12/6/2013 4:22 P.M. ET
Cano deal shows Yankees have their limits
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
OK, now this could get a little challenging. So put on your favorite baseball cap for thinking deep thoughts and consider the following as you drift back a few weeks: It's the end of last season, and you're looking ahead to 2014. Think pinstripes, ranging from The Babe to The Boss to The Captain. Do you envision Kelly Johnson starting at second base for the Yankees on Opening Day next season or Robinson Cano?
You can remove your cap and return to the present, where many among the Yankee Nation still are shaking their heads.
Cano did what? With much help from the hardball managing style of his handlers Jay-Z and Roc Nation, along with the Mariners' desire to become nationally relevant for the first time in years, Cano spent Friday making the Mariners go back to the future by agreeing to something like an Alex Rodriguez deal. He will get a reported $240 million for 10 years, which means Team Cano and the Mariners just proved the Earth can spin backward on occasion. Somehow, the Mariners were able to pay about $80 million more for Cano than the historically wealthy Yankees -- you know, his home for the previous nine years where he spent playing in five All-Star Games, collecting five Silver Slugger Awards and winning two Gold Gloves.
This is shocking for another reason: The Yankees have become the Yankees again during the offseason in the payroll department after suggesting they would become more like, well, the old Mariners.
Now, Cano goes to the new Mariners, but no worries for Yankee Nation, at least not in the long run. This Cano thing aside, the Steinbrenner brothers of Hank and Hal have suggested in recent weeks they've been visited by the spirit of Christmas as well as that of their late father George, because they haven't shied away from giving. That always has been the Steinbrenner Way, especially if they believe it can make the Yankees win pennants and beyond through spending and spending some more.
During the 1970s, the Yankees rose in a hurry from more than a decade of nothingness to consistent winners after George Steinbrenner earned his nickname as The Boss by demanding World Series championships. He put his action to words. In addition to dismissing managers and general managers like crazy, he turned the purchasing of gifted players into an epidemic around the Bronx. Soon, with help from future Hall of Famers such as Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, the Yankees reached three consecutive World Series through 1978, winning the last two.
Then The Boss opened his wallet to acquire other big-time stars -- Ken Griffey Sr., Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield. Some helped the Yankees prosper to Steinbrenner's liking. Others didn't. But the message was the same from the top of the Yankees organization, and that was the owner wanted to win by any means necessary.
George Steinbrenner tweaked his philosophy during the 1990s. Although he kept his penchant for spending heavily for outside talent, he allocated funds to build a superlative farm system that eventually produced several things: the likes of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera and five more World Series titles before his death in July 2010. His sons gained full control of the Yankees after that, and they've continued their father's pursuit of excellence with much help from a lot of dollar bills.
Nevertheless, you got the feeling earlier this year that the Steinbrenner brothers were planning to put together future rosters with the help of coupons and whatever pennies they could find left under the seats of Yankee Stadium. The Steinbrenners complained about the massive amount of cash they were giving each year to lower-budget franchises around the Major Leagues through their luxury tax. Just this season, the Yankees' penalty was a record $29 million, which is why the Steinbrenners spoke openly of becoming more financially prudent.
Well, fuhgeddaboudit. The Yankees just gave $153 million to Jacoby Ellsbury, and that was after they grabbed Brian McCann out of free agency for $85 million. If you went by that, you had to ignore the background noise of the salary negotiations between Cano and the Yankees -- along with his flirtation with others who either publicly or privately wished to bring his brilliant bat and glove into their world.
The Yankees needed Cano, because they were searching for ways to rebound from missing the playoffs last season for just the second time in 19 years. Cano needed the Yankees, because he is a big-time player who flourishes under the big-time lights of New York City with big-time representatives such as Jay-Z and Roc Nation. You had to figure the Steinbrenners would swoop from the shadows at some point to close the monetary gap between Cano and themselves, but as we witnessed Friday, even the Steinbrenners have limits.
Say it ain't so, Hank and Hal.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.