The Washington Times - December 24, 2008, 12:21PM

So the New York Yankees in this offseason have committed upwards of $400 million to three players, and now have the four highest-paid players in all of baseball.

Are they trying to “buy a championship?” Well, yeah. But that’s nothing new. And if you look at their payroll for next season, they will actually be spending less money on players than they did in 2008.

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Here’s a look at the players coming off the books, with their 2008 salaries.

Jason Giambi: $21 million

Also, take a look at who could be off the books by 2010:

Hideki Matsui: $13 million (contract expires in 2009)

Johnny Damon: $13 million (2009)

Derek Jeter: $21 million (2010)

Mariano Rivera: $15 million (2010)

So while Burnett, Sabathia and Teixeira will add about $58 million to their payroll, they could be dropping $83 million just from the contracts of five players.

Now, it’s true that some Yankees players, like Melky Cabrera, will be due raises through arbitration. But overall, it seems clear that the total payroll for the team will actually decrease from where it was in 2008 and, barring some additional signings, will probably be no higher than where it’s been the last five years, around the $180-190 million level.

The Yankees paid $26.9 million to the league because they topped the luxury tax threshold, set at $155 million. Because the Yankees are a repeat offender, they get taxed at a 40% rate for every dollar above the threshold, instead of 22%.

The luxury tax threshold for the 2009 season is $162 million, followed by $170 million in 2010 and $178 million in 2011.

After 2011, the players union and team owners must hash out a new collective bargaining agreement. And it could get ugly, as we’re already hearing some owners, including the Brewers’ Mark Attanasio, push for a salary cap. League officials and the player’ union will probably point to the current system as creating good competitive balance and strong revenue sharing, despite the Yankees free-spending ways.

There could be ways, of course, to keep the Yankees in check without placing a hard cap on things. The new CBA could lower the luxury tax threshold, thus forcing the Yankees (or any other high-rolling team) to pay more everytime their payroll grows. In addition, there could be increased penalties for repeat offenders to a point where it would become financially imprudent for any club to continue busting through the threshold.

My guess is that baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who always seems to get unanimous votes by owners on major issues, will have a hard time gaining consensus on this one.