Other than Alex Rodriguez’s legal issues, has anything been handled worse this offseason than Robinson Cano’s contract negotiations?
The switch in agents from Scott Boras to Jay-Z hasn’t worked out so well. Oh, Cano will make a good amount of money before all is said and done, and he’ll end up saying he got exactly what he wanted. But not really. The $310 million figure that was thrown out there has done Cano a world of harm. This whole notion of marketing Cano hasn’t taken off. The Yankees didn’t buy it and the Mets, who also met with Jay-Z, didn’t buy it, either.
Remember when former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora exclaimed, “Playoffs!?” Now, we’re all saying, “Marketing!?” Think about it, with Cano, the Yankees’ television ratings plummeted on the YES Network. Attendance dropped. Cano jerseys didn’t sell very well. How popular can Cano be? Should he receive a deal greater than Rodriguez’s 10 years for $275 million? PEDs or not, Cano isn’t A-Rod. Should he get more than Mark Teixeira’s $180 million for eight years? Sure, you can make a case for that, considering he’s a second baseman who could eventually move to third, first, or even the outfield as he gets older.
Yankee fans should be excited about the 5-year, $85 million deal the Yankees just agreed to with catcher Brian McCann. With that lucrative deal, the amount of money the Yankees have to spend on Cano was also reduced.
Also, Cano’s reputation is taking a hit.
He’s being “marketed” as an entertainer as much as a ballplayer. Major league teams want ballplayers, not another pretty face who does commercials. Teams don’t care about that. They want to know their major investment in a player is going to mean 100 percent commitment to the field and the team.
That’s what Yankees president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman are committed to. So, when Levine says the Yankees have a Plan B, we believe him. The Yankees want Cano, but if he is being outlandish in his demands, then the Yankees are bigger than Cano. The team already has been burned by A-Rod’s deal, so they’re not about to get crazy with Cano.
While Dustin Pedroia left millions on the table with a team-friendly deal of eight years at $110 million, Cano isn’t twice the player (salary-wise) of Pedroia. Cano is also an excellent defender and hitter, with a better WAR than Pedroia, but worth more than twice the money?
And in this case, forget the sabermetrics. If you watch Pedroia every day, he’s an off-the-charts player doing things that can’t be quantified. If you could measure heart in dollars, Pedroia would be incredibly rich and Cano would pale in comparison, but the whole package?
Sure, Cano is a terrific player. But there are plenty of GMs who’d rather have Pedroia.
“Pedroia is all baseball,” said one National League GM. “He wakes up, lives it, breathes it, wants it. I think Cano does too, but not to Pedroia’s extent. That shows up on the field. Cano is a great player, but of the two I’ll take Pedroia any day of the week.”
A lot of baseball people share that sentiment. Cano hasn’t done his image any favors. Maybe Jay-Z is trying to shape him into an off-the-field superstar. It’s troubling that Cano wanted that so badly. He could have had Boras negotiate the biggest deal of his career. Instead, Cano is leaving it up to an entertainment agency that knows nothing about baseball.
“It’s been a turnoff,” said one American League GM. “Why would anyone go beyond five or six years? Sure, you can say you can move him to a different position at some point, but you’re paying him to be a second baseman. You just wonder where his head is.”
And that’s what the Yankees have to be thinking. Where is Cano’s head? So, Levine was right to throw down the gauntlet. Get real, or the Yankees will not be a bidder.
Some believe that the best Cano could get now would be a seven-year deal at $200 million. Not chump change by any means, but we don’t know if the Yankees are even thinking that much. While Rodriguez signed his extension three years ago, and revenue streams for teams have increased by 30 percent at least, Cano isn’t going to make the Yankees or any other team a lot of money. The Yankees are proof of that. He could boost attendance in select places, maybe even improve TV ratings if he led his team to the postseason, but Cano is not a player who puts people in the seats. So, what’s the end game?
There aren’t many executives who believe Cano won’t end up a Yankee when things finally do get real. But there are those who feel a team will jump in out of the blue and pluck him away. The suspects are the Tigers, Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Angels. There is more money out there than ever before, so there could be a team that gets crazy enough to make it happen.
