According to multiple reports, the Yankees met with Robinson Cano‘s representatives today to continue contract negotiations. It’s unclear if the two sides made any progress towards a deal, but the “gap is still very substantial.” They’ll talk again tomorrow before presumably breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday. As Joe wrote yesterday, the Yankees have been playing hardball with Cano and there’s a chance it will work to the benefit of all involved. The team has to continue to move forward and address their other needs though, they can’t wait around forever.
On a cold day in February, I made a bet that I thought would be a sure thing. In a fit of Twitter arrogance, I threatened to eat my hat if Robinson Cano reached 80 walks. His previous career high had been 61.
— Benjamin Kabak (@bkabak) February 14, 2013
How could things go wrong, I thought. The Yanks didn’t have a great lineup entering the season, but they seemed to be able to offer up Cano enough protection that he wouldn’t blow past his 2012 walk total. And the things went south in a hurry. Derek Jeter wasn’t ready to return really at all this year while Curtis Granderson suffered two freak accidents. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were total busts, and Cano was left holding the Yanks’ offense on his shoulders.
For a few months, things looked dicey. As Robbie emerged as the only real slugger in the Yanks’ lineup, his walk totals rose precipitously. After walking only 18 times in April and May combined, Robbie drew 18 free passes in June, and this four-walk affair at the hands of Joe Maddon and the Rays seemed to represent my nadir. Would I be able to eat an inedible item made of sponge and wire?
From May 24 through July 28 — a span of 59 games — Cano drew 39 free passes, ten of which were intentional. That’s a pace of over 100 in a 162-game season, and the hat seemed doomed. Even accounting for his slow start, Cano was on pace to draw 81 walks, and I figured all was lost. But then Alfonso Soriano arrived and Alex Rodriguez returned. It was all wine and roses from there.
From July 29 through the end of the season, Cano returned to his free-swinging ways. He drew just 13 walks while still hitting a robust .346/.391/.528. The intentional walk well fell dry as well since he now had protection in the lineup. Opposing mangers IBB’d Robbie just twice over the final two months of the season.
And so the hat was saved. Despite sweating out a tough summer, despite a short-lived Tumblr with hat recipes and an RAB Countdown, the hat has survived the winter. Robbie ended the year with 65 walks — a new career high but a far cry from the 80 he needed to achieve for us to see what happens when man eats toxic sponge. I’d say that’s a season that went very, very right.
Outside of the walks, though, Cano’s season was a bright spot. He hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. He played a spectacular second base and seemed to be a leader in the clubhouse when the top veterans were injured. After hitting 21 dingers prior to the All Star Break, he launched only six more longballs all year but still hit .331/.379/.494. He appeared on his fifth All Star game and placed fifth in the AL MVP voting.
What comes next though is more important than what he did. We’ve followed the saga of Robbie very closely. He’s a premier offensive player who can man his position with the best of them. He’s Jay-Z’s first client and star in New York City. He’s also turned 31 a little over a month ago and wants a long-term commitment with lots of dollar signs attached. The Yanks can’t afford to let him go but may not want to pay. Yet for all the public posturing, they need Robinson Cano. I won’t say I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t sign with the Yanks; I’ve learned my lesson there. But I’d be very, very surprised if the team’s best player in 2013 isn’t wearing his Yankee pinstripes come April.
It’s easy to talk a big game, especially when dozens of reporters and columnists hang on your every word. The Yankees certainly took advantage of their captive audience early in the off-season, pronouncing interest in essentially every high-end free agent. But talk is cheap, especially concerning something as unpredictable as the free-agent market. The Yankees certainly had a way out of their heavy proclamations.
Just because you’re interested in free agents, doesn’t mean that you’ll sign them. While not all 29 other teams are in on every available player, there is typically a healthy level of competition for the best free agents. Each team has its own limits on dollars and years. The Yankees easily could have justified not signing any of the top free agents, by merely saying that each was an overpay they weren’t willing to make.
The Brian McCann signing indicates that the Yankees aren’t just full of hot air. They addressed their biggest need, and will now move on to fill the other weaknesses on their roster. As Mike noted yesterday, reports have emerged that the Yankees are talking aggressively with other free agents, and even have offers out to some of them. The winter of 2012-2013 this is not.
