The Evil Empire has emerged once again, poaching the top Red Sox free agent away from Boston and signalling to the baseball world a desire to compete for a World Series in 2014.
When the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal was reported, per Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, baseball executives, media members and fans were floored. In a matter of two weeks, before the Winter Meetings had a chance to start, the Yankees spent over $240 million to fill their needs at catcher and outfield.
Yet, will all that money gone, a hole looms at second base. While the path for superstar Robinson Cano to return to the Bronx has not been destroyed, it's on life support.
Over the last month, the contract negotiations between the Yankees and Cano's agents, led by Jay-Z and Brodie Van Wagenen, have been an exercise in futility. While the team is holding steadfast in their attempt to re-sign the 31-year-old hitting machine to a contract below $200 million, the Cano camp is busy having dinner with the Mets, desperately trying to drum up interest from another big-market team and floating figures north of $250 million, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post.
In essence, the Yankees have dared Cano to beat their offer, along with actually taking more money to play away from the media capital of the world. In response, Cano's camp has showed uncanny patience, willing to let the Yankees offseason plan play out. Now, with McCann and Ellsbury in tow, the Yankees are putting their money where their mouth has been all offseason.
If Cano doesn't agree to the value that Brian Cashman has placed on him, the Yankees will move on to fill other needs.
Now, what seemed like a formality—Cano's ultimate return to New York—when the offseason began has become a major question mark that will ultimately shape the future of multiple organizations.
According to baseball insiders, including Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, Jon Morosi of Fox Sports and Ken Davidoff and of The New York Post, Cano's next destination could still be New York, but it's far from a slam dunk.
As Davidoff pointed out in his latest column, the Seattle Mariners, emerging as the big-market team willing to push the Yankees for Cano, are desperate. If they are desperate enough to bid over $200 million for the second baseman, smart money points to Cano fleeing to the Pacific Northwest. Per Davidoff's column:
So if the Mariners, profoundly desperate for offensive production, offered, say, eight years and $214 million for Cano? Another $44 million guaranteed, when Jay-Z is trying to establish himself as a force in athlete representation?
On the other hand, Fox Sports' Morosi still pegs Cano to land back in New York, citing the need, despite the McCann and Ellsbury signings, in the Yankees lineup for a hitter of Cano's caliber and skepticism around New York's self-mandate to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. Per Morosi's column:
The Ellsbury signing won’t prevent Cano from re-signing with the Yankees. In fact, that remains the likeliest outcome — particularly now that the Yankees seem to have remembered that they are the Yankees and dispensed (in deed, if not word) with this claptrap about a $189 million spending limit.
While money, years and tax ramifications are the driving force behind every lucrative, long-term contract in baseball, there is another score to settle here. In the span of a few hours on Tuesday evening, the Yankees aligned themselves with Scott Boras, the ex-agent for Cano. With Boras representing Ellsbury, retaliation came in the form of $153 million for an outside player.
Yes, the elephant in the room now becomes Cano's feelings toward the Yankees. As he tries to become a name brand, and, as Brian Cashman stated during his season-ending press conference, the first Dominican born player to be immortalized in Monument Park, a return to the Yankees felt inevitable.
In the aftermath of Ellsbury's agreement, in which the Yankees offered an outside player, with a long, checkered injury history, almost as much as their homegrown star, Cano could be upset. If he feels slighted, accepting more money from the Seattle Mariners becomes a more realistic proposition.
It's hard to believe that Cano wants to leave New York. It's even harder to believe the Yankees want to see their best player—a distinction that doesn't change with the arrival of McCann or Ellsbury—walk away at the peak of his career.
|Ellsbury vs. Cano (2008-2013|
With less than a week left before the Winter Meetings start, the biggest and best free agent on the market is at a crossroads.
If Robinson Cano returns to the Yankees, he and his new agency clearly lost the negotiations, overvalued his place among baseball's hierarchy and missed out on a chance to become one of the highest-paid players in the history of baseball.
But if Robinson Cano walks away from New York, possibly to the anonymity of Seattle and the directionless Mariners, the Yankees will miss his impact bat. Holding a firm line is a critical aspect of negotiating, but unless the Yankees blink and throw away years of luxury tax work, they are preparing to let a future Hall of Fame hitter walk away.
When Jacoby Ellsbury is celebrated with a press conference in the Bronx, it won't represent the straw that broke the camel's back in the Cano talks, but it could be the symbol of the strategy that allowed him to walk away.
Did the Ellsbury signing cost the Yankees Robinson Cano?