King: Mariners scouting David Phelps

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Mariners had a scout on hand to watch David Phelps‘ second spring start last night. He got hit around pretty hard but held the Orioles to only one run in 2.2 innings, striking out two and walking one. Phelps is currently competing for the fifth starter spot, though Joe Girardi confirmed he will make the team in some capacity.

The Mariners have been hit hard by injuries this spring. Co-ace Hisashi Iwakuma is sidelined with a finger sprain and top prospect Taijuan Walker is dealing with a shoulder problem. Manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed both guys will open the season on the DL, leaving the team with Erasmo Ramirez, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer, and Scott Baker behind Felix Hernandez. Their need for another arm is obvious.

Seattle’s top trade chip is infielder Nick Franklin, who was pushed into trade chip status by the Robinson Cano signing. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit .225/.303/.382 (90 wRC+) with 12 homers, six steals, and a 27.4% strikeout rate in his 412 plate appearance MLB debut last season. His defense is shaky — he’s already moved off short and is error prone at second — and more than a few people think he’ll have to drop switch-hitting and stick to batting lefty down the road. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “profiles as a solid regular who could play in a few All-Star Games” before last season.

Franklin. (Presswire)
Franklin. (Presswire)

The Yankees desperately need a young infielder and Franklin certainly fits the bill even though I’m not his biggest fan. I’d trade four five years of Phelps for six years of Franklin in a heartbeat, but I suspect the Mariners are going to want another piece or two. Both the Mets and Rays have been talking to Seattle about Franklin — Tampa was reportedly on the verge of the deal, but then Jeremy Hellickson got hurt and they were reluctant to sacrifice pitching depth — so there is plenty of competition.

Of the various fifth starter candidates, the 27-year-old Phelps feels like the safest bet to be a productive big leaguer in 2014. In order to deal him, I think the Yankees would have to feel pretty good about Michael Pineda heading into the season and/or be open to signing a low-cost pitcher (Jeff Niemann? Jeff Karstens?) to replace the depth. Given their pitching situation, I’m guessing the Mariners would like to get a deal done sooner rather than later. That could work to New York’s advantage in trade talks.

In other news, King says both the White Sox and Brewers also had scouts on hand for last night’s game. Both clubs are looking for catching depth, something the Yankees can spare. Chicago has some infield depth to offer and we’ve already heard the Yankees will monitor Rickie Weeks this spring. Given the infield situation, the Yankees could swap Phelps+ for Franklin and a catcher for Weeks or one of the ChiSox infielders (or one of the Diamondbacks infielders). It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.

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It’s official: Cano’s a Mariner

Just in case you were hoping things would fall apart at the last moment, the Mariners have officially announced the signing of Robinson Cano. The press conference is later this evening and will probably be on MLB Network, if you’re interested. Here’s a photo of him in Mariners garb. “I want to thank all my fans in New York for an amazing nine years. It was truly an honor to play for you,” said Cano is a statement.

The Yankees receive a supplemental first round pick for Cano, but it will be forfeited once the Carlos Beltran deal is official. It’s been real, Robbie.

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.

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.