While the Yankees likely have genuine interest in signing each of the players with whom they’re engaged, at least part of the reason for their aggression has to do with their own free agent, Robinson Cano. As Joel Sherman notes, the Yankees “badly want to retain the second baseman,” and are attempting to move quickly on him. Cano, for his part, appears ready to wait out the market until he gets the offer he wants. But the Yankees’ tactics could change his tune.
Current reports have the Yankees’ offer to Cano at seven years at $165 million, which is about $1 million more per year than the Yankees paid Mark Teixeira five years ago. The offer runs one fewer year, but Cano is also two years older than Teixeira was at the time of signing. Sherman notes that the Yankees “perhaps have some wiggle room upward…[b]ut not much.” What that means, exactly, in terms of perhaps a $175 contract for seven years, or a replica of Teixeira’s $180 million for eight years, is anyone’s guess. Regardless of where the Yankees will go, they have the best, and only, offer currently available to Cano.
By aggressively pursuing other free agents, the Yankees are implicitly signaling to Cano that they will not wait around for him, and that their dollars will be spent whether or not he signs. That’s bad news for Cano and his agents. Losing the leverage of the Yankees will hurt their bargaining positions with the 29 other teams, many of which won’t even place a bid for Cano’s services. What are his chances of getting an offer even close to the Yankees’ current one with his home team out of the bidding?
It only takes one team, for sure, as Prince Fielder learned two off-seasons ago. Yet the Tigers, who submitted the winning bid very late in the off-season, just paid $30 million to be rid of Fielder and the remainder of his contract. In fact, a number of other free agent contracts recently handed out might serve as a warning to teams that value long-term financial flexibility. The cases of Fielder, Albert Pujols, Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez could have teams gun shy about deals of even eight years. What are the chances that Detroit jumps back into the long-term free agent pool the very same winter they traded the previous guy?
The Yankees, as reports indicate, wish to meet with Cano this week to, as Jon Heyman puts it, “figure out whether there’s something to talk about.” If there’s not, it appears the Yankees will pursue the remaining players on their list without regard to Cano. That situation could prove costly. Imagine a scenario where the Yankees spend $200 million this off-season. Now imagine Cano signing in January for less than the $165 million the Yankees have currently on the table. Without them in the race, that could certainly happen. It wouldn’t be an impressive debut effort from Jay Z, and you can be sure the media, nationwide, will hammer home that point.
Alternatively, imagine Cano agreeing to a seven- or eight-year deal between $175 and $180 million. It will be a far cry from his $300 million request, but it will also come from the home team. Cano and his agents can actually spin this in a way that makes Cano seem like the good guy for taking “only” $180 million.
His intention all along was to stay in New York, and he was willing to back off a contract he felt he deserved in order to do so. He was moved by the retirement of Mariano Rivera and wants a similar sendoff for himself as a Yankee.
Cano gets paid more than any other free agent this off-season and last, and he could make more than any next off-season, depending on the market for Hanley Ramirez. He stays with the team where he is most visible and marketable, while coming off looking like the good guy. The Yankees get their man, at a not-too-inflated price. Everyone comes out ahead.
It’s tough to see exactly how this will play out. Both sides have talked big games, to the point that they’re approaching a game of chicken. We should get a good idea soon which one blinks.
Update: ESPN NY’s Andrew Marchand reports, well, basically what was just laid out here. There’s a time limit on the “best offer” that the Yankees can make. It’s not a take it or leave it ultimatum, but it’s essentially saying that if Cano doesn’t budge, the Yanks will move on with their priorities and won’t have enough money left to offer Cano the $160-plus-million they have on the table currently.
3:56pm: According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are “currently engaged” in talks with Beltran, Drew, Kuroda, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and various unnamed mid-rotation starters. Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are not in the mix at the moment.
1:12pm: Via Buster Olney: The Yankees still have offers out to various free agents even after agreeing to sign Brian McCann last night. He says there is currently no traction in talks with Robinson Cano and the team doesn’t want to sit around and wait. I dig it. In addition to Cano, I’m guessing they have offers out to … Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Grant Balfour, and Hiroki Kuroda. Whaddya think?
