COMMENTARY | Hal Steinbrenner made instant headlines when he told reporters that the New York Yankees have talked to Robinson Cano's agent about a significant long-term contract for the All-Star second baseman.
The move represents a shift for the Yankees. Steinbrenner's father rarely discussed contract extensions with players and was notorious for not even offering players' incentive-laden contracts. A player was paid to pay, went George Steinbrenner's thinking, and for the most part, it worked.
According to the New York Post, Steinbrenner told a handful of reporters that the team told agent Scott Boras "what a great Yankee [Cano] has been and we hope he continues his career here for a long time to come. We indicated to him on a very preliminary basis that we were willing to consider a significant long-term contract."
But with the looming luxury tax and the team's plan to cut its 2014 payroll to under $189 million, which Steinbrenner reiterated at the beginning of spring training, how can the New York Yankees afford Robinson Cano? Actually, the real question is: How can the Yankees afford not to have Cano?
Cano, 30, batted .313 with 33 home runs, 94 RBIs and had a.929 OPS last year. He sports a.308 career average and for the past four seasons, has average close to 30 home runs and 100 RBIs per season. Plus, his defense is considered well above average.
For the Yankees, a long-term deal may actually help the team's efforts when it comes to reducing the team's payroll. For luxury tax calculations, a player's average annual salary is used. Therefore, if the team wanted to sign Cano to a 10-year deal, as opposed to, say, a 6-year deal, the average annual salary would likely be reduced.
Cano is under contract this season for $15 million, thanks to a team option written into his last contract. Going forward, Boras is likely to ask for more than one and half times that. (The Cincinnati Reds are paying Joey Votto an average of $22.5 million a year for 10 years and Albert Pujols is getting an average of $24 million for the same period.)
Currently, the Yankees have about $80 million in "average annual salary" committed to four players in 2014: Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million), Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million), C.C. Sabathia ($24.4 million), and Ichiro Suzuki ($6.5 million). If Derek Jeter picks up his player for that season, the figure goes up to about $95 million, still enough room to sign Cano on for an average of more than $25 million per year.
Surrounding such a group with other players while staying below the luxury tax threshold would be difficult because, even if the team signed Cano, getting the team's payroll under $189 million should remain Brian Cashman's goal.
As I've previously explained, the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association upped the luxury tax to 50 percent for perennial repeat offenders beginning in 2014. (In other words, for every $1 spent in team payroll over $189 million, the Yankees' true cost would be $1.50.) However, the agreement allows for the Yankees to get a reprieve if the team stays below the luxury tax threshold of $189 million for 2014.
Howard Z. Unger is a freelance journalist in Brooklyn, New York. For the past 15 years, he has written about sports, media, and popular culture. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, New York Post, and New York Times.