Mystique, aura and Robinson Cano

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

A big part of being a Yankee fan is buying, hook, line and sinker, into the concept of mystique and aura, so mocked by Curt Schilling during the 2001 World Series. We expect dramatic victories, World Series titles and every player to thank the good Lord for making him a Yankee. We expect the Yanks to pay what it takes to retain their players, and we expect those players to embrace their time with the Yankees and stay in the Bronx to earn their spots in Monument Park and, for some, a plaque in Cooperstown. So what happens when they leave?

When Robinson Cano jetted for Seattle, of all places, it was more than a little bit of a shock to fans of the Bombers. Here was a player in his prime with multiple All-Star appearances, 1649 hits, 204 home runs, and a .309/.355/.504 slash line, all at the ripe old age of 31. The Yanks offered him seven years and were willing to pay him $25 million a year with an annual salary higher than everyone but A-Rod‘s. But it wasn’t enough, and now Robbie is Seattle’s, and Seattle’s problems are Robbie’s.

As the reactions from Robbie’s departures have come in, we’ve heard about disputes with Joe Girardi over lineup philosophy, and now, CC Sabathia has joined the fray with comments that stick to the heart of the Yankee legend. In comments to this weekend, CC spoke about the power of the pinstripes. “Just a player like that, putting on the pinstripes, and being able to play your whole career in New York means something – to me, obviously. It didn’t mean that much to him,” CC said. “It’s a difficult choice being a free agent. And he made a tough choice. I know he’s happy with his decision, and his family’s happy. So that’s good.”

Over the years, plenty of Yankee legends have had the opportunity to leave, and most didn’t. They earned their dollars because George Steinbrenner was willing to pay and because they wanted to stay. Derek Jeter hasn’t put himself into a bidding war, and Jorge Posada stuck around. Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, to differing degrees, both nearly left the Bronx but backed away from Boston at the last minute. Andy Pettitte left only to return while Reggie Jackson left never to return. Some players have walked away to avoid donning another uniform when their tenures were over, by their choice or the Yanks’, but I can’t think of someone else who walked away mid-career for another team who outbid the Yanks.

For Robbie, the choice was purely dominated by dollars, and I won’t begrudge him that. While the Yanks were willing to give him more per year, they didn’t want to give a middle infielder entering his age 31 season a ten-year commitment. Cano, meanwhile, figured that the guaranteed money today — the $65 million difference — is something he wouldn’t make up at the end of the seven-year deal the Yanks offered him. He didn’t want to gamble against his own age-related decline, and in today’s world where baseball teams are flush with cash, that’s certainly his prerogative and a fine choice.

But where it hurts is with that mystique and aura. It’s something fans buy into far more deeply than many players do, and it’s a stark reminder of the business of the game when a fan favorite and pinstripe native leaves. Maybe Cano didn’t think the Yanks during his career would ever be more than Derek’s team. Maybe Cano saw ten years of executive office upheaval, various team-building approaches and just one World Series win and simply decided there was nothing particularly compelling keeping him around that didn’t have a lofty price tag. Maybe we all overrate mystique and aura anyway. It hooks the fans, but what does it mean to the players anyway?

Without Robbie, Yankee life will go on. Brian Cashman says he’s disappointed, but he’s not $65 million worth of disappointed. The post-Robbie era will feature a Yankee team with a new look and a new approach. For nine years, Cano was the next great Yankee bound for Monument Park, and now he’s just another guy on the hapless Mariners. It may not feel good now, but it’s all part of the game, mystique, aura and free agency.

Sunday Shorts: Cano vs. Girardi, Yanks’ Spending, Cano’s New Home

(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Just a few weeks ago, friend of RAB Jack Moore wrote an article at The Score about the potentially boring hot stove, not only this season, but for future seasons. His overall point remains strong:

The shift to buying out multiple free agent years in long-term extensions for young stars has led to fewer and fewer young stars hitting the free agent market in their 20s. The advent of the second wild card has led more and more teams to believe they can contend, leading to fewer fire sales.

Thankfully, the hot stove has remained interesting, at least this off-season, thanks to teams acting early and aggressively. Moore might be correct in the long run; he’ll certainly be right come mid-December, when all those free agents are off the board and teams are pretty set. But for the last few weeks we’ve seen a peak of hot stove activity, and nearly every moment has been enjoyable — which seems a good transition into the first short.

Cano didn’t like Girardi?

