No. The Yanks are not cheap

The Yankees came back from Nashville empty-handed, which to many is indisputable evidence that Hal Steinbrenner, son of the most reckless spender in the history of professional sports, is a skinflint.

The nerve of a man wanting to spend a mere $189 million on ballplayers! And expecting to win!

This, of course is the legacy handed down by George M. Steinbrenner III, a philosophy revered as gospel by a multitude of Yankees fans but clearly rejected by his younger son.

The Boss' bequest is a team that is expected to buy its way out of trouble and to reflexively chase the "best'' (read: most expensive) free agents on the market.

As a result, the Yankees have become a team that makes more news when it does not do something than when it does.

Right now, the Yankees are doing nothing. That is big news.

But the presiding belief that the Yankees have suddenly turned into cheapskates with the rise of Prince Hal is not only ludicrous == it's backward.

The Yankees are in trouble, for sure, but it is not because they are not spending enough money. It is because they have already spent way too much, and on the wrong players.

Exhibit A, of course, is the Alex Rodriguez deal, a white elephant conveniently placed on Hank Steinbrenner like a dunce cap, since he no longer sticks around to defend himself. But the truth is, many people in the Yankees' organization were on board with this one for all the wrong reasons.

Exhibits B, C and D are the deals given to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, and Exhibit E could be the one they will feel compelled to give to Robinson Cano next year. Exhibit F would be any deal that brings Josh Hamilton to New York for any extended period of time.

It is deals like this, profligate deals that would embarrass a drunken sailor, that have left the Yankees in the position to suddenly be portrayed as misers. Think about how ridiculous that is for a moment.

Hal's basic premise is a sound one: that any GM worth his weight in rosin bags should be able to build a winning team with $189 million, which incidentally will still be the highest in the game.

And Brian Cashman is a GM whose skills, and those of his staff, are certainly up to the task.

By the way, despite their bloated payroll, the Yankees have won just one of the past 12 World Series, and the other eight teams who have won did it with payrolls ranging from $41 million less than the Yankees (the 2007 Red Sox) to a whopping $107 million less (the 2003 Florida Marlins). So all that cash often buys you nothing but a disgruntled fan base.

But the Yankees' payroll is not really $189 million, the targeted goal for 2014, or even $200 million, which is where it will probably wind up landing for 2013.

It is more like $10 million or $15 million, considering they already have $168 million already committed for next season, plus the half-dozen or so arbitration-eligible players such as Phil Hughes, Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, who will be in line for pay raises.

So to say the Yankees have become stingy or are simply keeping the rubber band on too tightly this winter is simply misinformed. They have a little money to play with, but not much. And they have more than a few holes to fill.

It may seem ironic, and even surreal, that after doing nothing at last month's GM meetings and this week's winter meetings, after allowing Russell Martin and Eric Chavez to sign elsewhere and trying the patience of Ichiro Suzuki, the Yankees should make their first offer of the winter to Kevin Youkilis, formerly one of the most hated members of their most bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

But with Alex Rodriguez down for at least half the season, third base suddenly becomes a huge priority.

And besides, can Youkilis really be any more unpopular in Yankee Stadium than A-Rod promises to be next season after his horrendous October?

Once they get third base straightened out, then they need a right fielder, a catcher and a bench. You try getting that done on $15 million in this market.

And there might very well be another factor in play here. Maybe -- despite the strenuous denials that the Steinbrenner family would ever sell the Yankees -- Hal really is looking to dump the ballclub, and sooner rather than later.

What better way to do it than to clean up books, and quickly?

One thing fans never seem to understand is that when it comes time to unload a franchise, MLB owners aren't selling a team -- they are selling a business.

And when it comes down to it, it matters less to a prospective buyer how many world championships a team has won or is likely to win. All that really matters is, does the franchise make enough money to justify the selling price?

Clearly, Hal Steinbrenner, self-professed "finance geek,'' has determined that while a $200-million plus Yankees payroll yields a successful baseball team, it makes a less-than-efficient business model.

And if you're putting a business into play, demonstrating efficiency and profitability are the keys to a lucrative sale.

So don't discount the strong possibility that all this "non-action'' by the Yankees is actually a carefully calculated course designed to attract a potential buyer.

Because with the new cable TV deal that MLB entered into this fall, even the worst or most ineptly-run team in baseball -– yes, even the Mets -– will be profitable.

But with an expected price tag of more than $3.5 billion, the Yankees have to be more than profitable to make them worth any buyer's time or money.

That means cutting out the fat in the budget, allowing bad contracts to run their course and not replacing them with more bad contracts.

There's an old saying for that, too. It's called throwing good money after bad.

George Steinbrenner made a habit out of it for nearly 40 years.

Hal Steinbrenner is trying his best to break that habit.

That doesn't make him cheap. It makes him smart.