In the end, baseball, not marketing, will land Cano a lucrative deal for not nearly as much as he wanted.
And that’s the reality.
David Ortiz’s comments may be the first signal
David Ortiz looks like he could easily play another two years, given the way he’s hitting. But you wonder if his comments at a news conference in the Dominican Republic last week might escalate into something the Red Sox dearly want to avoid — a contract dispute.
When Ortiz signed a two-year contract last winter, there was mutual agreement not to open up talks until the end of that deal, according to a major league source. Of course, Ortiz overcame heel issues to have one of the best offensive seasons in baseball. And he topped it off with an amazing postseason, being named World Series MVP.
Ortiz has become a better pure hitter as he’s gotten older. He rarely gets fooled and is one of the best guess hitters in the game because he can think along with the pitcher. It hasn’t reached the point of Barry Bonds, who was the greatest hitter in the game with the Giants, seeing perhaps one good pitch per at-bat and driving it out of the ballpark.
“He’s the closest thing I’ve seen to Bonds in a long time,” said one National League GM. “And I don’t mean steroids or PEDs or anything like that. I mean from a pure hitter and being the imposing figure he is. He’s an imposing guy. He’s scary at the plate in big situations. Right there with Miguel Cabrera. When you have a guy like this who excels in that role and is a devastating middle-of-the-order hitter still at his age, that’s quite an asset for the Red Sox.”
So, is Ortiz underpaid?
He may be. Any agreement not to reopen talks can be broken, but it doesn’t appear the Sox want to do that. Ortiz is feeling good about himself and he understands that at age 38, he’s going to have to agree to shorter contracts.
“You always think of Big Papi as a Red Sox and that he’ll always re-sign with them,” said the GM. “If he has another great season in 2014 and he’s out there as a free agent, teams will take their shot.’’
Apropos of nothing
1. Lost in the postseason shuffle was Ryan Kalish. Could he make the Red Sox’ roster with a strong spring training?
2. The Angels could still be a strong trade partner with the Red Sox even after the Peter Bourjos-David Freese deal. The Sox, who have an interest in first baseman Mike Trumbo, could be tempted on power reliever Kevin Jepsen. The Angels would love to get a starting pitcher.
3. The Tigers have position flexibility since the Prince Fielder deal. They could move Miguel Cabrera to first base or leave him at third and play Victor Martinez at first and rotate Cabrera and Martinez at DH. Carlos Beltran could still be in their sights, as could Curtis Granderson.
4. The Mets need to do more than sign Chris Young.
5. Three teams to watch with regards to trades and free agency over the next few weeks: the Rangers, Tigers, and Nationals. Could the Nationals be a big player for Jacoby Ellsbury? They are certainly going to weigh in on David Price. The Rangers will do something big for another hitter after their blockbuster Ian Kinsler-for-Fielder deal. They will also inquire about Price. The Tigers will also do something for another hitter, and will seek a closer, perhaps Joe Nathan or Brian Wilson.
6. Would the Cardinals give a young starting pitcher for J.J. Hardy and would the Orioles trade Hardy and move Manny Machado to short or sign another shortstop? Evidently both teams agreed it didn’t make sense. The Cardinals may be better off signing Stephen Drew. Don’t understand a Jhonny Peralta signing after he served his 50-game PED suspension.
7. Could people please stop saying or writing that Xander Bogaerts will sign a long-term deal with the Red Sox and tie up his arbitration years? Scott Boras is his agent, and he doesn’t do that.
8. Michael Weiner, who rose to executive director of the Players Association, was a wonderful guy who explained complicated things in a straightforward way. The players had a genuine regard for him, as did the media. We will miss him, gone far too soon at age 51.
9. The Cubs will not bid for Ellsbury.
Updates on nine
1. Dioner Navarro, C, free agent — Here’s what one talent evaluator had to say about the switch-hitting Navarro: “He’s great on a one-year or shorter-term deal. Problems are his weight, his work ethic, and flexibility behind the plate, so it gets a little scary on a multiyear deal. He can flat-out hit, so if you have the catch/throw guy, he’s not a bad complement to that.” Navarro hit .300 with 13 homers and 34 RBIs in 240 at-bats for the Cubs last season. From the left side, the former Ray hit .361 with a 1.123 OPS, and was .279 with seven homers and 24 RBIs in 179 at-bats from the right.