The Yankees are clearly sold on Joe Girardi at the helm. They’ve now twice extended his contract after hiring him in 2008, the latest a four-year deal that could bring Girardi’s tenure to a decade. It makes sense, then, that the Yankees wouldn’t aggressively approach a free agent who has a known problem with the manager.

According to a George King report, Robinson Cano was no fan of Girardi.

According to three people who know Cano, he didn’t enjoy playing for manager Joe Girardi and that may have factored into the decision, though the Mariners giving him $60 million more than the Yankees offered ($175 million) likely had more to do with him leaving.

“Robbie didn’t like batting second, he wanted to bat in the middle of the order,” one person said. “The Yankees wanted him second because that was best for the team. He wanted to hit in the middle of the order to drive in runs [to increase his value].”

This could just be sour grapes; we do see that kind of behavior frequently from Boston writers when players leave the Red Sox. After all, if Cano batted lower in the order he might not have driven in any more runs. It’s not as though the Yanks were awash in players who could get on base for Cano.

(For what it’s worth, Cano did hit .308/.396/.560 in 182 PA batting second.)

Money won the day, no doubt. But perhaps Cano’s displeasure with Girardi was one among many reasons the Yankees declined to increase their offer beyond seven years and $175 million.

Spending spree

Despite losing Cano, the Yankees have spent lavishly so far this off-season. To be exact: $299 million on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carlos Beltran. I’ve seen fans and media alike questioning how the Yankees spent so much on these players, particularly Ellsbury, and didn’t go the extra mile of five for Cano. There is certainly some sense to their spending, as wunderkind Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish notes:

In other words, the Yankees eschewed re-signing their star in order to spread money among many different positions of need. That number will look a lot different by the end of December, since the Yankees have plenty of remaining needs. But their overall strategy remains clear: don’t get caught up in too-long contracts and spread the wealth. You can disagree about its effectiveness, but it’s nice to see that they have a plan, because…

Dysfunctional Seattle

This article by Geoff Baker has made its rounds, so perhaps you’ve seen it. If not, it’s an eye-opening look into the Seattle front office. They’re painted as arrogant fools who surround themselves with yes-men, rather than people whose dissenting opinions could help the team make stronger, more informed decisions. Given Seattle’s woes in the last few years, including their lack of success with young players, it comes as little surprise that the front office has its issues.

(The article actually goes well with the book I’m currently reading.)

Baker talks to only former employees, so the story would probably look better if the other side told its half. Still, that Baker got two former employees to talk on the record is pretty remarkable in today’s environment of anonymous hatchet jobs. The Seattle organization seems to be the polar opposite of the Cardinals, which you can read about in this Q&A at FanGraphs.

Pondering the Robinson Cano fiasco

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

I couldn’t help but laugh at the Mariners after their ten-year, $240M offer to Robinson Cano.  That’s such an obscene amount of money for a guy already in his thirties – granted, he is the best at what he does and is arguably one of the top five players currently playing in the game.  Plus, according to pundits, the Mariners organization felt that it was necessary to make a huge splash this offseason as their team has been idling in irrelevancy for several years now.  Well, they certainly accomplished their goal of making a big splash.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the Mariners overestimated what would it would take to sign Cano.  If the best Yankees offer was locked in at $175M as it evidently was — not to mention the fact that Cano was apparently feeling a bit snubbed due the team taking a hard stance with him after the Jacoby Ellsbury signing– I wonder if the Mariners could have stood their ground with a $200M deal and overcome whatever shortcomings their location presumably has.  After all, that’d still be a $25M dollar difference between their offer and that of New York’s.  Maybe Cano prefers playing in NY so much that he is willing to dismiss twenty-five million reasons not to go to Seattle.  Then again, that’s a lot of money so maybe he wouldn’t have been able to resist.

In any event, if the Mariners honestly got the vibe that $200M wouldn’t get it done for them, they probably could have upped the ante to $225 and locked in there.  By that point, there’d be a $50M gap between them and New York, assuming the Yanks didn’t change their mind and offer more which it seems like they were unwilling to do.  I’m not sure how many folks would be able to turn down an offer that was that much more lucrative than another.  The Yanks did Seattle a huge favor by stalling out around $175M and never really giving a super strong impression to Cano’s camp that they’d be willing to bridge the gap between what they were offering and what Cano was asking for.  Maybe it’s an incorrect impression, but it never appeared as though the Mariners were willing to let Cano consider just how much better their initial offer already was to NY’s.  It was as if their great offer was immediately not good enough despite the fact that there wasn’t another offer even remotely close.  If $50M additional dollars doesn’t blow Cano away, maybe that would have been a strong indication that the cost isn’t worth the reward.

