By Ross Newhan
So, on another bucks busting day in baseball, what do we, you and the psychiatrists make of the 10 year, $240 million agreement that has lured Robinson Cano--the top player in a free agent market that continues to go bananas--away from the New York Yankees in favor of the, yes, Seattle Mariners?
How do you leave a legacy of pin stripes for a franchise that has become a pin cushion, losing 91, 87, 95 and 101 games over the last four years and failing to reach the playoffs since 2001?
What prompts the Mariners to offer the third biggest contract in baseball history--with little of encouragement to say about those others--at a time when they have been struggling to build from within?
And why would the Yankees, with holes everywhere, allow a second base hit machine of 40 plus doubles, 25 plus homers and .900 OPS annually to get away?
Well, there is enough here to confuse even the most knowledgeable answer man, but it is safe to offer some assumptions.
--Money speaks, of course, and it didn't take Jay-Z's rap or the negotiating sklll of co-agent Brodie Van Wegenen to convince Cano that the Mariners were offering about $70 million and three years more than the Yankees, and Cano didn't need his agents to figure out that if the Yankees were going to offer a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate of their own only about $17 million more than they just gave Jacoby Ellsbury they really don't appreciate or respect him that much.
--The Yankees will argue that (they have to) but then they are clearly determined to stay under the $189 million luxury tax thresehold and, having invested $153 million in Ellsbury and $85 million in catcher Brian McCann, they now re-bank Cano and have the flexibility to address an array of needs, possibly even pursuing Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka if he is posted. Brian Cashman started the process on Friday by re-signing pitcher Hideki Kuroda while closing in on Omar Infante to fill the Cano vacuum and, it is believed, continuing a pursuit of either Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo.
--Respect had to play into the Seattle equation as well. Attendance has dropped close to 1.5 million over the last six years, and the parade of clubhouse departures (Griffey, A-Rod, Big Unit, Beltre, for example) extends beyond that. Cano is 31. Mariner management obviously recognizes the long-term risk. Didn't the Angels give the same contract to Albert Pujols and have injuries claim him in Year 2? Didn't A-Rod leave for 10 years and a record $250 million only to have Texas dump the contract after three years, and now look at the mess the Yankees created with their 10 year extension. No one in the Mariner front office was born yesterday, but here's another team flush with TV billions and looking to restore a measure of local faith and excitement, hoping that some of the prospects who have been looking more like suspects can turn it around and a) thinking Cano will help them land another free agent like Choo or Nelson Cruz and b) thinking they can now take two or three of those "prospects" and possibly trade them for a pitcher of David Price's stature.
As it is, Cano is pretty much alone in a lineup lacking experienced protection (two Seattle veterans, Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales, are free agents), and there is no short portch for a left handed hitter in Safeco that there was in Yankee Stadium.
As it is, he will be spending at least six months in the fickle weather of Seattle, more than seven hours from his native Dominican, and flying more than 50,000 miles a year with a team that logs more air time than any other. He is also rich (richer, actually) beyond measure, and those are facts beyond assumptions regarding an otherwise confounding bit of business that finds Cano giving his regards to Broadway and saying hello to....Pike's Market?