The Yankees' mission to replace Robinson Cano began almost immediately late Friday night when they agreed to a three-year, $45-million contract with Carlos Beltran, according to two sources, less than 12 hours after learning that Cano had been lost to the Mariners.
Beltran, the former Met and recent Cardinal, figured to be out of the mix as recently as Tuesday after the Yankees made a bold -- and surprising -- move to grab Jacoby Ellsbury with a seven-year, $153-million deal. But Thursday night, when it appeared as though Cano was slipping to Seattle, the Yankees began to reconsider their options. Talks with Beltran resumed Friday after Cano agreed to a 10-year, $240-million contract with Seattle.
Initially, the Yankees pursued Beltran with a two-year deal, but they ultimately gave in to three Friday because, as one source said, they "wanted to make a big splash'' after passing on Cano.
Going to that length, however, is not without risk. Beltran will turn 37 in April and has been bothered by knee problems in the past, but he did manage to stay healthy with the Cardinals, playing no fewer than 145 games in his two seasons with St. Louis.
The switch-hitting Beltran joins Ellsbury and Brian McCann in a reloaded Yankees lineup that is shaping up to be dangerous again -- even without Cano. Beltran had an .830 OPS with 24 homers and 84 RBIs in 2013. Those numbers should be enhanced at Yankee Stadium.
Despite not spending on Cano, the Yankees already have invested $299 million this offseason on four players, including Hiroki Kuroda, who has agreed to a one-year, $16-million contract.
Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said Friday that Cano "was a great Yankee,'' but the curtain still closed on the homegrown star's nine-year stay in the Bronx. The Yankees, who are almost never outbid when they want a player, were outbid by $65 million, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.
According to the person, Cano's agents made a last-ditch pitch to the Yankees on Thursday night, saying the five-time All-Star would return for a pact worth $235 million -- a $5-million hometown discount.
The Yankees, who drew the line at seven years and $175 million, said no, thanks.
Cano's first request to the Yankees during the 2013 season was for a 10-year, $310-million deal. From that moment, the Yankees knew he would be a difficult sign. They never thought Cano was the kind of iconic star who deserved to be among the game's highest-paid players. They did, however, consistently praise him and say they wanted him back -- but not at all costs.
"I think everybody tried hard to get the deal done,'' Steinbrenner told The Associated Press in Tampa, Fla. "We just never got close enough, obviously. We wish him the best. We hope he has a long, healthy career. We're going to keep going. We're still looking at all the same guys that we were looking at a week or two ago. We're going to continue to improve. We're not done spending.''
Omar Infante is the best available free-agent second baseman. The Yankees have inquired about trading for the Reds' Brandon Phillips, who is said to be available.
Cano's defection was not a surprise to the Yankees, even if the last-minute talks between the Mariners and Cano's agents -- including rap mogul Jay Z -- became the stuff of a bicoastal Twitter frenzy from Thursday night to Friday morning.
Cano and Jay Z flew separately to Seattle on Thursday to meet with the Mariners. By Friday morning, word had spread that talks between the parties had broken off in acrimony, with one report saying Cano definitely would not sign with Seattle. A few hours later came the stunning news: Cano had agreed to leave the Bronx for the third-richest contract in baseball history.
Cano, 31, hit .314 with 27 home runs, 107 RBIs and an .899 OPS last season and finished fifth in the MVP voting. He has a .309 career batting average with 204 home runs.
Cano will return to Yankee Stadium for the first time when the Mariners visit April 29-May 1.
Cano was the Yankees' best hitter last season and will be difficult to replace. But the Yankees think they can manage it with a serious of moves.
"Everybody is replaceable,'' general manager Brian Cashman said Friday. "It's a team concept. Some people are harder to replace than others. But I don't think is going to make or break your future.''