Instead, Seattle basically caved in overnight from what was already an excellent offer, and was content to bid against themselves even further. The Mariners increased their offer to ten years, $240M.  Well, congrats, to them.  They obtained Robbie’s services by outbidding the next highest bid by $65M!  Not only does this strike me as a severe overpay, but it was probably an unnecessary one.  Regardless of how Cano’s camp values his abilities, the fact is, at the end of the day he’s only worth as much as teams are willing to pay.  Hypothetically, if the Mariners offered nine years, $225M, they’d still be showing a really strong interest him.  They’d still be blowing New York’s offer out of the water, and I imagine they’d still have a strong chance of winning the bidding with a $50M dollar difference.

To Seattle’s credit, they now employ the best free agent available.  The problem for them now is that their team, as it currently stands, still stinks.  Even if Cano adds ten wins to their record single handedly, which is a stretch of the imagination, I don’t think that’s enough to make them a contender.  They still have a lot of work to do to become relevant again, especially if they want to try and compete during Cano’s prime years.  Along the same lines, as much as I would have loved to see Cano in pinstripes for the remainder of his career, I don’t regret for a second the Yankees not making a counter offer that extreme.  Letting him go was a no brainer at that point.

Thoughts following the day everything changed

Robbie no. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
Robbie no. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

This was, without question, the craziest week of hot stove action I can remember. That includes the Winter Meetings. Teams just didn’t want to wait for Orlando next week to take care of business, and one of those teams was the Yankees. With Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, and Jacoby Ellsbury already on board, the team added both Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M) and Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M). yesterday. Of course, they also lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners after they offered a tenth year and $240M. Bittersweet day (mostly bitter), to say the least. Here are some thoughts.

1. As soon as the Yankees splurged for Ellsbury, I honestly did not think they would let Cano walk. Spending that much money on a very good but not elite player like Ellsbury only to let your homegrown superstar leave doesn’t make much sense. They held the line at seven years and $175M and I truly believed they would bump their offer up to (and maybe over) $200M if push came to shove. It’s a huge blow to the Yankees short-term — I’d say the next two years at the very least, probably more like four or five — but it will help in the long-term, when they aren’t saddled with a huge albatross contract. I just can’t believe Cano’s leaving. Man, who thought this would actually happen?

2. The Mariners made it very, very easy for the Yankees to walk away. They’re a desperate franchise and desperate franchises do desperate things, like offer $65M more than the next highest bidder. Of course, Seattle had to blow everyone else out of the water if they wanted to land a premium player like Cano. The city itself is great and Safeco Field is gorgeous, but it’s a tough place to hit. The team itself stinks and the travel is awful (the Mariners fly more miles than every other club each season because they’re so isolated in the Pacific Northwest). Add all that together and you get a place that doesn’t attract many free agent hitters. Not many good ones, anyway. The Mariners blew Cano away with the offer and that makes his departure easier to swallow. It sucks he’s gone, don’t get me wrong. But at that price? Had to let him go. No-brainer.

3. I’m pretty sure the Yankees will go hard after Omar Infante to replace Robbie — what’s the over/under on the contract, three years and $30M? sounds about right — and he’s probably the best realistic second base option. I’d greatly prefer a trade for Howie Kendrick, who has two years and $20M left on his deal, but the Angels are looking for pitching and the Yankees just don’t have any to give up. David Phelps and a prospect ain’t gonna get it done. I don’t want any part of Brandon Phillips for reasons Joe already outlined and if Infante’s demands are unreasonable (he and his agent could jack up the price hoping to capitalize on the team’s potential desperation), I think Mark Ellis would be a tolerable one-year stopgap. He’s a very good defender and not a total zero at the plate (92 wRC+ in 2013). Infante is no better of a player today than he was two days ago. The Yankees shouldn’t go all out to sign him just because he’s the best available option with Robbie off the board.

