David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Early Friday morning, back when we in the media all doubted Jay Z's crossover skills, there were a few people who did not. One was a National League executive who remained bullish on what a monster talent such as Robinson Cano could command in this market.
This person refused to buy in to the naysayers. "He will get his money," the executive said.
About an hour later, word trickled out that Cano had cashed in big: The Mariners had agreed to a stunning 10-year, $240-million contract with the now-former Yankees second baseman.
Maybe in retrospect, the money wasn't all that surprising. Haven't we been conditioned to expect this almost every year around this time? And here was Cano, the best free agent available in a market flush with TV cash, represented by a hip-hop mogul looking to expand his empire in a new sport.
The signs were there. But the part we didn't pick up on, or just weren't used to seeing, was the concept of the Yankees having one of their homegrown stars lured from the Bronx by someone else's checkbook.
And the Yankees just letting it happen.
Evidently, they weren't too worried about it. Cano didn't have time Friday for a second latte before the Yankees were back writing checks again -- just not for him. In a matter of hours after losing Cano, they agreed on a three-year, $45-million contract with Carlos Beltran, bringing the former Met back for a change of boroughs.
That made it two significant acquisitions in a single afternoon; the Yankees already had secured the return of Hiroki Kuroda with a one-year, $16- million contract. Combined with Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, that's a $299-million tab this offseason on four players, and the goal (not mandate) of staying below $189 million for luxury-tax purposes is looking more unlikely without a sizable suspension for Alex Rodriguez.
Plus, the Yankees still aren't finished. Their outfield is getting awfully crowded, which could prompt a move or two, and the starting rotation has two holes to fill. Finding an everyday second baseman would help, too.
At this rate, it feels as if it's all going to get done fairly quickly, maybe before the end of next week's winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. Finally getting a resolution to the Cano saga helped speed up the process, and the Yankees aren't using those savings to invest in an IRA.
On Thursday night, Cano's reps made one final call to Brian Cashman and asked for $235 million to stay with the Yankees, according to a source. The team's counteroffer did not budge from the seven-year, $175-million offer that already had been on the table. When that phone call ended, so did Cano's nine-year career in the Bronx.
That moment also signaled a seismic shift in how the Yankees intend to construct a team. Let's call it the A-Rod Effect.
Rodriguez was signed to not one but two 10-year deals, with the second kicking in at age 32. We don't need to go over the series of headaches A-Rod caused the Yankees the past couple of years, ranging from hip surgeries to PED use to looming legal battles. All coming at a total cost of $275 million, with another guaranteed $89 million still due.
No one is saying that Cano is going to turn into a walking nightmare like A-Rod in the next decade. But long-term commitments aren't for everyone, and in the Yankees' minds, Cano misses the cut by a few years for being 31. Conventional baseball wisdom suggests that's a smart policy, and it's difficult to blame the Yankees if they feel spooked by the doomed megadeal they gave to A-Rod.
All along, the Yankees made no secret of their belief that Cano would take the richest contract. It was just a matter of whether they would have the highest bid. If not, so be it. Derek Jeter is the only Yankee immortal on the roster. Boiled down, the rest are just players, and that included Cano.
"Everybody is replaceable," Cashman said yesterday before learning of Cano's decision. And now it's the GM's job to prove himself right. The Yankees won't find another Cano for second base, but they insist his void can be filled by the sum of other parts. McCann and Ellsbury represent the start of that process. The next stage began Friday with Beltran.
Cano did indeed get his money, and now the Yankees are spending more of theirs -- in the way they want to.