As Spring Training enters its second week in Major League Baseball, there are more signs pointing to the New York Yankees keeping second baseman Robinson Cano for the long term. The four-time All-Star is entering the last season of his contract and is looking to bank a huge deal in the offseason. Despite the Yankees’ insistence on keeping their 2014 payroll under $189 million and their hesitance on handing out a long-term deal because of the debacle their 10-year deal with Alex Rodriguez has turned into, circumstances around baseball are making it very likely that Cano stays with the Yankees.
First, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has already spoken to Cano’s agent, Scott Boras, twice during spring training to discuss an extension for the second baseman. This goes against the Yankees policy of extending player contracts until current deals have ended. They made Derek Jeter wait until after his last contract was over after the 2010 season to discuss his new deal, even daring the team captain to look for a better deal from other clubs.
Manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman are also entering the final year of their respective deals and there have been no talks of extending their contracts. However, after the 2011 season, the Yankees agreed to rework the contract of ace C.C. Sabathia after the star pitcher opted out of his first Yankees deal. Plus, just discussing an extension for Cano is major for a team that never talks about extending their own players.
Secondly, even with the Yankees wanting to stay under $189 million in payroll for 2014, that doesn’t mean Cano can not get a big deal. Currently, the Yankees have $81.6 million in salary commitments for the 2014 season. He could be signed to a contract that pays him $25 million annually and the team will still be $82.4 million under the $189 million threshold. While decisions would have to be made on keeping starting pitcher Phil Hughes and Jeter, who both are also due to hit free agency after 2013, and getting cheaper alternatives like prospects or low-price free agents to fill out the roster, Cano can get his money and the Yankees can keep within their payroll plan.
Thirdly, the Yankees’ plan of staying under the $189 million threshold for the 2014 season to reset their luxury tax rate and once again go to their free spending ways for the 2015 season has already taken some hits. Felix Hernandez, the ace starter of the Seattle Mariners, was supposed to be one of those stars the Yankees were going to pursue at the conclusion of the 2014 season. However, Hernandez has decided to stay with the Mariners for the foreseeable future, signing a seven-year extension with the club worth $175 million last week.
The other two big name pitchers also in line to be free agents after 2014 are Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers. While anything can happen in baseball in terms of players signing with other teams (such as Albert Pujols leaving the St. Louis Cardinals despite playing there for 11 seasons and winning two World Series titles), it’s hard to see the Tigers and Dodgers not signing their two aces.
The Tigers have had no problems handing out big money deals, evidenced by their signing of Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal worth $214 million after the 2011 season, their extension with Miguel Cabrera for eight years and $153 million prior to the 2008 season and their signing of Victor Martinez to a four-year deal worth $50 million in the offseason of 2010.
As for the Dodgers, their new ownership, led by basketball great Magic Johnson and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten, has not been scared to spend, taking on about $265 million in salary in their trade with the Boston Red Sox last summer for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. They also signed starting pitcher Zach Greinke to a six-year deal worth $158 million this past offseason.
Another future free agent target for the Yankees basically took himself off their with list today. Tampa Bay Rays ace and 2012 American League Cy Young winner David Price said in an interview today that he couldn’t see himself signing a long-term deal to play in the Bronx because of the Yankees’ “old school rules.” Price is due to become a free agent after the 2015 season.
So with the top four pitching free agent targets after 2014 basically out of their reach, the Yankees still have to spend their money. That could mean good news and many dollar signs for Cano.