NEW YORK — The warning was delivered to Robinson Cano two weeks ago from a midtown Manhattan office: Unless he reduced his demands significantly, there was nothing more for the Yankees to talk about.
Club president Randy Levine was speaking on behalf of the organization that day, stating that the team was not going to wait for the free-agent second baseman’s asking price to come down. The Yankees were talking to other free agents, and they were ready to get signatures on dotted lines.
It wasn’t a bluff. The Yanks are back to their spending ways, having committed $238 million to secure Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, making Ellsbury the game’s third-highest-paid outfielder and giving McCann the most lucrative contract ever for a free-agent catcher.
A news conference is scheduled to be held at Yankee Stadium on Thursday to introduce McCann, and it would not be a surprise to see Ellsbury appear at the podium with him. The Yankees promise that they are not finished spending, but will there be enough room in their budget to make Cano happy?
If not, Cano seems to have options. The New York Post reported that Cano’s representatives have popped up in Seattle, meeting with the Mariners — a club with payroll to spend and a desire to add an impact bat.
“The meeting went very well,” an industry source told the newspaper.
Yanks officials have said all along that they want to retain Cano, but not at any price. The organization refuses to move much further off its original offer of a seven-year deal worth approximately $160 million to $170 million, leaving a gap of nearly $100 million between the sides.
Through his representatives — veteran agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Sports on the baseball side, and Jay-Z and his Roc Nation Sports venture on the marketing side — Cano originally asked for a 10-year deal worth in excess of $305 million, a proposal that was met with crickets from the Yankees.
In recent discussions, including a face-to-face talk before Thanksgiving that included Levine and general manager Brian Cashman (but not Cano), Cano’s camp came down slightly from that number. The asking price is still high, reported to be nine years and $260 million.
Cashman said recently that Cano “loves the money” and that the team believes he may well go to the highest bidder. Cashman has talked about the allure of Monument Park and being a lifetime Yankee, but if Cano is intent on scoring a deal worth more than $200 million, he may have to find it in another city.
And where could that be? Hours before the Ellsbury developments broke, ESPN reported that the Mariners were stepping up as a major player for Cano’s services, perhaps ready to offer a deal in the range of eight years and $200 million. However, there is some skepticism on the part of those who suspect Seattle’s interest may have been overstated.
The Rangers could still be a dark horse if they choose to trade away middle infielders Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar. The Mets entertained Cano’s people at a Manhattan hotel last month and took a look at their PowerPoint presentations, but aren’t interested in giving out $100 million contracts.
The Tigers promise that they are set at second base with new acquisition Ian Kinsler, and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said on Wednesday that his club is fine going forward with players like Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon at the position.
“We’ve got a good bunch of Minor League prospects down there,” Rizzo said on MLB Network. “None of them are Robinson Cano at this point, but we’re happy and satisfied with what we’ve got at second base.”
Even with the Ellsbury and McCann signings, it is conceivable that the Yanks’ goal of a $189 million payroll could still be in play. But it will be a challenge to fill all of their other needs while also stuffing a Cano deal into the budget.
Including estimates for arbitration-eligible players and approximately $11 million more for pension and insurance fees, an unofficial count of the Yankees’ payroll toward the luxury tax presently sits close to $168 million, with more needs to fill.
They still want to add 400 innings to the starting rotation — Hiroki Kuroda has a standing offer, believed to be a one-year deal at $15 million or $16 million — and the Yanks are keeping a close eye on the posting developments regarding Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka.
Cashman would also like to upgrade the bullpen and the left side of the infield. The Yankees have already signed shortstop Brendan Ryan and are reportedly close to a deal with second baseman Kelly Johnson.
Add in the wild card of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who doesn’t really represent a need right now, but Boras was able to sell Ellsbury to the Bombers. If Choo somehow appears in right field, it would push Alfonso Soriano to designated hitter and close the door for Cano’s return.
Signing two starters alone might nudge the Yankees over the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, so Alex Rodriguez‘s situation remains a huge variable. If Rodriguez’s suspension is upheld for all of 2014, the Yanks’ payroll hit on Rodriguez would dip from $27.5 million to $2.5 million.
Perhaps that will be enough for the Yankees to do most of their shopping and grab Cano, too. You can then sketch a scenario in which the Yanks add McCann, Ellsbury, Kuroda and Cano while still staying under $189 million.
Can Cano wait that long? Will the Yankees? No one has doubted that Cano will be paid handsomely, one way or another, but the team name in the upper left-hand corner of those future paychecks suddenly appears much blurrier.