If you were the GM of the Tigers, and two winters ago you could have signed Prince Fielder to a two-year, $76 million contract, would you have? Paying him $38 million annually sounds steep, but getting him for only his age-28 and age-29 seasons mitigates that inflated salary. It’s a deal that Fielder never would have signed, but it’s the deal that the Tigers got. I imagine they’re happy with the way that turned out.
What the Tigers essentially did was walk away when they had the opportunity. Signing him two off-seasons ago was a play for the short-term. Detroit had just made the World Series and felt they weren’t far from a victory. While they did make the Series last year, and the ALCS this year, it became apparent that their roster had some weaknesses. The landscape changed, so Detroit acted while it had the opportunity.
The Yankees now have an opportunity to walk away from an enormous contract. They won’t get back a player, as the Tigers got with Ian Kinsler, other than whoever they can take with a low-30s draft pick, so the situations aren’t directly comparable. What they would gain is significant financial flexibility, something they apparently desire. While it might hurt, especially in 2014, Tyler Kepner of the NY Times argues that letting Robinson Cano walk is the right move.
The risks of long-term contracts for players already in their 30s is well documented. The Yankees need look no further than their own organization six years ago, when they signed Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. In Rodriguez the Yankees see how injuries and performance decline can hamper even a generational talent. Cano, even as one of the league’s premier hitters, doesn’t quite reach A-Rod‘s level. So why sign him to a contract that could similarly cripple the organization?
Kepner’s argument centers on this kind of risk aversion. In discussing a 7-year, $161 million contract for Cano, Kepner says, “That kind of deal has put the Yankees in their present state — decaying and injury-prone — and the team needs to break the cycle.” The problem is that there isn’t any player, or even group of players, currently available that can help the Yankees as much as Cano. Even if the last three years of a seven-year deal are well below what his salary warrants, the Yankees still need Cano in those first four seasons.
Yes, but what about the Cardinals, who lost Albert Pujols and have done quite well without him? Kepner cites this case, noting that the Cardinals went on to sign Carlos Beltran and hand out a few extensions on the path to two playoff berths and a World Series appearance. While it sounds nice, it completely ignores the organizational differences between the Cardinals and the Yankees. For starters, Pujols wasn’t even the best hitter on the Cardinals in 2011; Lance Berkman and Matt Holiday each put up better numbers. They also had Allen Craig, who had broken out in 2011 and was ready for a regular gig. That’s not even bringing their robust farm system into the equation.
The Yankees have none of these things. Alfonso Soriano is solid, and Mark Teixeira could come back to produce next season, but even if both have fine years the Yanks still aren’t nearly as deep as the Cardinals. There is no Yadier Molina, there is no Allen Craig, there’s no Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter. There is, hopefully, an Adam Wainwright in CC Sabathia, but there’s no Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly, or Shelby Miller. If the Yankees plan to contend in 2014 they need to do it with a heavy top-end. That’s not going to work without Cano.
What about punting 2014? That’s not a strategy that really pays off in baseball. The Astros are trying it now, and even then it’s going to take them several more years to get even a little feedback on their experiment. Getting a draft pick for Robbie is nice, and getting a higher draft pick next year would be nice as well. But are those two picks going to turn around the organization? Doubtful. Even if they do, it will take years and years for that process to play out. Does anyone have that kind of patience?
The alternative is using the $23 or so million for Cano and spreading it to a few other players. Kepner lists the possibilities, and we’re familiar with all the names. But it’s not as though the Yankees can take Cano’s salary and somehow turn it into two high-end free agents. Brian McCann will cost between $15 and $18 million himself. Shin-Soo Choo might cost even more. Perhaps savings from Cano, plus the other money the team has available, can turn into three free agents. But none of them will be as good as Cano.
Therein lies the choice. Do you bring in the superstar, understanding that he’s your only superstar, or do you spread the wealth a bit? People love to cite how the Red Sox spread the wealth last winter, but fail to mention that they already had a superstar on board in David Ortiz and a damn good first mate in Dustin Pedroia. Again, the Yankees don’t have that. They can’t replicate what the Cardinals or Red Sox did, because their franchise is in a completely different position right now.
