David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
HOUSTON - On Friday, Robinson Cano didn't deny seeking a 10-year, $310-million contract from the Yankees earlier this season, and that lofty jumping-off point for the five-time All-Star should put the rest of his potential suitors on notice as he heads into free agency. Cano, who turns 31 next month, represents a chance for Jay Z's new agency, Roc Nation Sports, to plant its flag in Major League Baseball with the top rainmaker of this coming winter, so it's doubtful he'll pick a place like Seattle or San Diego, even if the smaller markets do scrape up the money.
But the way things already are shaping up, with the Yankees breaking off negotiations, it's hard to predict where Cano might find greener pastures outside the Bronx. But the elite players bent on setting the market usually do, so here's a glance at some of the teams with the financial resources -- and the motivation -- to make a move on Cano.
We'll start with Cano's current club because the Yankees need him the most, and if Jay Z truly wants to make his first client a global marketing brand as well, he can't do any better than keeping Cano in pinstripes. Despite the nostalgic draw of playing alongside the Core Four and witnessing the history of the past week, Cano sounds more interested in a record payday than pinstriped immortality. The Yankees usually pony up the cash when it comes to a bona fide star, but Hal Steinbrenner likely will have to back down on his goal of getting below the $189-million luxury tax threshold for 2014 to do so. As it is, the Yankees have more than $90 million tied up in four players for next season. With A-Rod's looming suspension still undetermined, they don't know how much they'll save on him yet.
After this year's crushing failure in the capital, and a sizable hole in the right side of the infield, Nats owner Mark Lerner could decide to spend big again in order to make good on all of those failed World Series predictions of 2013. It was Lerner who kicked off the 2010 winter meetings by signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126-million contract that stunned the rest of the league and jump-started the Nats on the road to contention. With $81 million committed to next year's payroll and a number of arbitration cases that will push it into triple-digits, Washington still could have some wiggle room for Cano along with the desire to make a huge splash.
Another 2013 disappointment, the Orioles have a glaring need at second base with the oft-injured Brian Roberts a free agent and no clear-cut candidate next on the depth chart. Obviously, the chance to weaken a bitter AL East foe by swiping Cano would make Buck Showalter very happy, but it will be tough for Baltimore to pull it off from a financial sense. This is a team that had a $92-million payroll in 2013 and probably has no stomach for moving up in weight class to anywhere near the $189-million mark for next year. Plus Showalter already is on record saying he's worried about the Yankees stealing away Matt Wieters when the homegrown catcher hits free agency, so he's not likely to have the extra cash around for a potential $30-million-a-year player in Cano.
In an ideal world, one in which the Mets still spent money like a deep-pocketed New York team, Flushing would be the perfect fit for Cano. The Mets desperately need offense, and it's not as if they have much of an investment in Daniel Murphy, a productive hitter who has made some strides along the learning curve at second base. Think of Cano batting behind David Wright, or vice versa, with the power to clear Citi Field's walls and strafe the gaps. The Mets have only about $50 million committed for 2014, including arbitration cases, so there should be some financial flexibility. But Sandy Alderson abhors long-term deals; he made an exception with Wright because of his homegrown value to the franchise. Can't see him doing it again for Cano despite the instant credibility the former Yankee would bring to Queens.
Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has the historical incentive to pry a star like Cano away from the Bronx and should be flush with cash to do so. With just under $50 million invested in 2014, the North Siders are due to bring in a marquee name -- maybe two, if Joe Girardi decides to bolt the Yankees to manage his hometown club. Still, with the Cubs in rebuilding mode and hoping to retool with a boatload of young talent, spending that chunk of money on Cano might not be the best allocation of resources after digging out from the likes of Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano in recent years. Plus, the Cubs already may have their second baseman of the future in 21-year-old switch-hitting prospect Arismendy Alcantara.
On the surface, Los Angeles always seemed like the logical alternative to New York, and with the team's new ownership group willing to outspend even the Yankees, money hasn't been an obstacle recently. But at this particular time, cash could be an issue. The Dodgers already have close to $165 million on the books for 2014, with more coming through arbitration, and they have to start setting aside some money for Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez. Kershaw, who is about to win his second Cy Young Award, is a pending free agent shooting for a $200-million deal, and Ramirez is next after the 2014 season. L.A. also is trying to sign Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, who supposedly is slotted to take over at second base.
While star-studded Detroit could use an upgrade at second, it already has a $214-million first baseman in Prince Fielder and more than $108 million invested in 2014 along with nine arbitration cases, including Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson. Owner Mike Ilitch has spent freely in trying to get the Motor City its first World Series title since 1984, but even if the Tigers come up short again this year, Cano's contract demands likely put him out of reach.