The winter spending spree for Major League Baseball teams has begun earlier than expected, but the top free agent on the market, Robinson Cano, remains in limbo.
It's not a surprise that Cano is still out there. When you are asking for $300 million and Jay-Z is trying to brand you as the next Michael Jordan, finding a team willing and able to spend that kind of money is going to be difficult.
Usually, the top free agents don't sign until the Winter Meetings, which take place this year from Dec. 9-12, because that's when agents can sit down face-to-face with multiple teams in hopes of igniting a bidding war.
However, while that seems to be Cano's strategy this year, it appears as though waiting might be the worst thing he can do.
Cano's representatives have said he isn't going to make a quick decision, but will instead wait for the deal he wants no matter how long it takes (via John Harper of the New York Daily News).
"He’s ready for this to go past Christmas, into January if necessary," a person close to Cano said. "He’s been told all along that it could take time for a market to develop for him, and he’s fine with that."
While Cano is busy looking to become the highest-paid player in baseball history, his fellow free agents have started to negotiate and sign contracts.
Some of this could be teams identifying needs and wanting to fill them as soon as possible, so they can use the Winter Meetings for trades or smaller moves instead of hoping to get everything done all at once.
Another factor could be free agents have gotten smarter to the market. In past years, we would see players wait around for the biggest deals, which causes teams to look at alternative options and leaves the player out in the cold until late December or early January.
This is more often true for players with draft compensation attached, like Michael Bourn last year, but it can be a burden for anyone if the market winds shift. Prince Fielder was one of the premier free agents two years ago, yet no one came forward with a good enough offer until Detroit in late January.
Not only does Cano have to contend with a desire to wait and see if the New York Yankees, or some other team, will meet his demands, but he is also now forced to watch the team he's played his entire career for make other moves.
Brian McCann agreed to a five-year, $85 million contract over the weekend to become New York's starting catcher. Signing with the Yankees wasn't a surprise because they needed an upgrade at the position, but because it appeared to come together so quickly was.
Last year, for instance, the first big free-agent deal was B.J. Upton's five-year, $75 million contract with the Atlanta Braves on Nov. 28. Big moves happening around Thanksgiving aren't the norm.
It took Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke until the middle of December last year to sign with the Angels and Dodgers, respectively.
Following McCann on the early-signing train was Jhonny Peralta, who got four years and $53 million from the St. Louis Cardinals.
There are two big fish remaining in the free-agent pond after Cano: Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. They seem likely to wait until the Winter Meetings to sign new contracts, but if one or both of them finds a home before Cano, you will be able to see the sweat beading on the All-Star second baseman's forehead.
Even with McCann in the fold, the Yankees still aren't done looking at the market to upgrade their roster.
Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reported that the Yankees have turned their attention to outfielder Carlos Beltran.
According to sources, the Yankees have set Beltran as their No. 1 target while they wait to reignite talks with Robinson Cano, for Hiroki Kuroda to decide whether he wants to return next season and for the Japanese posting system to be hammered out so righthander Masahiro Tanaka can be made available.
Even though Feinsand points out the Yankees will wait to "reignite talks" with Cano, the fact that they are letting the rest of the league have a shot at him while they turn their attention elsewhere is interesting.
No one expects Cano to leave New York. When you are represented by Jay-Z and your people are talking about making you the biggest star in sports, leaving that particular market doesn't seem likely.
Cano's representatives did cause a stir when Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reported they had a secret meeting with the Mets, but the idea of the "other" New York team being able or willing to pay Cano in the franchise's current state seems slim.
To the Yankees' credit, they didn't take the bait by making a panic offer after that report came out. Team president Randy Levine told Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York he wants the 31-year-old back but not at his current asking price.
"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," Levine said. "Until he gets a little more realistic, we have nothing to talk about."
All of this shows an understanding the Yankees have about what they want to do and the potential market for Cano.
There are no big-market teams out there for him right now. Boston has Dustin Pedroia locked into second base for eight years. Detroit just traded for Ian Kinsler. The Mets don't have the money, nor are they in a position where one big free agent makes them a contender.
The Angels need starting pitching more than another over-30 slugger. The Cubs are still rebuilding their farm system and have no need to spend $200-plus million on one player.
Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, who love to hand out money any way they can, don't appear to have enough in the pot for Cano with Clayton Kershaw rapidly approaching free agency.
The combination of Yankees rationale and lack of options hurts any leverage Cano hopes to have.
It's always possible some team out there jumps into the mix—the popular "mystery team"—but Cano is only hurting himself the deeper into the winter he goes without getting serious in negotiations.
Teams aren't going to wait for you to make your move. They have an agenda of their own, and when an opportunity presents itself, they are going to jump on it.
Cano's best course of action will be to start talking with teams, find a proper jumping-off point for a contract and take it from there. Don't have Jay-Z come out saying a $300 million contract is going to get it done.
If that's the case, it's going to be a long, lonely holiday season for Robinson Cano.
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