Hal Steinbrenner should blame himself, too, for Yankees' lowly state

PHOENIX -- In his State of the Yankees address Wednesday, Hal Steinbrenner singled out all of the right suspects, absolved all of the innocent parties and threw at least a partial bone to frustrated Yankees fans who have been desperate for any shred of evidence that he is indeed a blood relation to George M. Steinbrenner III.

The only thing the New York Yankees owner didn't do was point a finger in the direction it belongs: at himself.

Steinbrenner was right to name Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, Michael Pineda and Luis Severino as the chief culprits in the Yankees' horrible start. The team is six games under .500 and in the cellar of the American League East, 7½ games behind the division-leading Baltimore Orioles entering Wednesday night's meeting with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And Steinbrenner was equally justified in exonerating his manager, Joe Girardi, who can neither hit, pitch, run nor field for the men on his highly paid roster, and his general manager, Brian Cashman, who like all GMs acts strictly in accordance with the wishes of his boss.

Where he went wrong, however, is in not shouldering the blame himself. The reason is not because he did not spend enough money -- the Yankees' 2016 payroll is $225 million, up $8 million from last season and second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers' $249 million -- or because he did not pursue the handful of desirable free agents on the market this past winter. (Can you imagine the fans' reaction if the Yankees had given David Price seven years and $217 million?)

The reason is that for all his positive qualities as an owner, Hal Steinbrenner has not been truly honest with Yankees fans. Whether he, Cashman or Girardi would dare admit it, Steinbrenner is not all in it to win it this season, nor was he last season.

Yes, he is trying to put a competitive team on the field, because he has seats to fill, debt service on the Stadium to pay off and cable TV ratings to bolster.

But we all know that for the past two seasons, the Yankees have been in a holding pattern, waiting for some of their onerous contracts to expire, such as those of Teixeira and Carlos Beltran after this season, and those of Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia following 2017. We know that Steinbrenner would love to get under the luxury-tax threshold, which will be renegotiated in the next collective bargaining agreement. And we can reasonably assume he is looking forward to the day he can take all the money that will be freed up from those expiring deals and invest it in Bryce Harper, the closest thing the Yankees will ever see to a free agent in his prime when he hits the market after the 2018 season.

So in addition to naming Teixeira, Headley, Pineda and Severino on Wednesday at baseball's quarterly owners meetings in New York, it would have been a good idea -- and a gesture of good faith with the fans -- for Hal Steinbrenner to drop a dime on himself.

Just come out and say what is clear as day to any discerning fan: That the New York Yankees, proud owners of 27 world championships and the self-bestowed soubriquet of "The World's Greatest Sports Franchise," are probably not built to win this year. Or next year, for that matter. In fact, they are in a rebuilding stage, or as close as they can ever come to rebuilding while still keeping a hold on one of the most demanding fan bases in all of professional sports.

And the truth is, mistakes were made in the construction of this roster and the allocation of the considerable sums of money at the Yankees' disposal.

It was a lousy idea to give Rodriguez 10 more years when he opted out of his first deal in 2007. It was a huge risk, and one Cashman has been publicly leery of for years, to give a seven-year contract to a starting pitcher, any starting pitcher, like the one they gave to Masahiro Tanaka two years ago. It was sheer insanity, and probably some guilt-ridden compensation, to give Jacoby Ellsbury seven years and $153 million after the Yankees (read: Hal Steinbrenner) chose to let Robinson Cano leave as a free agent. Beltran's deal never seemed like a good idea considering he would be 39 in its final season.

And you can debate the merits all you want of Teixeira's eight-year, $180 million deal and Sabathia's renegotiated, five-year, $122 million deal with a vesting option for another $25 million for 2017, since both were part of the last Yankees team to win a world championship.

But the truth about those deals -- and really, just about any free-agent deal -- is that while they might provide value in the early years, they are all bound to become albatrosses and huge wastes of money as the players age out of their productive years while continuing to be paid as superstars.

Hal Steinbrenner signed off on all those deals and, presumably, put the kibosh on others. So if there is anyone who should assume the responsibility for the flaws on his roster and the dead money on his books, it is him.

You can make the fair argument that the Yankees' player-development department has failed to develop enough young starting pitchers -- Severino is only the latest disappointment on a list that includes Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman and even Dellin Betances, who once projected as a starter -- and really, no everyday players at all other than Brett Gardner, now that Cano is gone. But to be truly fair, you also must recognize that Hal Steinbrenner eventually recognized the weakness of his player-development department a year ago and made some changes about which it is still too early to judge.

But there is little to no question that in many cases, the wrong players were signed, for too long and for too much money, and over the past two seasons, that bill has come due with a vengeance.

You can point the finger of blame at those players for underperforming, or you can point it at the man who thought they were worth investing in.

That man was Hal Steinbrenner, and while he was pointing fingers today, the right thing to do would have been to point one at himself, too.