In the end, it was the money that spoke loudest. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that when baseball’s power brokers gather for the winter meetings in Orlando this weekend, they’ll do so digesting one of the most stunning free-agent decisions since Alex Rodriguez went to the Texas Rangers in 2000.
So much for Jay-Z’s New York ties. So much for an Empire State of Mind.
Conventional wisdom took it on the chin Friday, when free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano agreed to a reported 10-year, $240-million (U.S.) contract with the Seattle Mariners. It was the first major contract signed by a client of a partnership created when Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Sports hooked up with rapper Shawn (Jay-Z) Carter and Roc Nation LLC, and came after the New York Yankees refused to come close to $200-million for the five-time all-star who has collected all of his 204 home runs and 822 runs batted in a Yankees uniform, while posting a career OPS of .860.
He was supposed to be the Next Great Yankee, but no more, and when Yanks general manager Brian Cashman told reporters last month that Cano “loves the money,” he was not far off.
For the record, sources with the Toronto Blue Jays and CAA confirm there were limited discussions between the two sides about Cano. The agency checked in with the Jays early in the process, but after being reminded the organization had a self-imposed cap of five years for free-agent contracts, discussions were limited to one more quick phone call.
That’s no surprise, since even though second base is an area of need for the Blue Jays, the organization believed Cano’s people were at best looking for a team to ratchet up the player’s bargaining position.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos would not speak to any discussions he might have had with CAA, but he did not disguise his surprise at the Mariners’ successful bid. It is likely that he believed, as did his peers, the M’s were being used again, as they were by previous free agents such as Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder.
But with a new, $2-billion, 17-year regional television deal in place – along with an extra $32-million from network TV – last season’s stooge is this year’s bully.
Public pressure is growing on Anthopoulos to make an impact deal for his team, which finished last in the American League East in 2013 – understandable, given the fact he’d already remade the team by this time last season. The GM has counselled patience, reiterating the Jays offence was slightly above the AL average even with long injury absences from Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista and virtually no production from catcher, left field or second base.
And he said pitchers Brandon Morrow – who is now throwing simulated games – and Drew Hutchison are totally healthy.
The Blue Jays did talk to the Texas Rangers about second baseman Ian Kinsler before he was dealt to the Detroit Tigers as part of the Fielder move. They had little interest in Canadian-born first baseman Justin Morneau, who signed with the Colorado Rockies, because their scouts believe his power is disappearing.
Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan has linked the Blue Jays with Tampa Bay Rays pitcher David Price – a club insider says the teams don’t match up – and Brett Anderson (Oakland Athletics) and Jeff Samardzija (Chicago Cubs) remain middle-of-the-rotation options.
“We’ve had talks with teams about some of what you could call ‘big-name’ guys,” Anthopoulos said, “and the free-agent market’s been slow. I think this might be one of those years where the free-agent prices come down in January, that we might see something happen like it did when we signed Bengie Molina [before the 2006 season].”
It has been a different tack for an organization and a GM that stood the game on its head last year, with a 12-player trade and another deal to secure knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. But the bottom line remains, it’s the second act on the field that matters more than the second act in the off-season – especially since the regular season could turn out to be the GM’s final act.
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Tampa Bay Rays
It’s been quiet on the David Price front, but expect multiple discussions with teams about the former Cy Young Award winner who will be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. The Rays have chosen a different tack than they did with James Shields, letting it be known they would consider an established position player with major-league service time as part of any package. An example is the potential Mitch Moreland/Martin Perez deal that has been discussed with the Texas Rangers.
The line forms to the right outside the door of the Mariners suite, because they won’t stop at Robinson Cano. One major-league executive thinks they are now the front-runners for Price, because they can put together a package built around 21-year-old pitcher Taijuan Walker and middle infielder Nick Franklin.
Major League Baseball officials and their counterparts in Japan are putting the finishing touches on an overhauled posting process that will limit cut by at least 50 per cent the money Japanese teams typically received in return for freeing up their players. The decision could impact whether the Eagles make Masahiro Tanaka available – one of the seismic events of the off-season; a pending decision that has slowed to a trickle the market for pitching. There is literally no team in baseball that will not be impacted by the decision.
If you believe Cano will be in virtual exile in Seattle compared to New York, then you believe Boras gets the last laugh, since in getting client Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the New York Yankees he took away money that might have gone to his former client, Cano. But it’s another outfield client, Shin-Soo Choo, who will get a lot of action at the winter meetings. Among active players with 2,000 plate appearances, only Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Joe Mauer, Jason Giambi and Miguel Cabrera have better on-base percentages. Choo can be the finishing touch to any contender.
Bean Stringfellow, Joe White, Jay Alou
Proformance is the agency representing Ervin Santana, considered the top major-league free-agent pitcher on the market, and these three agents have found themselves in a strategic dilemma in a market flush with cash. They have been held hostage, in some ways, by the posting process and Tanaka and it will be interesting to see whether they put on a full-court press in Orlando. (Stringfellow is also Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista’s agent.)
New York Yankees
So what does the wounded bear do? Signing infielder Kelly Johnson gives them immediate cover for the loss of Cano, and Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann will not only have an impact on the field but they will help bring about culture change in a clubhouse no longer ruled by the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. The Yankees have money to make moves. Motivation, too.
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