David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ORLANDO, Fla. - A few months back, when Robinson Cano's camp was floating that $310-million figure, the Yankees knew this day was coming. The homegrown Cano made it clear to them he wanted to be a free agent, to have his space, and so they stepped aside.
Whether Cano puts back on the pinstripes will be his decision again, and Brian Cashman sounds OK with that, despite the smoking crater Cano's departure would leave in the middle of the Yankees lineup. Cashman insisted Tuesday that the team would make a "substantial offer" to retain the five-time All-Star, but also raised the possibility it might not be enough.
That's the new market reality for the Yankees in 2013. There was a time, not so long ago, that the Bronx was a career destination, a place to not only get rich but put yourself in the best spot to one day be sized for a World Series ring.
But Cashman, who admittedly has many holes to fill this offseason, can't promise much more than money at this stage. And it feels weird that the Yankees are perfectly fine being outbid for a homegrown player who might eventually be worthy of Monument Park.
"The best way to go about this process is to put your best foot forward and live with it," Cashman said during Day 2 of the general manager meetings, "and if it's not good enough, I'm comfortable with it. And whatever that foot is, from my end, is going to be very good, as it should be to retain the player."
Before this season began, there was a prevailing sense the Yankees would manage to lock up Cano before things ever got to this point. Cashman opened up a productive dialogue with Scott Boras -- an agent notorious for not talking extension in the middle of a walk year -- and that created some early optimism.
But Cano abruptly dumped Boras for Jay Z, who has been more of an X-factor in the now muddled relationship with the Yankees and their franchise second baseman. It's no secret that Cashman badly wants Cano back -- who wouldn't? The question that's impossible to answer this early in the offseason, however, is what other teams will surpass the Yankees in order to steal him away.
So far, none has tipped its hand. But there's plenty of time for that, and if the market goes to where many predict it will this winter, keeping Cano is going to test Cashman's resolve. When the two sides chose to cut off talks in August, the Yankees figured a Mark Teixeira-type deal would ultimately make sense for Cano, somewhere in the eight-year, $180-million range.
Of course, what's fair and what's real are often much different things, and we're still waiting to see how Cano will be priced in the coming weeks. An argument could be made that the Yankees and Cano share a mutual need for each other, with Jay Z's marketing pitch best suited for New York and the sport's most high-profile franchise.
Once a player starts approaching $200 million, what difference is a few million more? By then, it's just a matter of keeping score, and the trouble for the Yankees is that Jay Z may want to use the Cano deal as a billboard to attract future clients to his new agency. But does that best serve Cano? Or Jay Z?
For the Yankees, it doesn't really matter. The bottom line is signing the player, and the lure of the Bronx isn't quite as strong as it once was. Cano's return would change that, and even help the Yankees with other high-profile free agents. But Cashman can't bank on any of that, and it seems like the longer Cano keeps his distance, the harder it will be to pull him back.
"I feel very comfortable that we'll firmly compete for the player," Cashman said. "But the value we put on him, the value someone else puts on him could be vastly different, and if it is, we'll lose him."
The Yanks have to treat it like a business decision. But from a baseball standpoint, and what the team is facing this offseason, saying goodbye to Cano is not so easily shrugged off. Guess it all depends now on Cashman's definition of "substantial" when that next offer comes.