New York Yankees southpaw CC Sabathia signed with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports on Thursday, becoming the second Yankee to do so. Former teammate Robinson Cano was the agency’s first athlete client, and his new representation came through by negotiating a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners.
While the financial outcome was a good one, the Cano negotiations weren’t exactly smooth. Initially, Cano’s camp put word out that he was looking for a 10-year deal worth at least $300 million. This would have been the largest contract in baseball history – a bit bold, if you ask me. Perhaps we’ll never know what Cano himself really wanted. He certainly had a lot of reasons to stay in New York and remain a Yankee.
It almost played out that way. Jay Z was thought to have overplayed his hand with Seattle, a team that emerged as the only other suitor for Cano late in the game. Just one day after Jay Z reportedly demanded $252 million for 10 years and perhaps alienated the Mariners, news broke of the $240 million signing. So was it great negotiating or did Jay Z get lucky? The jury is still out on that one, but either way, Cano is a very rich man.
Jay Z teamed up with CAA to form the athlete representation arm of his agency last year. Other clients include Kevin Durant, Geno Smith, Skylar Diggins and Victor Cruz. So far, Jay Z seems to be partial to New York athletes, but perhaps that is related to part of his agency’s overall strategic plan. According to Forbes, the differentiating quality of Roc Nation is supposedly its ability to connect athletes with brands and enhance their endorsement earning potential. The New York market is certainly conducive to that line of thinking.
So why did Sabathia make the switch? His former representatives from the Legacy Agency did a fine job of securing him the most lucrative contract ever for a pitcher (at the time) back in 2008. That deal, along with an extension signed in 2011, will keep Sabathia in pinstripes through 2016 at minimum, with a vesting option for 2017.
The switch could be about Roc Nation’s promise to bolster his presence as a brand endorser, but I suspect it has more to do with security on the back end of his career.
Sabathia will be 36 at the end of the 2016 season and undoubtedly looking to secure a final contract to close out his career. Questions about his performance are already looming, and he could be worried about his job security after this contract is up. The Cy Young award winner went just 14-13 last season with a 4.78 ERA and famously lost at least two mph off of his fastball.
Despite the differences in age and situation, perhaps Sabathia feels that Roc Nation can provide the best option for a new contract after what they showed with Cano. Maybe he likes their negotiating tactics.
I once thought that Cano’s signing with Roc Nation solidified his desire to remain in New York. Obviously, I was wrong about that. Would Sabathia ever leave New York? He might not want to, but if he doesn’t learn to be effective without that blazing fastball he won’t have a choice in a couple of years. He’ll need a great team of negotiators to secure his final contract, and Roc Nation’s bold negotiating style is likely the thing that spurred this move.