They are laughing in Boston. They see the fallen Evil Empire in the Bronx spinning in desperation — letting the reliable production of Robbie Cano get away, overpaying a still-undefined commodity (Jacoby Ellsbury) who wasn’t going to be lathered with such riches by the Red Sox or any other team, scrambling at present to piece together what’s left of the free-agent market — and they chuckle at the pinstriped daze.
“Great news for us,” David Ortiz said over the weekend.
It was the Red Sox, after all, who mastered the brilliant paradigm last offseason of eschewing exorbitant acquisitions and dividing the money pie into seven cohesive, cost-efficient, high-character pieces. The result, after a memorable season of beards and Boston Strong unity, was the franchise’s third World Series championship in 10 years. By comparison, the Yankees, who’ve managed only one title the last 13 years, have resembled bloated and misguided simpletons. So they’ve approached the winter by taking on two front-office identities — preaching fiscal responsibility by passing on Cano and freeing the non-descript Mariners to pay him $240 million the next 10 years, then reverting to their traditional splurge mode by committing almost $300 million to Ellsbury, catcher Brian McCann, aging slugger Carlos Beltran and plug-in infielder Kelly Johnson. The Sons of Boss, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, are seemingly trying to be the Yankees AND the Red Sox in the same philosophical swoop.
Where is it getting them?
Yes, as the Yankees have sorely realized in the Alex Rodriguez debacle, long-term albatross deals sabotage baseball franchises in the 21st century. Cano most likely will break down at some point, yet he’ll still be owed $24 million in 2023, when he is 40. Albert Pujols already is damaged goods after only two years of his 10-year, $240-million contract with the Angels. Prince Fielder hasn’t been worth a $214-million expenditure, which is why the Tigers traded him to Texas with seven years remaining on his deal. Ryan Howard, Josh Hamilton, Matt Kemp — I can go on and on. Cano’s demise may not begin for five or six years, we only can hope for the Mariners, but be assured it will happen. In that sense, then, the Yankees were wise not to bite, particularly if Cano wasn’t getting along with manager Joe Girardi.
But when such a dramatic decision is made, a storied ballclub must be prepared to pounce with a better idea. Is this a better plan for Opening Day and the years beyond: 30-year-old Ellsbury, 30-year-old McCann and 36-year-old Beltran, all trying to stay healthy after injuries and surgeries? Cano was invaluable because of his reliability and offensive consistency. He was there, every night, a mainstay. Will the same be said about the new Yankees?
“This guy hurt us,” said Ortiz, King of Boston, while speaking of Cano’s departure on WEEI Radio. “He is the guy that, you’re never going to forget about him because he puts up some monster numbers. He puts up some monster numbers. Now let’s see how everything goes with him on the West Coast.”
Nor was Big Papi wowed by the Yankees’ new fiscal restraint. “That’s what the players are getting — young, talented players with the skills that he has, that’s what they’re getting,” Ortiz said. “I couldn’t believe the Yankees let that walk away. He’s the face, as long as he played for the Yankees, he was the face of that ballclub. He was backing up everybody.”
His point being, the Yankees spent decades under George Steinbrenner’s direction driving up the value of the franchise and brand to unprecedented levels. Now, they aren’t going to utilize those accrued resources, especially with Major League Baseball flush with cash like never before? I agree Cano was not a vintage Yankees legend who sold tickets and created Broadway sizzle. But I don’t see Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran doing any of that, either, and they’re costing a ton of money as well. Signing Ellsbury and McCann for the relative price of Cano — two for one — doesn’t mean they’ll be as productive and cost-effective in the long run as Cano.
Not that Cano is a big winner here either.
He loses too.
I hate to inform Jay Z as he toasts his first major contract as a sports agent, but there’s not as much to celebrate as he thinks. Yes, $240 million is quite a few dead presidents — a reference to his rap lyric, wink — but the idea behind this hip-hop magnate representing elite athletes was to maximize their commercial appeal far beyond ballparks and arenas.
When it comes to shoe endorsements, hanging out with the Jay Z crowd and having Rihanna on speed dial, Seattle might as well be Outer Mongolia. And Seattle is where Cano will make his mint. Last I looked, Seattle doesn’t have a 40-40 Club, but it does have a coffee stand on every corner so people can warm their bones in the rain. It’s possible Cano is going to fade away there, with a ballclub that hasn’t been relevant in eons in a town crazy in love — a reference to a Beyonce/Jay Z lyric, wink — with Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
In fact, an entertainment industry source says Scott Boras was spotted in an L.A. recording studio, recording his rap retort after triggering Cano’s departure from New York by coaxing the Yankees to sign his client, Ellsbury, to a deal worth a maximum $169 million. Remember when Jay Z fired his salvo at baseball’s most prominent agent — “Scott Boras, you over baby. Robinson Cano, you coming with me,” — in a song called “Crown” last summer? Boras, usually a jazz fan, stepped out and hip-hopped.
“Jay Z, hee hee. New York bucks trumps Starbucks.”
(You realize I am kidding.)
Despite the enormity of the contract, the third-largest in baseball history, this is indeed a lose-lose for Cano and the Yankees. Cano loved New York and wanted to stay, but the Yankees were offended by the initial October demand by Jay Z and partner Creative Artists Agency for Cano — an absurd $305 million — and chose to draw a financial line and hold firm. What complicated matters was the signing of Ellsbury, who still could blossom into a superstar but thus far hasn’t approached Cano’s level. That meant the Yankees weren’t going higher than $170 million for Cano, which would have been a humiliating compromise for Jay Z in his rookie high-stakes foray.
So, he saved face by courting the Mariners, who are desperate to reclaim any sort of niche in the Pacific Northwest, much less the American League. At 31, Cano is considered too old by smart teams who want no part of the long-term commitment. There was no market for Cano beyond the Yankees and Mariners.
The agent commission will be top dollar, certainly.
But Cano won’t be happy 2,500 miles away. There’s talk of augmenting Felix Hernandez in the rotation by assembling a package of prospects for David Price, the big prize in the trade marketplace at this week’s winter meetings. These are still the Seattle Mariners, though, and they’re still the fourth-best team in a potent AL West featuring the A’s, Rangers and Angels.
The question now is how the Yankees allocate the rest of the available money. One possibility is outfielder Shin Soo-Choo, who also is 31 and also is represented by Boras. Choo will command well above $100 million himself, meaning the Yankees might be investing around $430 million for Ellsbury, Choo, McCann and Beltran, none of whom will fill seats at mammoth Yankee Stadium or spike drooping YES Network ratings until the team proves it can contend.
In the end, who wins? Cano goes Hypeless in Seattle. The Yankees have uncertainty in the lineup. The Mariners risk a bad contract.
As Jay Z pockets another mini-fortune. There’s your winner, the damned prince of entertainment making another deal.
Ninety-nine problems, but the bank’s not one of them.