Team policies are fine as long as they’re either necessary or enforceable. The Marlins, for example, refuse to give out no-trade clauses. Players who chose to sign with the Marlins, in a weird case of role-reversal considering the team name, were reeled in with the bait of guaranteed money. They tacitly accepted the risk when they went to Miami during the Marlins’ spending spree in the winter of 2011-2012. Regardless of the allegations from Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria lied to their faces about not trading them, they entered into the agreement to go to Miami willingly and with childlike naïveté if they weren’t cognizant of Loria’s history and the real reason they don’t give out no-trade clauses being that he wanted the freedom to trade them whenever and wherever he felt like it.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have had a longstanding policy of not doling out contract extensions to players before the contracts had expired. It goes back to the days of George Steinbrenner and it wasn’t due to any business plan he adhered to, but like much of what he did, it was just because. Safe in the knowledge that the Yankees could and would outbid anyone for a player they wanted to keep and the egomaniacal delusion that everyone wants to be a Yankee, for the most part it succeeded in keeping the stars—Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez—even if the Yankees overpaid to do so.
That policy was exemplified, sort of, in the Jeter negotiations after the 2010 season. Jeter was a free agent and had subpar numbers the previous year. The Yankees weren’t raking him over the coals and using his ties to the organization to lowball him, but the identification and perception of loyalty of Jeter being Mr. Yankee, the captain of the team were weapons they knew Jeter had no defense for. If he was going to leave, it would’ve been to prove a point and ruin a large portion of why Jeter is so revered in the first place. In other words, short of telling him to go, Jeter was staying. They did tell him to shop around and see if any club chose to make a better offer than that of the Yankees. They knew the odds of that were minimal. Other teams knew the reality as well. Reluctant to be a negotiating tool, clubs steered clear of Jeter and he wound up returning to the Yankees for a relatively team-friendly, three-year deal with a player option for 2014.
None of these factors are in place with Robinson Cano and if the Yankees want to be assured of keeping him after this season, they’re going to need to deviate from club policy and sign him to an extension during the season.
Ignoring all the factors that make a $200+ million contract a bad idea—that Cano is already lackadaisical, running when he feels like it and nonchalant to the point of looking as if he needs a pillow—they’re not going to have any choice in the matter if they want to bring him back. In the past, the number of teams that had the means to sign Cano was limited to, perhaps, five. The number willing to do it would’ve been fewer. Now, it’s two. The second, however, is the Dodgers and they’re serious and flush with cash, uninterested in tweaking the Yankees by forcing them to pay more as the Red Sox used to, but pursuing Cano because they want to sign him.
Two clubs vying for one player is all agent Scott Boras needs if one is serious and the other is the club his player already plays for and desperately needs him back.
In years past, the Yankees were able to sell their history; the outside moneymaking possibilities; the city; the allure of being a Yankee and entering the Hall of Fame as a Yankee and never having worn another uniform; that they were in contention every year and wound spend enough cash to continue that trend; and that they would offer the most money.
Can they do that with Cano given the self-enacted constraints on payroll that they insist on reaching $189 million (or lower) by 2014? Can they sell history when there’s a club on the West Coast with a storied history of their own and more money and willingness to spend that money than the Yankees? Can they sell the concept of staying as part of the core group when the rest of the core group—Rivera, Jeter, Andy Pettitte—are at or near the end of their careers?
They can certainly still pay Cano what he wants—whether logic dictates they do or not—but what would he be signing up for? A team with unfamiliar faces surrounding him and the arrogant expectation that simply because they’re putting on a Yankees uniform the new players will be suitable replacements for the aging and departing veterans?
The Dodgers are a glossy collection of stars in Hollywood. While that may not be conducive to winning, the situation may be more attractive to Cano unless the Yankees make an overwhelming offer or sell him on the idea of their future being as bright as the past.
The majority of the time, when a player hires Boras, he does so to get paid the maximum amount of money. Amid all the talk and credit given to Evan Longoria and David Wright for eschewing the free agent riches that awaited them and signing cheaper extensions with their current clubs, neither is represented by Boras.
The Yankees have already indicated a willingness to depart from team policy and sign Cano to an extension before he’s a free agent. Fans like to ask “are you not aware?” when Cano does something positive on the field; the Yankees are certainly aware of the situation right now. If the Yankees don’t give Cano an extension to preempt his availability, the Dodgers are going to let him and Boras know that they’ll trump any offer. Then the Yankees have a choice. It’s either pay him now or lose him. They’re smart enough to know that. The question is whether they’re willing to take the steps to prevent it from coming to pass.