“When the Dodgers gave this kid $42 million last summer, most people (in baseball), thought they were insane.’’ — a National League GM. It’s safe to say the phenomenon that is Yasiel Puig is changing opinions as quickly as he is piling up hits during his two weeks in the big leagues. And while it’s reasonable to assume this latest Cuban defector is not going to hit nearly .500 for much longer, you can bet baseball people everywhere would love a do-over on the opportunity to throw big money at the 6-foot-3,245-pound slugger. In fact, with the Dodgers coming to the Bronx this week, it’s only natural to wonder where the big-spending Yankees were when Puig was being shopped as a free agent last summer. Suffice it to say he’d be viewed as a godsend right about now for the most offensively-challenged Yankee team in 20 years. For that matter, unless Puig’s hot start proves to be some Kevin Maas-like fluke — and his size, speed, arm and dazzling athleticism strongly suggest otherwise — it appears he will be the third star-quality Cuban player, along with Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes, to arrive in the big leagues since 2011 on whom the Yankees passed. Which begs the question: what in the name of Jose Contreras is going on here, anyway? The short answer is that times have changed dramatically from a decade ago when the Yankees infuriated the Red Sox by outbidding them for Contreras to the tune of $32 million over four years. George Steinbrenner is dead, of course, and now his son, Hal, runs a more budget-oriented franchise — $220 million payroll and all — but it’s a philosophy the Yankees say is dictated by the changes in the MLB collective bargaining agreement that now inflict severe penalties for what it essentially deems overspending. So when Cashman on Friday explained his reasoning for not signing Puig, specifically, it was based primarily on the additional risk that would have come with paying a 40% luxury-tax on something akin to the seven-year, $42 million contract to which the Dodgers signed him. “There’s a lot more risk when you’re paying 40 cents on the dollar in taxes," Cashman said. “And you’re talking about enormous money for guys who hadn’t even played professionally over here yet, guys that you don’t know a lot about. “With a guy like Puig there just wasn’t enough information for me to stand in front of Hal Steinbrenner and make the recommendation that we spend $42 million and another 40 cents on the dollar to sign him." Not that the Yankees are going broke anytime soon, considering that Forbes Magazine estimates their net worth at $2.3 billion, the highest of any franchise in baseball. But by now you know they’re determined to get their payroll under the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million in 2014, which would re-set their tax rate for future spending at 17 percent. Cashman, in fact, considers the current tax such a deterrent that he bristles at any suggestion the Yankees would still be doing business the old way if Boss George were still alive. “This has nothing to do with George Steinbrenner not being here," he said. “The last two basic agreements were designed to slow George down, to reel in the big markets, and now, as a result, we don’t have the unlimited ability to spend." With that in mind, Cashman says it’s no coincidence the Reds and A’s, two-small-market teams, signed Chapman and Cespedes, respectively, taking a risk on the type of high-ceiling players they can’t afford on the major-league free-agent market.
Why the Yankees are missing out on Cuban talent
New York Daily News | Jun 16