Yankees uncharacteristically thrifty

Yankees drastically curtail spending to avoid luxury tax, Ken Rosenthal says.

Where the hell are the Yankees?

Not at the winter meetings. At least, not in any place where there is news other than a 37-year-old third baseman breaking down.

Oh, the Yankees will tell you they have their pitching in order after re-signing free agent Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera for a combined $37 million.

But that would be Kuroda, 37; Pettitte, 40; and Rivera, 43 — and Rivera is coming off surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.

Meanwhile, the catchers are all backups. The right fielder is a player to be named. And the left side of the infield — shortstop Derek Jeter, 38, and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, 37 — is about to be condemned by the City of New York.

Ah, that’s unfair to Jeter, who is expected to return from surgery on his left ankle by Opening Day; Rodriguez, preparing for surgery on his left hip, will be out until at least May and possibly July.

Whatever, the Yankees are in the process of building a team that could prove not only unsuccessful but also unwatchable — a double whammy in an era in which regional television networks are the lifeblood of big-market teams.

Frankly, I’m waiting for some right-minded Yankees executive to stand up and shout, “HELLO? IS ANYBODY HOME? WHY ISN’T JOSH HAMILTON ALREADY IN PINSTRIPES?”

If there isn’t debate in the front office over the Yankees’ self-imposed austerity kick, there darned well should be.

The late George Steinbrenner would spend his offseasons money-whipping the rest of baseball, then blather on about Yankee pride, Yankee tradition and Yankee excellence.

Steinbrenner’s son Hal, on the other hand, seems intent only on getting the Yankees under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold by 2014 and realizing a series of significant financial benefits under the new labor agreement.

Never mind that the Yankees, after winning 95 games in the regular season, were swept by the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.

Never mind that the Toronto Blue Jays made a blockbuster trade last month, or that the Boston Red Sox are also acting “uber-aggressive” in the words of one rival executive.

Someone print up new T-shirts: “$189M or bust!” — and sell them for $65 as official Yankees merchandise.

It’s not as if the Yankees are experiencing financial difficulty — they recently sold 49 percent of the YES Network to News Corp., the owners of FOX, for $500 million. After three years, News Corp. may acquire an additional stake that would raise its ownership to 80 percent.

But these days, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the Yankees, and the Yankees are the Bronx Bombers turned Coupon Clippers.

Yes, the Yankees still will field one of baseball’s largest payrolls next season, if not the largest. But that’s mostly due to past mistakes, not intelligent new spending.

Meanwhile, the low-revenue, pawn-every-player Cleveland Indians offered $44 million to free-agent outfielder Shane Victorino, only to lose him to the Red Sox.

And, lest anyone forget, the Pittsburgh Pirates recently outbid the Yankees for catcher Russell Martin in baseball’s ultimate man-bites-dog story.

The Yankees, though, just keep picking through scraps.

Pondering role players such as infielder Jeff Keppinger and outfielder Scott Hairston — but only if they’re affordable.

Mulling the returns of 30-something veterans such as third baseman Eric Chavez and outfielders Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki — players who would be valuable one-year cogs in the team’s $189 million crusade.

Agents are dumbfounded. Players are dumbfounded. Rival executives are dumbfounded.

Barring a sudden reversal, the Yankees seem intent on bringing back the same club they had last season — a lesser club, actually.

Who, pray tell, is going to watch?

Maybe this is all misdirection, with the Yankees masking their true intentions as part of a larger negotiating strategy. The Yankees of old — say, two years ago — would routinely pull stunts like that, claiming to be out on a player, then signing him the next day.

Those Yankees made no apologies for their financial muscle, but you had to admire them — they were rascals.

These Yankees? They’re accountants.

And they’re putting all of us to sleep.

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