Having mastered the music world, marriage, fatherhood, clothing lines and custom booze, Jay-Z, the Midas of the new millennium, is venturing into a world far more cutthroat than anything he ever saw in the Marcy Projects: the agent business.
And the New York Yankees couldn’t be happier. Because the move almost ensures Robinson Cano isn't going anywhere.
The star second baseman left agent Scott Boras to join the new collaboration between Jay-Z's new Roc Nation Sports arm and its partner, the powerful Creative Artists Agency. And while Jay-Z will grab the headlines for his presence in the deal, far more important is CAA's poaching of Cano and what it portends for his future.
Quite simply: CAA encourages contract extensions, Boras reveres free agency.
A look at CAA's client list shows nearly every big-name player it represents agrees to an extension before hitting free agency. Buster Posey signed an eight-year deal this week. Twice Ryan Braun has re-upped with Milwaukee. Same for Ryan Howard in Philadelphia. Plus Matt Cain, Ryan Zimmerman, Andre Ethier, Adam Jones, John Danks, Roy Halladay, Jake Peavy, Grady Sizemore and Denard Span. Only Jason Bay, Mark Buehrle and Dan Haren have hit free agency, and Matt Garza, Corey Hart and Phil Hughes could do the same this year.
The Yankees understand the danger in letting Cano reach free agency, particularly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and even New York Mets lurking with $200 million ready to throw his way. The 30-year-old Cano, a perennial MVP candidate, is the last star everyday player to come through the Yankees' farm system and considered by the team the best candidate to transition them from the Derek Jeter era into whatever the future holds.
With Mark Teixeira out indefinitely due to a wrist injury, CC Sabathia's velocity down perilously in his first start, and Alex Rodriguez not expected back for who knows how long following hip surgery, the three crazy-dollar deals couldn't look worse for New York at the moment. Paying players absurd dollars on the free-agent market is, well, absurd. It's just the reality for a team without a farm system that is expected to play savior.
So to have this unexpected windfall in Jay-Z and Brodie Van Wagenen, the CAA agent who will do the negotiating, is a nice break for a Yankees team that desperately needed one. The prospect of negotiating with Boras, seen by plenty as a monetary mercenary, was unappealing even if the Yankees had spent half a billion dollars on his clients in the past.
Whether this switch amounts to something bigger than Jay-Z's scant ownership in the Nets will be the greater upshot of this partnership. He did, after all, once rap: "I'm not a businessman. I'm a business, man." Athletes look at Jay-Z and see an impresario, the sort of person who bridges the entertainment and corporate worlds seamlessly, and there is great allure in aligning themselves similarly, even if similar opportunities are few and far between.
It's not like Robinson Cano is going to end up a pitchman for national brands because of this deal. No, it's more that Cano, like so many others, wants to lease Jay's cool.
Really, that's what Jay-Z does: makes people cooler strictly by his association. Show up at Nets games? Suddenly they're cool. Drink a particular type of vodka? Get it for the party this weekend. The man says he made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can, and even if Derek Jeter might argue, the point is well-taken.
Even if Jay-Z wants to extend his empire to sports, it's still simply a piece of his much greater whole, which makes CAA's presence paramount. With Boras, Cano had the single-best agent at extracting the single-best contract. He has lost some big names in recent years – A-Rod, Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Carlos Beltran, Edwin Jackson – and got less than expected for Kyle Lohse and Michael Bourn this offseason. Still, he is the Jay-Z of baseball agents – the king, the sultan, the one-man empire. And if this was a shot across the bow from Jay-Z and CAA, it almost ensures the already dirty agent game will only get dirtier.
For the Yankees, such behind-the-scenes machinations matter not. Barring something unexpected, Robinson Cano is going to be a Yankee for a long time, maybe forever.
The Yankees have 99 problems. Thanks to Jay-Z, Robinson Cano ain't one.
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