David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Joe Torre was fortunate enough to manage the Yankees in Robinson Cano's rookie season, just as he was a decade earlier when Derek Jeter joined the Yankees for good.
Torre never would compare another player to Jeter. The Yankees' captain is inextricably linked to his manager's historic tenure in the Bronx, and as big a reason as any for why Torre was elected to the Hall of Fame Monday along with Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
But the idea of Cano spending his entire career in pinstripes and winning multiple rings like Jeter is something Torre certainly envisioned. Knowing Torre, and the grandfatherly role he played for that special generation of Yankees, he expected that for Cano. And probably wanted it for the Yankees, too.
As we all discovered, Cano is no Jeter. Not in his mind, and not in the thinking of his former Bronx bosses, either. Still, when Cano chose to bolt Friday, taking that 10-year, $240-million deal from the Mariners, the decision surprised Torre.
"Yeah, because it's a tough place to leave,'' Torre said. "Just like when everyone was asking me about Girardi -- do you think he'd go to the Cubs? I told them, it's a very tough place to leave. But evidently he felt he had to do it. I don't know anything more about the negotiations. But he got a lot of money, didn't he?''
A lot more than the Yankees offered, that's for sure. The Mariners eclipsed their top bid with an extra three years and $65 million. That cash apparently outweighed Cano's legacy in the Bronx, but even though he's gone, Torre didn't sound overly worried about the Yankees.
During his 12-year stay, Torre was conditioned to anticipate turnover, with the exception of a select group that became known as the Core Four.
"The MVP of our World Series in '96 left,'' Torre said, referring to closer John Wetteland. "I guess we found a replacement for him. And that was the one thing we had to preach all the time: Let's take advantage of the time we have together. But Cano being as young as he was, I was very surprised that he left.''
Torre didn't go as far as to say disappointed. But he will be wearing a Yankee hat in Cooperstown, so there's obvious affection for his former place of employment. As for the other teams in the AL East, they're not really sure how to interpret the shake-up in the Bronx.
Cano's exit was set in motion by the signings of Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, moves that made the homegrown star expendable in the Yankees' eyes. It's too early to tell what kind of impact those personnel changes will make, aside from subtracting a game-changing bat from a tightly competitive division.
"You remember as a pitching coach, he's a guy that keeps you up at night trying to find ways to attack him,'' Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I'm glad he's out of the East.''
Rays manager Joe Maddon took a more big-picture view of how shuffling Ellsbury and Cano might affect his two fiercest AL East rivals. No one would consider replacing Cano with Ellsbury as close to an even swap, but Maddon wondered how the different personalities might work in the new surroundings.
"You know what they're like as players and pretty much how you expect them to perform on the field,'' Maddon said. "But I don't know what the dynamic is inside the building, and that is really important, too.''
The Yankees had become more concerned about the potential for distraction with Cano's relationship with Jay Z. By opting for the baseball-first personas of McCann and Ellsbury, the Yankees believe they've transformed the clubhouse for the better and also replaced a chunk of Cano's production.
Even now, from a distance, Torre thinks it was that kind of mind-set that helped turn the Yankees into champions again during his tenure.
"What you need to do this job, and to do it successfully, is commitment,'' Torre said. "Everybody has to buy in, and I had a very unselfish group.''