Hal walks back austerity budget plans. Sort of.

MLB's owners are meeting in Arizona this week, and yesterday Yankees' general partner Hal Steinbrenner took a moment to speak with reporters. Of course, the biggest ownership focused story in Yankeedom is the team's mandate to get below the luxury tax threshold before next season and, for the first time as far as I can tell, the Yankees' owner acknowledged that the plan is negotiable, and a secondary goal to fielding a winning team. “All I can continue to tell everyone is our commitment to the fans is never going to change. We will always field a championship-caliber team,” Steinbrenner told The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post yesterday. “Is our goal [a $189 million payroll] next year? Yes. But [we’ll go that low] only if I’m convinced if the team I see, that we’ve put together, is a championship-caliber team.”

Of course, it's certainly not clear that Steinbrenner's view of a "championship caliber team" will be the same as that of Yankee fans, so this could certainly be a PR smokescreen to mollify the fans and media as the worm begins to turn on ownership amidst a very quiet offseason in which the team's biggest move has been letting Nick Swisher skip town in order to save money. And Steinbrenner's view of how the team can win and drastically cut payroll at the same time doesn't exactly inspire confidence:

“The young players that have stepped up are going to have to continue to do so,” Steinbrenner said, “and some of the ones that haven’t yet are going to have to.”

He mentioned pitcher David Phelps as an example of the former group and pitchers Manny Banuelos and Michael Pineda, both of whom experienced disastrous 2012 campaigns, as part of the latter group.

Or, in other words, for Steinbrenner's plan to work, a fifth starter/swingman and two young pitchers coming off of Tommy John and shoulder surgery respectively will have to make serious contributions to the 2014 team. And Banuelous will apparently have to do that after missing almost two entire seasons, and with all of 58.1 career innings logged at Triple-A. That's totally realistic, right?

To be fair, I will say that Hal is mostly correct in his analysis of this offseason so far. “I’m surprised to hear that there’s anger, if you see what we’ve done this offseason,” he said. “We’ve signed three or four of the top free agents that were on the market, because we’re going to continue to field a championship-caliber team.” He's exaggerating, certainly, but re-signing Kiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, plus moving quickly to add Kevin Youkilis after news of Alex Rodriguez's impending hip surgery broke, are certainly important moves that will have a big impact on the 2013 team, and an unusually thin free agent market didn't provide any clearly better alternatives. Then again, Hal did conveniently forget the part where they let one of their best hitters head to Cleveland without even a token effort at keeping him, didn't he?