video: Hal Steinbrenner on Yankees' new trading philosophy
MLB.com: Twenty-one million dollars of the money coming off the books this year is Alex Rodriguez's contract, which is over. How happy have you been with the job he's done this year as an advisor?
Steinbrenner: He's been good. He was at our instructional league starting last October and obviously Spring Training. He's had some really good conversations with Judge in the last few weeks and with Sanchez in the last week or two. He really cares about these young players, and they obviously look up to him; he's one of the greatest players that ever played the game. He's been good with everything that we've asked him to do, despite the fact that he's busy with FOX and everything. He's been good.
MLB.com: Do you see a role for him with the organization going forward beyond this season?
Steinbrenner: I haven't thought about it. Whether it's a formal role or a casual role, you'd have to ask him, but he seems to enjoy mentoring these young players, particular the shortstops and the infielders, which is what he knows best. He's been great with Sanchez, as I said. He seems to enjoy it, and I know the players look up to him, so we'll see.
MLB.com: You said at the Owners Meetings that if the Yankees don't make the playoffs this season, then 2017 is a failure. Is that how you now measure a successful year, or does the team have to get to -- and win -- the World Series for it to be a successful year?
Steinbrenner: I don't remember how the question was asked to me, but there's no doubt our goal this year is to make the playoffs and succeed in the playoffs. A lot of people didn't even think we would do that, and here we are right smack in the middle of the fight. We'll just have to see. There's no doubt our goal every year is to win a world championship, but I think we're doing better this year than a lot of people expected. I certainly expect to make the playoffs this year; we're there right now. If the season ends today, we're there, right? We need to hold on and we need to keep pushing to win the division.
MLB.com: It's been almost three years since Derek Jeter retired. Do you anticipate naming another captain at any point?
Steinbrenner: I got asked that when I did a town hall with the season-ticket holders a couple weeks ago. That was asked, and my response was that even under my dad, many years we did not have a captain. It's something I would consider in any given year, but I have not given any serious consideration as something we need to have every year.
MLB.com: Speaking of captains, what kind of owner do you expect Jeter to be?
Steinbrenner: He's going to be part of a large group, of course. I think he's going to be great. He'll certainly be involved in baseball operations and probably other things, too. He's a very smart, intelligent, hard-working guy. I'm sure that will translate well. As I've said numerous times, it will be a little surreal to see him not wearing Yankee blue, but I'm sure he'll do a good job at whatever he puts his mind to down there.
MLB.com: We know Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi are both nearing the end of their deals. Have you spoken with either or both about new deals?
Steinbrenner: No, not at all. Everybody knows that I want to focus on the season at hand. These contracts are three years, four years, five years; I want to take a good look at the entire length of the contract, not the last month. I can't do that when we're in the middle of a playoff hunt or in the middle of the playoffs. And this goes for non-baseball operations people, too. We wait until the season is over and then we begin discussing things with everybody. That's just the way I am. Not many extensions, as you've seen; you've been around long enough.
MLB.com: You're going to see something this weekend you haven't seen before, which is names -- or nicknames, anyway -- on the backs of Yankees jerseys. Do you like the idea of Players Weekend?
Steinbrenner: First of all, let me just say I understand our fans and the passion that they have for this organization and for its history. There (were) a lot of unhappy fans when it was announced. I guess what I would say is this is not a permanent change. For one weekend in August, we're going to leave our normal home jerseys in the lockers untouched and we're going to be part of an MLB initiative to continue to get young kids -- particularly Gen Z kids -- interested in baseball and to show them that baseball, even at this highest level, can be fun. Get to know players maybe in a different way, try and find out why they have this nickname or that nickname. It's something that I think is going to be good, and I hope the purpose of it is fulfilled. I hope it does help with this younger generation. When you're talking baseball 10, 25 years from now, the millennial generation and Gen Z are going to be a big part of the success and sustainability of the sport.
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.