The biggest risk with Cano, or any other long-term contract, lies in the later years. Given how he’s performed in the last few years, it’s difficult to imagine Cano declining much, if at all, in the next year or so. If he can manage a graceful decline (anything but guaranteed), the last three to four years of a seven- or eight-year contract will be the ones that hurt. This is actually good news for the Yankees. In year-five of a potential Cano deal, they have zero dollars in current obligations. In year-four they have just $26 million.
In other words, this isn’t some situation where they hand out $700 million in five-plus-year contracts within the span of two off-seasons. They’ve done a good job of limiting obligations in the last few years, and given their lack of future payroll the effort is starting to show. Adding Cano now will hurt if they sign a bunch of five- and six-year deals in the next two off-seasons. Given the market, I don’t think it will come to that.
As Mike has noted, frequently, this off-season, even if the Yanks add Cano, Carlos Beltran or Jhonny Peralta, and Masahiro Tanaka, they still might not contend in 2014. But even if they’re going to struggle again next year, they still have needs in 2015 and beyond. Letting Cano go stands directly in opposition to those future goals.
Just because some other teams played the market a certain way doesn’t mean the Yankees should follow suit. They’re in a different position than those teams. Given their current roster, and the fruits on the farm, Cano become an essential piece to not only potential contention in 2014, but also 2015 and beyond. Letting him walk, especially at seven years and $161 million, a deal he’ll almost certainly exceed, because other teams did something similar, would be foolish. The Yankees need Cano just as much as Cano needs the Yankees.
Last offseason, the Yankees reportedly took the rather unique path of creating a list of needs and going down the list in order, one by one. First was pitching, second was adding an outfielder, then third was filling out the margins of the roster. They didn’t waver from that strategy at all. It was weird because usually you’d expect a team to multi-task, not miss out on a player because he was further down on the list than something else.
This winter, it does not appear the Yankees are working that way. They aren’t handcuffing themselves like that. Instead, they’re being handcuffed by other factors around the game and in free agency, things outside of their control. That is much worse than sticking to list and going one by one, obviously. New York could have always changed that approach whenever they wanted. Their offseason plans are being held hostage at the moment. Other stuff is getting in the way of allowing them to set a hard budget number and proceed.
Alex Rodriguez‘s Appeal Hearing
Things got a little juicy yesterday when A-Rod stormed out of his appeal hearing claiming it was a “farce,” but as far as we know that doesn’t change anything about the timetable. The hearing will continue today without a day off either until it is completed or next Wednesday, whichever comes first. I assume they would reconvene the Monday following Thanksgiving, if need be. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that. Once the hearing is over, arbitrator Frederic Horowitz is expected to take three or four weeks to hand down his ruling.
Assuming things get wrapped up before Thanksgiving and Horowitz takes his four weeks, we’re looking at a ruling sometime right before Christmas, two weeks after the Winter Meetings. The Yankees have a lot of needs and not much money to spend, at least until A-Rod’s suspension is upheld and all or part of his 2014 salary (and luxury tax hit) is wiped off the books. They can’t count on that happening though. Nothing is final until Horowitz says so. As much as $33.5M is 2014 payroll space hangs in the balance here, enough to sign two premium free agents, but New York won’t know if that money is available to them until after the Winter Meetings, when most major dealings take place.
Masahiro Tanaka‘s Posting
According to Jon Morosi, MLB and NPB have resumed talking about a revising posting system this week after a proposal fell through last week. Apparently MLB felt NPB was taking too long to wrap things up, so the league decided to go after a sweeter deal. Can’t say I blame them, but that doesn’t exactly help the Yankees. It’s no secret they will go hard after Tanaka and why not? He’s supposed to be awesome and because the posting fee doesn’t count against the luxury tax, he’d fit well in their budget.
Brian Cashman has said he needs to add two starting pitchers this winter and Tanaka is presumably Plan A. If they can’t land him, the Yankees could to turn to Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Garza, or Ubaldo Jimenez. Capable pitchers who aren’t as luxury tax friendly. Needless to say, the longer the haggling between MLB and NPB drags on, the more it hurts the Yankees. Kuroda and Garza and whoever else won’t wait around forever and New York needs to take care of its pitching. There’s a chance, albeit a small one, that Tanaka won’t be posted at all this winter. Cashman & Co. want to know if that will be the case soon, not in late-December or January after the other top arms sign.