So sweet. (Elsa/Getty)
So sweet. (Elsa/Getty)

4. I was thinking about this last night: Cano doesn’t really have a “signature moment,” does he? Derek Jeter has the flip play (and a bunch of other moments), Jorge Posada has the double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS (and a bunch of other moments), so on and so forth. Cano doesn’t really have one. That’s not meant to be a knock against him, it’s just one of those things. Winning the 2011 Homerun Derby doesn’t really count, and, according to WPA, his best game in pinstripes came on July 1st of this past season. He went 3-for-4 with two homers and a double in a blowout win over the Twins. Meh. I guess his game-winning homer off George Sherrill in 2010 stands out (video) — that was the game in which the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton with a big ninth inning comeback, which I’m sure you remember — but that isn’t anything special. When I think of Cano, I don’t think of a singular moment. I think of that sweet swing more than anything. Like this one. B-e-a-utiful.

5. I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks, but I am a bit nervous about Kuroda heading into next season. He’s getting up there in age and man, he looked like toast late last season. Hitters were squaring him up constantly and he couldn’t locate anything. I guess poor location is better than his stuff falling off — Kuroda’s velocity actually ticked up a bit late in the season — but it’s still a red flag. They still need to add another starter, Brian Cashman has acknowledged that already, and hopefully it’ll be Masahiro Tanaka. I think he’s a really good fit given his age and all that stuff. If that doesn’t work out, I’d rather see a short-term Bartolo Colon reunion than a long-term marriage with Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. Either way, the Yankees have some decent back-end depth with Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno. Michael Pineda is the real wildcard. He could give the rotation a big boost or not throw a single pitch for the big league team for the third straight season.

6. Beltran definitely gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, meaning the Yankees are adding the right player, just nine years too late. He can still hit, there isn’t much doubt about that, but his defense is below-average and his knees are grenades with the pins pulled. the Yankees will be able to give him time at DH and are going to have to to keep him healthy. If I had known the Yankees were going to sign two outfielders coming into the winter, I probably would have pushed for Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. The club opted for Ellsbury and Beltran, which is perfectly reasonable but definitely the riskier option health-wise. Probably more expensive too. This is definitely a high-risk, high-reward roster at the moment. It could be great but it could also be really, really ugly if Father Time comes back to wreak more havoc in 2014.

7. One thing that I do like is the diversity the Yankees have added to lineup. McCann is a brute masher and Ellsbury is a speed guy while Beltran is an all-around hitter who will hit for average and power. He also gives them a switch-hitter, something they didn’t have at last season. Almost literally not at all — Mark Teixeira and Zoilo Almonte combined for 176 plate appearances and that’s it, they were the only switch-hitters the Yankees had this summer. Crazy. Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, and Johnson all work the count well and that’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t have enough guys who could put together good at-bats and wear down the starter this year. There were an awful lot of quick at-bats and quick innings. That should change next summer with those four plus Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter returning.

8. Speaking of Gardner, I’d absolutely keep him unless some team offers a starting pitcher that is just too good to pass up. (Lots of people asked about Gardner for Homer Bailey and I don’t see anyway Cincinnati entertains that as one-for-one swap. Gardner’s trade value is along the lines of Norichika Aoki’s and Seth Smith’s, and look at what those two were traded for this week.) Both Ellsbury and Beltran are injury concerns for different reasons, plus Beltran and Soriano figure to get regular turns at DH. Keeping Gardner as a heavily used fourth outfielder who could step into the lineup everyday if someone gets hurt makes an awful lot of sense. If the Reds will trade Bailey for him or another team comes along with a comparable offer, then by all means, pull the trigger. Otherwise keep him around and enjoy the depth. There is no doubt in my mind there will be a time next season the team will be happy they kept him around.

Robinson Cano agrees to ten-year contract with Mariners

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

For what is probably the first time in franchise history, a homegrown star is leaving the Yankees as a free agent because the team was outbid. Robinson Cano has agreed to a ten-year contract worth $240M with the Mariners, reports Enrique Rojas and Jon Heyman. The deal comes only a few hours after it was reported talks had fallen apart over excessive demands. He will take his physical on Monday. New York will receive a supplmental first round pick in return.

Cano, 31, receives the fourth largest contract in baseball history, behind Alex Rodriguez‘s two contracts (ten years, $252M and ten years, $275M) and Albert Pujols’ deal (ten years, $254M). It’s the tenth largest contract in history in terms of average annual value. The Yankees reportedly held a hard-line and topped out at seven years and $175M, and there’s just no way Cano could turn down an extra $65M. He’ll also keep a ton of extra money because Washington has no state income tax.

