- Last Updated: 11:53 AM, February 20, 2013
- Posted: 2:31 AM, February 20, 2013
TAMPA — Hal Steinbrenner emerged from a closed-door meeting yesterday with Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi to state the Yankees are willing to make a “significant long-term contract” offer to retain Robinson Cano.
Think of this like a heavyweight throwing a feel-‘em-out jab in the early rounds. Because this negotiation is nothing if not a battle of heavyweights. Biggest agent (Scott Boras). Biggest franchise (Yankees). One of the greatest players in the world (Cano).
As previous encounters in this genre have demonstrated, we are merely in the rhetoric phase. Both sides will profess love for the other to try to keep the temperature down and win the public relations battle.
Nevertheless, they will project inflexibility in their financial positions and a willingness to divorce if necessary as a way to make the other side flinch first. If history is our guide, no one should expect any flinching for quite a while.
Here is an educated guess on the early rounds: The Yanks will show willingness to pay Cano top-market dollars, but limit the length of an extension (think seven years in the $170 million-to-$175 million range) while Boras will counter Cano is a franchise player who should fall into the Joey Votto (10 years at $225 million)/Albert Pujols (10 years at $240 million) realm.
Can that gap be bridged between now and November when Cano will become a free agent? I would put the chances of it occurring in spring training at near zero and during the season at no more than 10 percent.
And, really, the key issues now are what we don’t know publicly:
1. Are the Yankees really feeling so burned by Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million monstrosity (negotiated with Boras) they just will not do those kinds of terms again any time soon? Or, ultimately, will dollars be damned because the organization will never risk hurting the brand by allowing a homegrown star in his prime to leave?
2. Has Cano unleashed Boras to get him the last penny — which could lead him out of town — or has he told his agent to push and prod the Yankees to their top dollar, but at the end to keep him in pinstripes because being a career-long Yankee matters to Cano now and in retirement more than anything?
3. Does Boras really believe there is Votto/Pujols money out there for Cano or is he merely floating that as a mechanism to nudge the Yanks to where he believes the top of the market will be — perhaps that seven-year number — but do it now as a way to get Cano to be treated like a free agent before free agency.
Again, with history as our guide, Boras almost always takes his elite players to free agency and lets open bidding determine a true price. And he will be emboldened since he has made the Yankees blink in the past.
Remember, the Yanks said they would not go beyond five years with Bernie Williams after the 1998 campaign, Boras got Boston to bid seven years, Bernie made a personal appeal to George Steinbrenner and The Boss capitulated to give what was then the largest contract in Yankee history (seven years, $87.5 million).
The Yanks said they would never negotiate with A-Rod if he opted out of his contract following the 2007 season, A-Rod eventually made a personal appeal to Hank Steinbrenner and Boras negotiated the largest contract in North American team sports history.
Cashman advised his bosses not to sign reliever Rafael Soriano, Hal Steinbrenner became concerned the Red Sox were building a powerhouse by obtaining Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and Hal gave Boras the largest payday ever for a set-up man.
So the Boras playbook probably includes get a Yankees nemesis, such as the Mets, involved, arrange a heart-to-heart between Cano and Hal, and wait for the cha-ching.
But there is this: Two offseasons ago, Hal orchestrated a get-tough negotiation with Derek Jeter, and if the Yanks can get nasty and rather inflexible with Jeter, they certainly can do the same with Cano.
In addition, Hal is less impulsive than his father or brother, and more data driven. And the data shows second basemen age particularly poorly. In the last half century, Jeff Kent, Joe Morgan, Lou Whitaker and, to a lesser degree, Bobby Grich are the only second basemen to remain high-end performers into their late 30s.
Consider that data part of the jabbing that will go on for quite a while now as these heavyweights circle each other and look for a knockout.