Steinbrenner on youth, No. 28 and the tax threshold

March 15th, 2023

TAMPA, Fla. -- It has been one year since Hal Steinbrenner pointed to the duo of Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, identifying the fast-rising prospects as the Yankees’ “middle infield for many years to come.” This spring has presented an opportunity to test-drive that plan in big league camp, and the club’s managing general partner loves what he is seeing.

Volpe, outfielder Jasson Domínguez and Peraza -- the club’s Nos. 1, 2 and 3 prospects, per MLB Pipeline -- have fit in seamlessly, each offering enticing glimpses of a future in the Bronx. Volpe’s spring performance will prompt Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Aaron Boone to consider carrying the 21-year-old on the Yankees’ Opening Day roster.

“We knew it was going to be exciting,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s just great to see all of our young kids playing well, including Domínguez, who’s looked good this spring. The reality is, when we’ve got young prospects that are ready and deserving of a chance, they’re going to get it, just like [Aaron] Judge did all those years ago.”

The main argument against carrying Volpe would be his lack of experience at Triple-A: He played just 22 games for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, garnering 99 plate appearances.

But he has performed capably at bat and in the field this spring, with Steinbrenner saying he was most excited by hearing about Volpe stealing second and third bases on consecutive pitches in a Feb. 26 exhibition against the Blue Jays.

“He obviously is having a great spring,” Steinbrenner said. “Anything’s possible. He has certainly showed, at least on this Spring Training stage, that he can handle it and play well and do a lot of different things. Look, we’re always concerned about our Minor League players: Are they truly ready? Because this is not New York, and this is not the regular season. So we’ll have to see. It’ll be a long discussion, which I’ll be a part of. We’ve still got two weeks to go.”

Here are three other topics that Steinbrenner discussed at Yankees camp:

1) Mission 28
Steinbrenner needs no reminder that it has been 13 years since his team reached the World Series; another dry October would equal the 1982-1995 drought for the second longest in franchise history. Steinbrenner pins his hopes upon a repeat of the 2022 first half, which saw the Yankees hold a 15 1/2-game lead in the American League East on July 8 with a 61-23 record.

“We had one of the most dominant, if not the most dominant, teams in baseball,” Steinbrenner said. “Then the injuries hit us. That team, for the most part, is intact. The one question we asked ourselves a couple of months ago was, 'Is our starting rotation good enough to beat certain teams in the American League?' We all came to the consensus that we needed more, and that’s why we went and got Carlos [Rodón]. Do I think we’re good enough to win a championship now? The answer is yes. But we’ve got to stay healthy.”

2) Rise of ‘The Martian’
Domínguez has hit four homers this spring, displaying an advanced approach at the plate, and the switch-hitting center fielder has caught Steinbrenner’s eye. He was in the building for Domínguez’s two-run homer on March 11 off the Phillies’ Connor Brogdon, calling the line-drive, 107.6 mph blast “impressive.”

“We put a lot of money into him, right?” Steinbrenner said, referring to Domínguez’s $5.1 million signing bonus in 2019. “That was my entire budget, pretty much, a few years ago. That’s how much we believed in him, even then. He’s another one that came on really strong last year. It’s exciting. I’m no player development expert; I’m not going to sit here and tell you he’s ready or he’s not ready. But I would say he’s still a little behind the other two [in Volpe and Peraza].”

3) Dollars and sense
The Yankees remain reluctant to exceed the $293 million tax threshold. After signing Judge and Rodón to large contracts this offseason, they chose not to match a five-year, $75 million offer to retain outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who signed with the White Sox instead.

“For all I know, we may be over it. I think the one thing everyone forgets is the cost in injuries with guys going up and down from Triple-A to MLB,” Steinbrenner said. “That’s a number we can only guess right now. Look, a decade-plus ago, I used to say that you shouldn’t have to have a $200 million-plus payroll to win a championship. Because nobody had. Times have changed; I acknowledge that. So I will say that you shouldn’t have to have a $300 million payroll to win a world championship, because nobody has. Including Houston.”