11/19/2013 3:44 P.M. ET
Cano has to be careful not to overplay hand
Free-agent second baseman unlikely to break $300 million threshold
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the Robinson Cano free-agent sweepstakes right now is not where he'll sign as much as how many baseball general managers and controlling partners will get to have dinner with Jay-Z.
Mark the Mets' Sandy Alderson and Jeff Wilpon down as the first -- but undoubtedly not the last -- to dine and discuss Cano with the hip-hop hierarch, who wants to grow his business and his brand and, if nothing else, set a framework for future endeavors.
That's worth a few steaks, certainly.
But as far as Cano is concerned, if 10 years and $310 million is, indeed, the "deal" being sought in the marketplace, don't expect the Mets, the Yankees or, frankly, anybody else to turn that dinner into a long-term dance. And Cano's camp must be careful not to let that number linger too long as the asking price, lest the Yanks -- the one team that has any business getting into the vaunted $25-million-a-year territory with Cano -- get serious about looking elsewhere.
With Cano, Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports agency is making its first foray into the baseball world, and there is a natural curiosity as to how he'll fare in this high-profile pursuit of paycheck prominence.
There is also, instinctively, a tendency for baseball types to insist Jay-Z, despite all his music mogul savvy, has plenty to learn about the specifics of this sport.
That's not entirely fair, of course, because Jay-Z has aligned himself with longtime agent Brodie Van Wagenen, who is affiliated with CAA. There might be an element of novelty to Jay-Z's arrival to the baseball scene, but this is not the newbie undertaking some outsiders might assume it to be.
Still, all of us -- experienced or otherwise -- are capable of overstepping our bounds in our particular endeavors, and $310 million sounds like a considerable overstep when we consider all the factors working against Cano.
The first and most fundamental factor, naturally, is that no player has ever cracked the $300 million threshold, and there is very little reason to believe Cano -- even in this cash-crazed market -- will be the first. If anything, execs have rightly reverted from the salary swell that slowly but surely built to the Yankees' incredible (and ill-fated) $275 million investment in Alex Rodriguez.
If we follow recent history, we see that teams don't shy away from the decade-long commitment (something that was once unheard of) that A-Rod received. But they do keep the average annual values relatively in check, because they readily acknowledge that the contracts will have negative value on the back end.
From Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million) to Prince Fielder ($214 million over nine) to Joey Votto ($225 million over 10), several players have eschewed the push to hit the as-yet-unreached $30 million-a-season level in exchange for long-term stability. That's a worthwhile trade.
Cano, however, is currently asking for both.
And a 31-year-old second baseman -- one who has never finished higher than third in American League MVP Award voting and who showed some power regression in his walk year --- really has no business going there.
Rather than try to break new contractual ground, Cano should be content to take full advantage of a market that might well be ripe for him to become a $200 million man. He is, as a result of all those in-house extensions that have been signed in recent seasons, the top free-agent prize available in this market, and he has the ear of a Yanks team that both needs his bat in the middle of the order and has money to burn.
Yet Cano could lose that ear if he overplays his hand.
Frankly, it's doubtful anybody in the Bronx was sweating the news that Cano was dining with a rival GM who has made it abundantly clear he's not handing out any $100 million contracts this winter, let alone $300 million.
Nobody's going to touch that number. Not the Mets. Not the Yankees. Not any of the big-market ballclubs, whether they need a second baseman or not.
The Dodgers, unless they give second base to Cuban import Alex Guerrero, have an opening, but they also have an elaborate extension to work out with Clayton Kershaw. The Rangers have a middle-infield surplus, the Angels have a couple contractual albatrosses, the Cubs don't appear to be of the mindset or mood to play in the deep end of the free-agent pool, the Tigers already have $100 million invested in five players for 2014, the Nationals have looming extensions to consider for franchise faces Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
This free-agent market will offer surprises, and many are pointing to the Mariners, after coming up empty in their pursuit of Josh Hamilton last winter, as one to watch. Others will undoubtedly emerge.
But none of the above can match the Yanks in the combination of resources and reasons to commit to Cano, which is why the industry's general expectation is that they'll wind up bidding against themselves.
The Yankees, though, aren't going to bid blindly. They want to turn things around quickly after 2013's injury-riddled disappointment, and they know retaining their only 2013 regular who significantly exceeded the league average in adjusted OPS is a fine place to start. But they also just watched their fiercest rival turn things around and win a World Series on the might of short-term, high-dollar deals that are not punitive long-term.
In short, the Yanks are probably prepared to do something bold with Cano. But they're not likely to do something downright deranged.
A Major League official told the Daily News that Jay-Z is trying to market Cano as the Michael Jordan of baseball, and that's a tough sell, to say the least. Not just because Cano has a reputation for not running out every ground ball but because there is no off-the-field element -- be it TV ratings or jersey sales or Q rating -- that suggests he is in that realm.
But Cano is an awfully good ballplayer in an awfully good position. Ultimately, being wanted by a New York Yankees team with money to spend is a good thing.
It's just not a $310 million kind of thing. And Cano and Jay-Z ought not lose sight of that while they're wining and dining elsewhere.