If Robinson Cano wants a contract for more than $200 million, he's not going to be wearing pinstripes next season.
Long baseball's spending leviathan, the New York Yankees are adamant their stance in negotiations with the star second baseman is not pure posturing, sources told Yahoo Sports. Despite Cano's request for a nine-year, $252 million deal in the parties' last meeting, the Yankees do not believe Cano is worth the highest average annual value in the game and are sticking hard by a seven-year, $160 million offer that they tell executives and agents may have $15 million of wiggle room.
"They are not going to go to $200 million," one executive familiar with the Yankees' plans said. "Period."
In taking a hard line, the Yankees risk losing the best player from an 85-win team that missed the postseason. It would represent a fundamental shift in their willingness to lavish players with ultra-long-term deals, a course of business that led to the dreadful 10-year Alex Rodriguez contract and an eight-year Mark Teixeira deal with diminishing returns.
While the depth of New York's talks with outfielder Carlos Beltran have been overstated, the Yankees' flirtation with others on the free-agent market could put more pressure on Cano's representatives, Jay Z and Brodie Van Wagenen. The Yankees continue to pursue outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, infielder and potential Cano replacement Omar Infante and a number of pitchers, including closer Joe Nathan. The Yankees have a standing offer out to starter Hiroki Kuroda, who is deciding whether he wants to return to New York or pitch in Japan. If Cano leaves, sources said they plan to sign an outfielder, two pitchers and a new second baseman. Should Cano return, they may have to decide between an outfielder and a second pitcher if they want to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.
For now, the Yankees' holdup with Cano is two-fold. As the prime free agent available this offseason, he wants big years and big money. Generally, elite players get a choice: big years or big money. The Yankees aren't inclined to give him either – the former because they've been burned and the latter because they aren't convinced he's as good of a player as those with AAVs in the range he's looking.
Rodriguez, the highest-paid player at $27.5 million a year, had won a pair of MVPs with the Yankees and was among the best three players in the game. The next-highest free-agent deals were former MVP Josh Hamilton for $25 million a year (only five years), a pair of pitchers (Zack Greinke and Cliff Lee, both Cy Young winners, in the $24 million range), Albert Pujols ($24 million for 10 years, another mess of a deal) and Prince Fielder ($23.8 million at 28 years old).
Among the big-money contract extensions, Justin Verlander's $25.7 million deal came on the heels of a second straight Cy Young-caliber season, Felix Hernandez's $25 million with a Cy Young on his resume and Ryan Howard's $25 million-a-year deal acting as prince to A-Rod's and Pujols' king and queen of bad deals.
All of which is not to say that a massive deal is predicated upon an award-laden resume or a favorable age. Just that Jay Z and Van Wagenen would need to set a new precedent to get that sort of deal for Cano.
Whether a team outside of New York is prepared to offer as much might be the biggest question of all, because at the very least it would force the Yankees to reconsider their offer. The Yankees do not believe such an offer has materialized yet, though that could be due to Cano's team slow-playing the offseason. The only confirmed meeting was with New York Mets officials, and that was more a get-to-know-you session with the agents than the beginning of a serious courtship.
Certainly a market could emerge if Cano's price sits near $200 million. While neither Los Angeles team is intent on pursuing Cano, a cheaper Cano could excite them. Same goes for Detroit or Texas. More likely are two teams officials believe pose the biggest threats: the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals.
Seattle makes more sense because of a distinct need for an impact player and the financial wherewithal to do so. Though the Nationals do not need a second baseman – Anthony Rendon is penciled in there – he could move to his natural position at third base, allowing Ryan Zimmerman to shift to first and put Adam LaRoche as a cheap trade-market alternative for a surprising number of teams with first-base and DH needs. With a looming extension for Jordan Zimmermann and a massive pact for Bryce Harper possible, the question is whether Nationals owner Ted Lerner would extend his purse strings accordingly.
It's not like Cano is the sort of marketing machine his team has portrayed him as in meetings with the Yankees and Mets. Beyond setting his price tag at more than $300 million in during-the-season negotiations, the biggest mistake thus far has been emphasizing the off-field exploits of Cano when reality says otherwise.
He didn't stem hemorrhaging ticket sales or TV ratings during the Yankees' down year. His jersey wasn't exactly jumping off shelves; it ranked 19th in sales this season – and fifth in New York, behind Mariano Rivera, Matt Harvey, Derek Jeter and David Wright.
"We're not the Brooklyn Nets," one Yankees official said. "We don't need Jay Z's marketing expertise."
The Yankees like to say that Dustin Pedroia re-signed with Boston for $110 million and Wright with the Mets for $138 million, but there is a difference: Cano is a free agent, and a premium exists with those free agents, even if New York is where he wants to be. And it is. Cano told friends in the Dominican Republic this season that he would re-sign with the Yankees, though perhaps he was expecting the dollar figure to be closer to the $200 million-plus that at one point the Yankees were believed to be willing to offer.
Not anymore. Not in this market, not under these circumstances and, unless something drastic happens, not at all.