The Yankees are girding themselves for the possibility that Robinson Cano will bolt the Bronx for an offer worth at least $225 million from the Seattle Mariners, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
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Cano flew to Seattle on Thursday to meet with the Mariners, who have emerged as the biggest obstacle as the Yankees attempt to re-sign the free-agent second baseman on their terms -- about $50 million less than what Seattle plans to offer.
The Mariners, who are desperate for offense and have a new television contract, are considering an offer to Cano for nine years and $225 million, according to the source, and might be willing to go even higher.
The Yankees have offered Cano a seven-year contract worth $160 million and are willing to go as high as $175 million, according to a source. But they are drawing a line with Cano after being burned by several long-term deals, including Alex Rodriguez's massive contract.
If Cano returns from Seattle with a firm offer in hand that blows away the Yankees' bid, the real game of chicken will begin. Will the Yankees really let their homegrown star leave over money? And will Cano really leave the only team he's known and a city he loves for a struggling franchise in a beautiful but cavernous ballpark?
Owner Hal Steinbrenner said Thursday that he hopes Cano's agents will come back and give the Yankees a last lick to match any offer before they agree with another club. But general manager Brian Cashman said he has no such agreement with the agents.
"We're not waiting for Robbie,'' Cashman said. "And Robbie is not waiting for us. We're out trying to sign players. We've been trying to sign him as well.''
Said Steinbrenner: "Robbie's been a great Yankee. Robbie is a great player. We're going to keep plugging away at it until it either happens or it doesn't. Only two options, right? Only two possibilities?''
Until the Mariners emerged, it was unclear if any team other than the Yankees had gotten serious about signing Cano, who started the negotiating cycle during the season by floating a 10-year, $310-million contract that would have surpassed Rodriguez's deal.
"We're still talking,'' Steinbrenner said. "Nobody has given up. We're still talking. But obviously, we're a decent distance apart. So we're just going to have to see, day-by-day. It's all we can do.''
The Yankees have not stood still. They signed former Braves catcher Brian McCann for five years and $85 million and have agreed to terms with former Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on a seven-year, $153-million pact.
But as Steinbrenner pointed out, "[Neither] of them are second basemen.''
Asked how hard it would be to replace Cano, Steinbrenner said: "It would make a big difference. Robbie's one of the best players in baseball. There's no doubt about it. He's a great player. And he's been a great Yankee. So we're going to keep plugging until it either happens or it doesn't.''
The Yankees have signed Kelly Johnson, who can play second, third and the outfield, and are looking at free agent Omar Infante as a possible Cano replacement.
If Cano signs with Seattle, the Yankees could try to bulk up in other positions, with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo drawing their interest. Or they could spend the money on starting pitching, a glaring need they have yet to address.
One good sign: Cashman said he thinks Hiroki Kuroda plans to pitch in 2014. The Yankees want (and need) the righthander back for their thin rotation.
"All indications are he is definitely interested in coming back to the Yankees,'' Cashman said. "That's the indication, but there's no guarantee.''