2. Mitch Moreland, 1B, Rangers — The Rangers have a history of first basemen moving on and creating new careers for themselves. The list includes Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Davis, and Justin Smoak. Now Moreland, who has tremendous raw power, seems to be available after the Rangers acquired Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. Moreland could be a future target for the Mets (if they deal Ike Davis), the Rays (always looking for a low-cost guy), or the Pirates (in need of a first baseman). Moreland has shown signs of being a possible break-out guy, but it hasn’t happened yet. The next team may benefit.
3. Matt Kemp, CF, Dodgers — Fascinating guy. Makes a lot of money, injury-prone, but with a world of talent. Several teams, including the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mariners, Yankees, and Rangers, have inquired. If healthy, and that’s a big if after two injury-filled seasons, Kemp, a righthanded hitter, could be lineup protection for David Ortiz. There’s a lot left on his deal, but the Dodgers could eat some of the money.
4. Joe Smith, RHP, free agent — The Angels got the cream of the set-up crop in agreeing to terms with Smith on a three-year deal that could pay him up to $15 million. With his down-under delivery, Smith fit a lot of teams including the Red Sox, but the Angels made an aggressive last-minute pitch. Over the last three seasons, Smith has appeared in 213 games with a WHIP of 1.157. Last season, lefties hit just .227 off of him. Three straight years of consistency is hard to find among relievers.
5. Brian Wilson, RHP, free agent — He was lights-out for the Dodgers at the end of 2013, but if he wants a situation where he could move into the closer role (Koji Uehara is 38), Boston might be a good place for the New Hampshire native. Wilson is drawing interest as a closer (Tigers, Mariners, A’s), but some teams are leery of anointing him based on the small sample size of 18 games (0.66 ERA) at the end of the year.
6. Jesse Crain, RHP, free agent — The Rays gambled by acquiring him late in the year, and Crain was never able to get healthy to help down the stretch. There were a few teams, including the Red Sox, that were about to pounce at the trading deadline, but all except the Rays backed off because of his shoulder issues. Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves was always a big Crain supporter in their days with the White Sox. We’ll see if the Red Sox try to pick him off.
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, free agent — Salty is still very much on the Twins’ radar as they try to replace Joe Mauer after his move to first base. Saltalamacchia could get a three-year deal in the $30 million range, which would seem to be a no-brainer for a team looking for a switch-hitting, power-hitting catcher at age 28. The teams who like him feel his throwing has improved, his righthanded hitting has improved, and his hitting approach has improved. It also makes sense for the Red Sox, who are saying they were quite pleased with their catching combination of Saltalamacchia and David Ross.
8. Bob McClure, pitching coach, Phillies — Two ex-Red Sox pitching coaches have resurfaced this offseason. Dave Wallace, who was the pitching coach in 2004 when the Red Sox won a championship, became pitching coach of the Orioles, and McClure will be the pitching coach under new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg after taking a year off following the 2012 season with Bobby Valentine.
McClure had opportunities to get back in the game last season but decided to step away. While Red Sox pitchers had off years under McClure, who was replaced at midseason, he maintained a tremendous reputation. Ditto Wallace, who worked in the Rangers’ and Braves’ systems since his departure from Boston.
9. Ricky Nolasco, RHP, free agent — A few teams, including the Twins and Blue Jays, are circling Nolasco, but nobody has been able to seal a deal. The free agent pitching market has yet to fully develop as teams are trying to get help via trades. The Red Sox have received several inquiries about their starting pitchers.
From the Bill Chuck files – “Last season, Koji Uehara held batters to a .130 batting average with the bases empty and .130 with runners on base.” Also, “New Royals pitcher Jason Vargas led the majors with 150 IPs last season without throwing a wild pitch. Jake Peavy was next with 144⅔ IPs.” And, “In 660 at-bats in 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury hit 32 homers. In the remaining 2,252 at-bats in his career, Ellsbury has hit 33 homers.” . . . Happy birthday, Jeff Plympton (48).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.