New York Yankees' Hal Steinbrenner talks free agency, praises Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman

CHICAGO -- New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said Wednesday the team is "not going to be afraid to get into the free-agent market" and suggested the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal would not preclude the Yankees from pursuing the top available player, Carlos Correa.

"He's obviously a great talent," Steinbrenner said. "And, look, I think, hopefully, most people have moved on from that. I mean, I think it's only healthy to move on from things like that instead of stewing on it year after year. But, you know, people have the opinion that they want to have about that particular player. But, in general, we're going to look at every single option. It's the same thing we do every year."

In a wide-ranging interview with reporters at the owners' meetings, Steinbrenner called the recently re-signed Aaron Boone "one of the best managers in baseball" and said Brian Cashman, in the last year of his contract, is "one of the best general managers in the game." After "a disappointing year" that ended with a wild-card game loss to Boston, Steinbrenner said, the Yankees will use free agency and trades "to make changes and try to do what we do every year, which is to field a team that can win a championship."

Whether that includes Correa, the 27-year-old shortstop expected to command the largest contract in a deep free-agent class, remains to be seen as the market develops. Correa, Javier Baez, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story represent the strongest-ever free-agent class of shortstops, and with the Yankees focused on replacing Gleyber Torres at the position, possibilities abound.

Steinbrenner would not discuss the Yankees' budget for 2022, but they're almost certain to exceed the luxury-tax threshold -- whatever it winds up being in a new collective-bargaining agreement -- with payroll commitments already around $222 million before making a substantive move this offseason.

Before reshaping their roster, the team re-signed Boone -- who in his four years as Yankees manager has a 328-218 record, including 92-70 last season -- to a three-year extension. The deal, Steinbrenner said, "really wasn't a tough decision for me."

Steinbrenner backed Cashman, who has run the Yankees' baseball operations since 1998, while saying "I'm not even thinking about" a possible contract extension, pointing to the Yankees' past precedent. At the same time, he pointed to a new performance lab at the team's complex in Tampa, Florida, as a sign that the team under Cashman is evolving.

"I am involved intimately on a daily basis," Steinbrenner said. "And if there was a situation where we're just stagnant in our thinking and stagnant in the way we approach problems and solutions and make decisions, then that would be of grave concern to me. But the reality is, Brian has been great about going with the flow of what's going on in the industry, what other teams are doing, what different things we're doing internally. It's stagnation that would bother me, not so much somebody's been here 20-plus years."

Steinbrenner added: "He gets a bad rap for being too analytical. It's just it's not the case. Some teams are more. But analytics is information. So I don't think there's a CEO in the country that wouldn't want to have as much information as he or she possibly can to make decisions. So, I mean, it's almost like a bad word sometimes, it seems like. But it's information. I mean, the more information you could get, the better-positioned you are to make a decision. That's the way I've always seen it, and he agrees with me."

Steinbrenner touched on a litany of other subjects as well, including:

• All-Star outfielder Aaron Judge, who is due to hit free agency after the 2022 season: "He's a great Yankee. He's one of the faces of the franchise, and he's a great leader, great in the clubhouse. So it's definitely something I'm willing to talk to Cash about, but nothing formal has happened yet."

• All-Star outfielder Joey Gallo, who hit .160/.303/.404 for the Yankees after they acquired him from Texas at the trade deadline: "Do I wish he had performed a bit better? Yes, of course. But I'm not worried. Watch him next year."

• Ace Gerrit Cole, who struggled down the stretch and lost the wild-card game: "Am I concerned? No. He's too good an athlete with too good of tools."

• Shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza and whether their presence could prompt the Yankees to sign a shortstop who might be likelier to move to third base: "It's conceivable the two years from now they could be the middle of our infield -- or middle of the infield on any team for that matter. They're very talented. We're excited about it."

Steinbrenner, who sits on the powerful labor policy committee that is attempting to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association before its Dec. 1 expiration, said about the possibility of a deal: "We have two full weeks. And, like we said, meetings are continuous. A lot is being discussed."

Earlier discussions included a proposal from MLB that would have included a $100 million salary floor and a lower luxury-tax threshold, which would have potentially led to more severe financial penalties for teams such as the Yankees that typically breach it.

"All I can tell you is there's seven of us on labor policy," Steinbrenner said. "Boston, several mid-markets, couple small markets. We're a very diverse group. And when we came up with a proposal, including CBT and luxury tax, that we brought to the union, it was a unanimous -- on our committee -- a unanimous deal. And every owner on the committee, there are certainly things in the proposal that we didn't like. Every owner. But we wanted to put together a proposal that addressed their concerns and come together as a group and really do that. And we did. But specific things? Nothing's ever going to be perfect. In anything."