Hiroki Kuroda, Carlos Beltran: Luxuries Too Rich For The Yankees' Blood

Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees reacts as he walks back to the dugout after he struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning against during Game Five of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It turns out that even the New York Yankees have their limits, and they've run into those limits sooner than most of us expected.

It used to be that you were worried about the New York Yankees signing a player away from your team. It was a constant, omnipresent fear that didn't know a season. The second your team brought up a hotshot young pitcher, you started worrying about the Yankees pilfering him away. This was true even if they had five or six starting pitchers already. You'd expect the next morning's headline to be something like this:

Yankees Sign Coveted Young Pitcher X to Pull CC Sabathia's Rickshaw

"That rickshaw isn't going to pull itself," says Cashman. "Unless we buy some sort of billion-dollar robo-rickshaw. Which we still might."

And as Marc Normandin pointed out after CC Sabathia signed, the Yankees still have more money than anyone else in baseball by a wide margin.

… as Forbes states, (the Yankees) also made $427 million in revenue in 2010, a difference of $155 million from the next-in-line Red Sox that almost equals the Pirates' total revenue ($166M).

I wonder if they're counting the Jose Tabata jersey sales twice …

Point is, the Yankees have money. They've always had money. They will continue to have money. This year, though, it's different. Don't know exactly why, but it's different. From Jon Heyman on Tuesday morning:

hear beltran offered to go to #yankees for the deal he got w/ cards ($26M, 2 yrs). but like 7 yrs ago, they declined.

The Yankees deciding against a $119 million contract for Beltran? Okay. That's understandable, even for the Yankees. The Yankees deciding against a $26 million deal for Beltran? Now we're getting a little weird. That's closer to a stipend they'd pay for a player to live in a Manhattan studio than a salary.

Between Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher at the corners, and Jesus Montero at DH, it's not like the Yankees had a gaping hole in their lineup for Beltran, but how about the rotation, where they still have A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and a slightly damaged Phil Hughes? How about Hiroki Kuroda? ESPN New York says nope:

… it is unlikely the Yankees will make a bid on the 37-year-old former Dodger.

The reason? Once again, the luxury tax.

The luxury tax used to be an annoyance for the Yankees, a pittance. It was something they would pay every year as a cost of doing business. The Yankees paid a 2007 luxury tax of about $28 million, for example, while the Rays' 2007 payroll was about $28 million. The tax would turn a $10 million contract to Kuroda into $14 million, but that's the sort of thing they can overcome by heading down to a Coinstar every other week. They're still not interested.

The Yankees paid a 40% tax on everything over $178 million. If they broke that barrier in 2013, they'd pay a 42.5% tax. If they break a $189 million payroll barrier in 2014, they could pay 50% on everything above that amount.

If they get under the threshold, they'll only pay 17.5% the next time they break it. They'd have some serious work to do to get under that threshold, so if that's the target, a hard rain's gonna fall. The Yankees eliminating their luxury-tax responsibilities entirely is extremely unlikely, but it's pretty clear that the luxury tax has the Yankees (and, to a similar extent, the Red Sox) spooked.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the Yankees' quiet offseason. I wrote it quickly because I figured that the second I hit the submit button, they were going to sign Yu Darvish. Nope. No Darvish. No Kuroda. No Harang. No Sonnanstine. The Yankees will pay 40% more for any other free agent by definition, and this is bothering them, seemingly for the first time in the history of the luxury tax.

Baseball has never had a salary cap -- they've had a don't-go-nuts cap, and the penalty for going over has been "Well, if you're so rich, why don't you just give us some of that money?" The luxury tax was supposed to be a salary deterrent for teams like the Yankees, and the Hollywood junkie in me pictured Hank Steinbrenner lighting a match off Bud Selig's face and using it to light a cigar, year after year.

But whether because of Seligian arm-twisting or some convincing PowerPoint slides from the in-house accountants, the Yankees aren't the same bogeyman that they were before. They have limits -- whether they're self-imposed or not, they finally have some limits. I can't tell if it's about time, or if it's just creepy and weird.

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