ORLANDO, Fla. - Even if it wasn't intended as a warning, it had the sound of one.
Yankees president Randy Levine, shortly after arriving at the general manager and owners meetings Wednesday, said negotiations with Robinson Cano's representatives should begin in earnest within the next week.
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But in acknowledging the likelihood of a long process -- something general manager Brian Cashman restated as recently as Tuesday -- Levine indicated the Yankees won't wait forever for the free-agent second baseman.
"I think the clock ticks on both sides," Levine said. "We're interested in a lot of players. From a player's point of view, he may be interested in a certain team and as that certain team starts filling other needs, there's obviously less money on the table."
Keeping Cano is priority No. 1 for the Yankees this winter, but they've made it clear to his new representation, Jay Z's Roc Nation, there's no blank check.
The club has offered Cano a seven-year deal in the neighborhood of $170 million, a far cry from the $300 million over 10 years sources say the second baseman asked for over the summer. For his part, Cano denied the figure but, regardless, a large gap exists.
There haven't been serious talks between the sides in a while, which will soon change, and when it does, Cashman said yesterday he expects Jay Z's involvement to be "significant."
Until this point, all of Cashman's dialogue has been with veteran agent Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA.
Still, tick tock, tick tock . . .
"The clock works both ways," Levine said. "If you're a team, you've got to fill up your needs. As much as you may want a great player, if choice 2, 3, 4 and 5 come into play, you've got to do it. So I think that's in play for every one of these free agents here. It's part of the game. It's part of the process."
Without elaborating, Levine said should Cano leave, the Yankees have a "Plan B, C and D in place." There are plenty of other big names in which the Yankees have an interest and members of the team hierarchy started laying the groundwork for some of those pursuits Wednesday, meeting with the agents for outfielders Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, shortstop Stephen Drew and catcher Brian McCann. Those are among the biggest names on the market.
"I think the Yankees are clearly in a place where they're out to improve their status from where they were a year ago, no question," said Scott Boras, who represents Ellsbury, Beltran and Drew.
Cashman didn't discuss Drew specifically but said the club is looking to "protect" itself if Derek Jeter, who lost most of last season to injury, "doesn't work out" as an everyday player.
For that reason, shortstop Brendan Ryan, acquired late last season, has been considered important to re-sign. Jhonny Peralta is on the Yankees' board because he can play shortstop and third, as can Juan Uribe, another free agent in which the club has an interest. Eric Chavez and Michael Young are options as well.
Indeed, the Yankees are looking for insurance at short and third, despite Levine's contention the team is operating under the assumption Alex Rodriguez will play next season. The Yankees have in the range of $60 million coming off the books, a figure that grows by about $31 million should enough of Rodriguez's 211-game suspension be upheld by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz. That hearing is ongoing but Levine said the organization doesn't feel hamstrung while waiting for a ruling.
"We're under the impression that he's going to come back," Levine said. "That's the way we budgeted it, that's the way we think."