"The chances of us bringing in a guy for six [years] and $25 million or over in my opinion is virtually none,'' Levine told reporters at a midtown news conference to announce a broadcast deal between the YES Network and the New York Football Club. "At the end of the day you have to be realistic in any organization.''
Levine did not mention Scherzer by name, but his words echoed those of two sources who spoke to ESPNNewYork.com Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
"He's a great pitcher," the source said of Scherzer, "but not even the Yankees can have three $25 [million] to $30 million pitchers on the payroll. You just can't."
Sabathia, 34, is owed a minimum of $48 million for 2015 and 2016, with a $25 million vesting option for 2017. Tanaka, who suffered a partially torn UCL last July that still may require Tommy John surgery, is owed $133 million over six more seasons .
"Long-term deals for pitchers over 30 generally don't work out," the source said. "The only one I can recall that did is Mike Mussina.''
Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner, went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA for the Detroit Tigers in 2014.
The Yankees will take seven candidates to spring training for the five starting spots -- Sabathia, Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova (coming off Tommy John surgery and likely not available until May), newly re-signed Chris Capuano, David Phelps and Adam Warren.
It is unknown whether Hiroki Kuroda, who will turn 40 in February, will return to pitch another season. Sources have told ESPNNewYork.com the Yankees are still exploring the trade market for a starting pitcher, and there are lower-level starters still available on the free-agent market.
"We are out there looking but it has to be tempered by the reality of the organization. Looking at our pitching staff for example we have two guys with a lot of money and we have to build around that,'' Levine said. "The Steinbrenner tradition is if there is a way to make the team better, (general manager Brian Cashman) is out there trying to make the team better.''