Robinson Cano’s impending free agency — after next season once his no-brainer $15M option is exercised — is the most significant roster issue facing the Yankees in the kinda sorta immediate future by no small margin. He’s indisputably their best player and one of the very best in baseball, a homegrown superstar with roots in the Tri-State Area and legitimate marquee value. At 29 years old, Robbie’s an indispensable piece of the puzzle.
Brian Cashman has already indicated a willingness to break the team’s somewhat outdated “don’t re-sign a player until their current deal expires” policy to extend Cano this offseason. They’ve already done it once to sign him to a long-term deal and if they’re going to do it again, this is the guy to do it with. Robinson hired Scott Boras before last season and players don’t do that so close to free agency unless they’re looking for the biggest and best deal possible. This has contract bloodbath potential.
Joel Sherman spoke to Boras about Cano’s impending free agency as well as the team’s plan to get under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, a rather significant consideration in this whole mess. I’m going to block-quote the important stuff…
“I had a meeting with Hal [Steinbrenner] and Randy [Levine, Yankees president] at the owners meetings [in May], and I certainly did not get any indication from them that there will be any dramatic changes in how the Yankees do business,” Boras said by phone.
And Boras did not sound like he would have much sympathy for the Yankees trying to go frugal. He cited Yankees “revenues triple most major league teams.” But, mainly, he invoked the “George Steinbrenner legacy” of building the brand, a TV network and revenues by enlisting and keeping stars — no matter the cost.
Of course, Boras will shoot higher. He would not tell me how much, but he did say this: “When you go to sign great players and you know you are going to get six or years more of greatness, you have to spend by paying more years. You may pay over 10 years for the privilege of having the great seven. That is how it goes with big franchises and acquisitions. And the Yankees under George were one of the first teams to do that.”
Sherman also hears from “a friend (of Cano’s)” that Robinson felt underpaid on his current contract, a four-year, $30M deal that will ultimately pay him $59M across six years thanks to the two club options tacked on the end. Hiring Boras was basically his way to rectify that, to get every last penny when he hits free agency. Cano is open to signing with the Yankees long-term after this season though, saying: “Why not hear what they have to say … I am always open to hearing anything. If it works for both sides, that is great. But I have to hear an offer.”
Barring some kind of devastating injury or drastic decline in performance over the next 14 months, Cano is poised to obliterate every second base contract record, specifically Ian Kinsler’s $15M annual salary and Chase Utley’s $85M total package. Heck, he might double Utley’s contract value on the open market. Last season I suggested a six-year, $120M-ish contract (covering 2012-2017 and his age 29-34 seasons) could work for both sides but that ship seems to have sailed. Boras is hinting at ten-year contracts like he does for every elite free agent, meaning he probably has his sights set on something like Matt Kemp’s eight-year, $160M deal with the Dodgers.
I’m firmly in the “let Cano walk” camp if the contract demands remain exorbitant, which they surely will given Boras’ track record. Middle infielders tend to age poorly into their early-to-mid-30s and Robbie’s offensive value is based on his ability to make contact. When that starts to go, it can go in a hurry. Ask Ichiro Suzuki. If the Yankees are serious about being smarter and more efficient with their spending — the 2014 payroll plan suggests they are — then at some point they have to stop signing players to monster contracts through their decline years. The Cardinals are doing just fine without Albert Pujols and the Rays don’t miss Carl Crawford. The Yankees will survive if they part ways with Cano next offseason.