The Yankees have been adamant about not pushing their offer to ten years and rightfully so given the A-Rod nightmare. They take a huge hit in the short-term — Cano is irreplaceable, they’ll need to acquire about three players to make up the lost production — but will better off down the road, when they aren’t saddled with another albatross contract. I don’t blame them at all for meeting his asking price. It was excessive. This definitely has an A-Rod-to-Texas vibe, a great player joining a terrible team because they offered the most money. For his sake, I hope Robbie isn’t looking for a way out in three years.

Cano leaves the Yankees as a .309/.355/.504 (126 wRC+) career hitter with 1,649 hits and 204 homeruns. Over the last four seasons, he’s put up a .312/.373/.533 (142 wRC+) batting line while ranking first in baseball in bWAR (29.7) and second in fWAR (25.4). Robbie finished second in the 2005 Rookie of the Year voting (behind Huston Street) and is a five-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, and two-time Gold Glover. He has received MVP votes in six seasons and finished in the top six of the voting in each of the last four years, plus he’s missed a grand total of 14 games in the last seven years. There’s no denying he is one of the five best players in the world right now.

Among Yankees second baseman, Cano ranks third in hits (1,649), first in doubles (327), first in homers (204), fourth in games played (1,374), and third in bWAR (45.1). He is obviously in the conversation for greatest second baseman in Yankees history, along with Tony Lazzeri and the perpetually underrated Willie Randolph. Among all players, Cano is ninth in franchise history in batting average (.309), eighth in doubles (375), tenth in hit-by-pitches (54), 14th in homers (204), and 14th in bWAR. The Yankees have had a lot of really good players over the years.

So where do the Yankees go from here? I don’t really know. They’ve been connected to Omar Infante and he seems like a logical second base replacement. Mark Ellis is a lower cost alternative and they did just signed Kelly Johnson, after all. Dean Anna and Eduardo Nunez are the other in-house candidates. The Yankees have a nice chunk of change to spend now though, and I definitely expect them to spend it somehow. Adding pitching is a necessity and they definitely need to add another bat now, even after signing Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury.

There’s no way to sugercoat it: the Yankees lost their best player and take a huge hit with the Cano’s defection to Seattle. They had an uphill climb this winter anyway after winning only 85 games in 2013 (79-win team by run differential) and now that climb will be much more difficult. Adding McCann and Ellsbury is a good start, but they need to do a lot more to get back to contention now. Cano was an elite player at a hard to fill position and he was a fan favorite. It’s tough to believe he’s actually leaving. The Mariners were nice enough to soften the blow with their huge offer; it’s a little earlier to say goodbye considering how much they bid.

Update: Mariners close to deal with Robinson Cano

10:53am: The Mariners and Cano are close to a deal worth “at least” $225M, reports Jon Heyman. Enrique Rojas says it’s a ten-year, $240M contract, for what it’s worth.

10:20am: Ken Rosenthal says talks between Cano and the Mariners are “still alive.” I get the sense that one side (Mariners) leaked the initial report of the snag and the other side (Cano) leaked the report that things were alive. Posturing!

8:26am: Via Mark Feinsand: The Mariners have broken off contract talks with Robinson Cano due to Jay-Z’s excessive demands. Feinsand says the team was led to believe the nine-year, $225M offer would get it done, but Jay-Z asked for ten years and $252M at the last second. CEO Howard Lincoln “exploded” and ended the meeting. Scott Boras must be loving this.

Update: Cano asked Mariners for ten years, $240M

8:03pm: Jon Heyman says the Mariners are preparing to offer Cano nine years and $225M. I would be surprised if the Yankees went that high. Cano might have to leave money on the table to return to New York.

6:16pm: Ken Rosenthal says Cano asked the Mariners for ten years and $240M. The team did make an offer but it was not over $200M. Last we heard, Robbie asked the Yankees for $250-260M or so. His price just came down again.

4:10pm: Via Enrique Rojas (translated article): The Mariners let Robinson Cano know they would be willing to offer him a ten-year contract worth $230-240M during a private meeting today. Robbie flew out to Seattle to speak to the club personally. It doesn’t sound like they gave him a formal offer, but either way, this is the first time another club has talked dollars with Cano (as far as we know). If they do offer him ten years and $230M or so, the Yankees would have no choice but to up their offer from seven years and roughly $165M, probably into the $200M range they reportedly want to avoid. Unless, of course, they’re willing to walk away.