The Yankees don't intend to deviate much from their initial offer to Robinson Cano, a person with knowledge of the team's thinking said on Wednesday, even amid multiple reports that the second baseman's agents met recently with officials from the Mariners.
The source said retaining Cano remains a realistic goal for the Yankees, even after poaching outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox, and despite the club's desire to keep payroll below $189 million.
But a reunion will be possible only if Cano lowers his demands.
Cano's camp has been seeking about $260 million, but last week the Yankees offered Cano a seven-year deal worth $160 million. A source reiterated Wednesday that the club is unlikely to exceed a contract that exceeds roughly $175 million.
"That money is there if he wants it,'' the source said.
Seattle appears to be an unlikely destination for Cano with some skepticism existing about whether he would make the move to the Northwest. But one industry source labeled the Mariners as "desperate to sign players,'' and acknowledged he wouldn't be surprised if Cano fetches a $200-million offer.
A representative for Cano declined to comment.
Cano's willingness to lower his demands would likely be the only way the Yankees can remain below $189 million while still adding Ellsbury, re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, and perhaps adding another piece -- even if Alex Rodriguez avoids a suspension and the Yankees must pay his salary next season.
However, even if Cano yields, the Yankees may face an added complication.
The Yankees have been linked to Japanese ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. But proposed changes to the posting system used to import Japanese players may drive up the price for Tanaka. Such a scenario would make it difficult for the Yankees to pursue Tanaka without exceeding the payroll threshold.
With Cano lingering on the open market, the Yankees worked to iron out final details of their deal with Ellsbury. The 30-year-old outfielder agreed to the terms of a seven-year, $153-million contract that according to sources includes a no-trade clause and vesting option that could bring the value to $169 million.
A source said the agreement might not be officially announced until next week's winter meetings in Orlando.
The Yankees envision using Ellsbury in centerfield with Brett Gardner manning left, in hopes of taking advantage of both players' speed on defense. They have "no intention'' of trading Gardner, a source said.
The Yankees also made moves aimed at protecting themselves in case of Cano's departure. Free-agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has emerged as an option to fill some of the void if Cano were to leave. Though the Yankees already have a glut of outfielders with the addition of Ellsbury, Choo is viewed as an attractive replacement offensively.
Choo, 31, was an on-base machine for the Reds. In 154 games, he hit .285 with a .423 on-base percentage with 21 homers.
According to sources, the Yankees have been engaged with Choo's agent Scott Boras, who also represents Ellsbury.
In addition, as part of another contingency plan, a source confirmed that the Yankees agreed to terms with Kelly Johnson on a one-year deal worth roughly $3 million.
Johnson, 31, hit .235 with 16 homers and 52 RBIs in 118 games with the Rays. He has experience at second and third base, where he could fill in if needed for Rodriguez or Cano.
With David Lennon