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Monday, February 3
Updated: March 13, 12:43 PM ET
Report: Mets' $119M payroll distant second to Yanks' news services

So much for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement forcing the New York Yankees to curtail their spending.

George Steinbrenner
Despite the implementation of a luxury tax, George Steinbrenner has reached even deeper into his pockets to pay players.

Owner George Steinbrenner stopping at nothing to improve the Yankees, and sources familiar with their books told the New York Daily News last week that the team's current payroll for 2003 is an all-time high of $164 million -- about $24 million more than at this time a year ago.

That's $45 million more than the second highest, the Mets' $119 million, according to figures obtained by the newspaper.

New York's payroll also is almost 60 percent greater than the division rival Boston Red Sox, who are sixth highest in the majors at $103 million. The size of the Yankees' payroll compared to baseball's other 29 franchises was a major reason the CBA includes the so-called "luxury tax," which is geared to increase competitive balance by discouraging overspending.

Both New York teams will try to shed some salary before the season begins, according to the Daily News, but if their payroll levels remain where they are, they will be the only two teams in baseball forced to pay a luxury tax.

According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, any team with a 2003 payroll number exceeding the "threshold" of $117 million would pay 17.5 percent on the excess. As they stand now, the Mets would have to pay about $350,000 and the Yankees $8 million to $9 million.

And every time a team exceeds the luxury tax threshold, its tax rate rises.

"Winning and appealing to fans is where the money is," Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost told the Daily News. "We also are growing the next generation of fan with our approach."

In the days after a surprising first-round playoff loss to the Angels, Yankees executives sounded as if they were working for other small-market clubs. They vowed to cut salary and general manager Brian Cashman even said the club's payroll wouldn't have to match the $140 million they had tied up at the start of last season.

"You don't have to spend that kind of money to win," Cashman said at the time.

When Cashman couldn't find takers for overpriced players Rondell White (due $5 million in 2003), Raul Mondesi ($7 million) and Sterling Hitchcock ($6 million) and Matsui and Contreras became available, the team decided it could not do without the latter two. Matsui was signed for $21 million over three years, Contreras for $32 million over four years.

"What we see with the Yankees is that there has been no change in priorities," a baseball official told the Daily News. "Certainly they talked about cutting payroll and ... there's no disputing they made an effort to. It was probably always their plan."

If the Yankees were to trade either Mondesi, White of Hitchcock in the coming weeks, it would not only reduce the payroll but also their luxury tax number.

"But they still believe the best way to make money is to put fans in the seats with a winner on the field," the baseball official said. "There are things in place that would deter most teams from spending, but these guys won't let it compromise their first priority."

According to the Daily News, the $164 million figure includes benefits but not performance incentives, which cost the Yankees an additional $4 million last season (mostly to left-hander David Wells). That figure also is greater than any other franchise's.

Agents point to this component of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, as well as the increased revenue-sharing plan, as "market shapers." Only a handful of free agents found themselves signing this offseason for what they wanted, which has fueled the current talk about collusion by owners.

"Really, how can you compete when somebody is spending 80 or 90 million more?" Hall of Famer George Brett told the Kansas City Star. "The only thing you can do is catch lightning in a bottle like Oakland or Minnesota. (The Royals) haven't caught lightning in a bottle."

Brett was part of a group that made an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Royals, who he played 21 seasons for before retiring in 1993, after founding owner Ewing Kauffman's death.

"I can't see myself staying in Kansas City as a player," Brett said. "Not now. It's all changed. I would sign one-year contracts."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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