Yankees Must Be Willing to Walk Away from Robinson Cano

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2013

There comes a point in the on-field life of an athlete when the financial ramifications of a huge contract become too unbearable for a franchise to succeed. 

For the New York Yankees, it took nearly 10 years, a multitude of bad contracts and a series of injuries, but that time finally hit in 2013. 

Now, following the dullest season the Yankees have had since before Derek Jeter was in the minors, Robinson Cano, easily the team's best player, is looking to get the last big payday of his career. 

If Cano has his way, it's going to be a doozy of a payday.

He wants to be the highest-paid player in baseball history, reportedly seeking a deal in excess of $300 million over 10 years. He's 31 years old and has finished in the top 10 of MVP voting the last four seasons, so why not strike while the iron is hot?

Jay-Z, who is part of Cano's representation, is reportedly trying to sell Cano as a Michael Jordan-like figure who transcends the sport and acts as "a big rock star" to "bring all these fans in."

As great as Cano has been in his career, and as great a salesman as Jay-Z can be, no one is going to buy that pitch. Jordan was a worldwide brand and the biggest sports star in the world. Cano is a superstar in baseball, but that doesn't make him a mainstream star the way Jordan was/is.

For the Yankees, another 10-year commitment to a player over 30 years old is not the kind of thing they should entertain. If it means losing their best player and facing an uncertain future, so be it. 

No team in baseball, with the possible exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers, has deeper pockets than the Yankees. Prior to the 2013 season, they were the only franchise to ever spend more than $200 million on a team, and they have done it every season since 2008. 

But there comes a point where you have to accept the reality in front of you. New York's owners have gotten the team into trouble by trying to throw money at every situation to hide some of the problems they have. 

They overpaid Alex Rodriguez after the 2007 season, panicked when the Red Sox were talking about signing Mark Teixeira in 2008 and are locked into $70 million for CC Sabathia's age 33-35 seasons. 

Even their loyalty to Derek Jeter as an everyday shortstop is baffling, though sometimes teams want to avoid the public relations headache that comes with telling an iconic player he's no longer able to play defense. 

It is because of those past deals, not to mention what has happened to a player like Albert Pujols, who was one year older than Cano at the time of his 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels, that the All-Star second baseman shouldn't get anything close to what he wants from the Yankees.

In some ways, the Yankees have learned from those mistakes. They have reportedly been planning to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold in time for the 2014 season. Nearly $95 million got wiped away after the 2013 season ended due to retirements and expiring contracts. 

Some players, most notably David Robertson, are going to get raises in arbitration, but they are in a good spot to spend money without having to pay for it. 

If there is a team out there willing to go above and beyond what the Yankees are comfortable with, there is no shame in letting Cano walk away. It may be hard in the beginning, but eventually, it will work out. 

Yankees team president Randy Levine has said as much already. He told ESPN New York that both parts of the deal Cano wants are sticking points for the team. 

We want Robbie back; we think Robbie is terrific. But we have no interest in doing any 10-year deals and no interest in paying $300 million to any player. Until he gets a little more realistic, we have nothing to talk about.

Look at what happened to the Cardinals after losing Pujols. It's not a strict apples-to-apples comparison because they had an advantage the Yankees currently don't with a deep farm system that was going to keep churning out talent at an alarming rate. 

But Pujols' departure also allowed the Cardinals to re-sign Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to very reasonable contract extensions that last half as long as Pujols' 10-year contract.

That's the kind of thinking every team should have. Most do because they can't afford to play on the same field of dreams the agents do, but the Yankees have been letting the players dictate moves for years. 

The Yankees aren't going to rebuild their team on the fly with prospects because they have problems that must be ironed out first. 

Top prospects like Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott all had poor seasons that left doubts about their future impact. Gary Sanchez has an All-Star-caliber bat, but questions about his ability to catch might hurt his ceiling. 

There aren't a lot of impact arms on the way. Rafael De Paula was the Yankees' breakout pitching prospect last year with a 96-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 64.1 innings at Low-A, but he is also 22 years old and struggled after moving up to High-A (6.06 ERA in 49.0 innings). 

Manny Banuelos will pitch in 2014 but is returning from Tommy John surgery, and it usually takes two full years before everything is as it was before the procedure. 

Even a non-prospect like Michael Pineda, who was acquired from Seattle two years ago, has yet to throw a pitch for the Yankees because of injuries. Who knows what he's going to be in 2014?

Cano's desire to become MLB's first $300 million player is admirable. With revenues in baseball increasing thanks to the new television contract signed last year, teams are going to be able to spend a bit more than normal. 

Even the Tampa Bay Rays, who are as poor as a professional sports team in this country can be, were able to re-sign Evan Longoria to a $100 million contract. 

There is a world of difference between what the Rays did, because Longoria just turned 27 at the time of extension, and what Cano wants.  

It's obvious Cano's representatives are feeling the pressure of trying to make him the highest-paid player in history. A report came out on Tuesday that his camp met with the New York Mets (via MLB.com). 

No one believes the Mets will spend the money needed to entice a player like Cano, nor should they at this juncture because they have a number of areas to take care of. General manager Sandy Alderson basically said as much in the MLB.com report. 

I had said last week that I didn't foresee contracts in the $100 million range for the Mets this offseason. I think that statement still pertains. On the other hand, we are committed to improving the team, and we will explore whatever possibilities arise  however remote the eventual outcome.

Nothing like fear tactics to spring the Yankees into action. It worked five years ago with Mark Teixeira, so why not try it again?

Of course, in order for fear to work, there has to be an actual threat Cano will leave. The Mets aren't that threat. There could be a few teams that get in on the bidding for the perennial MVP candidate, but we likely won't know who until the winter meetings. 

There are options out there for the Yankees to explore. Losing out on Cano might allow the Yankees to spend money on two or three players to upgrade, say, the outfield and starting rotation. 

We have seen what happens to this current iteration of the Yankees with Cano in the lineup. It is not a championship-caliber team and barely qualifies as a playoff-caliber team. 

Spreading resources across multiple areas can take New York from a borderline playoff team to a threat in October. That is the expectation for the Yankees every year. Reality set in last season, and another massive contract to an aging star will keep the slide going. 

An extension for Cano would go a long way towards getting the Yankees back in the headlines this offseason, but there is no shame in acknowledging that the situation in New York requires a different approach. 

Perhaps, the Yankees should look at their rivals in Boston to see what happens when you have financial freedom and don't get locked up in long-term contracts guaranteed to end badly. 


Note: All salary and contract information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 


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