Robinson Cano‘s Contract
Unlike the A-Rod and Tanaka stuff, the Yankees actually have some control over Cano’s contract situation because they’re the high-bidder until another club steps to the plate. That fact that his representatives crawled to the Mets earlier this week is a pretty good indication his market isn’t all that robust at the moment. That could change in a heartbeat, however. I do think it’s only a matter of time before another big market team (Nationals?) gets involved.
“We’re not waiting around,” said team president Randy Levine to Andy McCullough earlier this week when asked about a timetable for a new contract with Cano. “We have about five or six free agents that we’re aggressively looking at. Some of our own, some outside guys. We’re not waiting for Robbie or anyone. As these guys come off the board, if we’re lucky enough to get some of them, that obviously limits the money we have for Cano.”
Saying you’re not going to wait around is one thing, but actually doing it is another. The Yankees aren’t stupid, they know their most likely (only?) chance at contention next season involves having Cano at second base and in the middle of the lineup. They also know attendance and ratings took a big hit in 2013 and losing a star caliber player like Robbie could lead to an even greater decline. On the other hand, you could argue this past season showed he isn’t the kind of player who drives fan interest and attendance and ratings and all that. He was the only big name, everyday player on the team, after all.
Cashman & Co. have a lot on their plate this winter. They’ve gotta rebuild half a rotation, half a bullpen, and a decent chunk of the lineup to get back to contention in 2014. They have to do all that while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold, meaning bang for the buck is important. It was always important, don’t get me wrong, but in the past they could bid the extra million bucks and not think too much of it. The A-Rod and Tanaka situations are really tying their hands because so much money is at stake. Unless they’re willing to risk going over the luxury tax threshold, there’s nothing the team can do but sit and wait until that stuff is resolved, hoping the offseason doesn’t pass them by.
Robinson Cano has a been a Not A Yankee for a little less than three weeks now, but his market has yet to really take shape. He had not received any offers from other clubs as of November 10th. That isn’t all that surprising, however. Things have been relatively quite for other top free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo as well. The market for the big names usually starts to pick up during the Winter Meetings in early-December.
- Hal Steinbrenner confirmed the team will meet with Cano’s people sometime this week, but also indicated they will continue to talk to other players in case things drag on too long. “We haven’t really had any communication on any specifics yet, but it’s the beginning of the process,” said Hal.
- Jay-Z and agents Brodie Van Wagenen and Juan Perez met with Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, GM Sandy Alderson, and assistant GM John Ricco at a Manhattan hotel yesterday. They supposedly made a “Scott Boras-like” presentation. Cano’s camp initiated the meeting and it sounds like they’re trying to drum up some leverage. The Mets aren’t handing out the type of contract it will take to sign Cano, especially under the risk-averse Alderson.
- “[Jay-Z is] going to be intimately involved in all areas, and that has been true for the last six months” said Van Wagenen recently. “Jay is a very, very successful businessman, who has a keen understanding of value, a keen understanding of brands, and a keen understand of what this player, Robinson Cano, wants to accomplish in his career. He’s been at the table both in strategy sessions and in preparation. And he absolutely has, and will continue to be, involved in the actual negotiations with potential suitors.”
- Cano’s camp has not yet budged off their ten-year, $305M request, but Randy Levine ain’t havin’ any of that. “We want Robbie back — we think Robbie is terrific — but we have no interest in doing any ten-year deals and no interest in paying $300M to any player. Until he gets a little more realistic, we have nothing to talk about,” said the team president.
- The Dodgers still insist they will not get involved in the bidding for Cano. We first heard that a few weeks ago. Los Angeles seems like an obvious fit for Robbie given their huge wallet and second base vacancy, but they appear to be saving the majority of their cash for the inevitable Clayton Kershaw extension. Maybe they’ll circle back if they have some extra cash once that is taken care of.
- Just in case you were wondering, the Marlins will not be in on Cano this winter. Shocking, I know. “We have to know our market and our payroll and our history, and our history is to build around young players and add pieces when it has become very clear that we are ready to win,” said GM Dan Jennings.