Cano negotiations a different breed for Yanks
When the general manager of the New York Yankees reports that his team has made a "significant offer" to second baseman Robinson Cano, we can all safely assume that "significant" translates into "lucrative," not to mention "long."
The Yankees' newfound fiscal conservatism aside, Cano is now the biggest impact player the team has in the everyday lineup. His own performance, combined with the Yankees' current circumstances, makes him irreplaceable and particularly expensive.
Cano is in the last year of his contract after his $15 million club option for 2013 was picked up in October. He is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner, a four-time Silver Slugger Award winner and, at age 30, he can fairly be considered to be in the prime of his career.
So when general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday that the Yankees had made a significant offer to Cano, there could be some question about the specificity of the offer, but there couldn't be much of a gray area regarding the Yankees' intent. They would apparently like to head off the possibility that Cano will reach free agency.
The Yankees rarely offer contract extensions during Spring Training or the regular season.
"Usually it's applying to older guys -- [age] 37, 38, 39," Cashman said. "We have a policy. Since we're the team, we have the right to change our minds -- especially ownership."
This could be a special case, not only because it deals with a very valuable second baseman. Cano's agent is Scott Boras, who has a well-documented record of getting every available nickel for his clients. He also has a record of taking these clients to free agency, where the number of potential bidders has a decided tendency to drive up the prices.
The idea that the Yankees could be outbid by another club for a player they considered valuable would have been unthinkable not that long ago. But not now. In this offseason, the Yankees were essentially outbid for their starting catcher, Russell Martin, by, of all teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They also did not wish to get into a bidding war for a worthwhile, if complementary player, Nick Swisher. He eventually signed with the Cleveland Indians.
The Yankees have grown tired of chipping in annually due to baseball's luxury tax. In some years, this mechanism has been essentially a tax on the Yankees. For 2014, the Yankees' managing general partner, Hal Steinbrenner, has taken the position that the team is committed to having a player payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, thus avoiding a potential 50 percent luxury tax rate for that season.
This approach has been surprising to some, but it reflects the fiscal tendencies employed by the vast majority of Major League franchises, apart from the current Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees are, for the moment at least, leaving the "spend whatever it takes" approach behind and replacing it with a measure of fiscal restraint.
This may dismay some ardent supporters of the Yankees, who believe that unrestrained spending is a permanent part of the team's landscape. But the more restrained approach by the Yankees does not turn them into a small-market franchise. Nor does it disqualify them from re-signing Cano to a truly large, long-term deal.
A new contract could be structured to avoid having a damaging effect on the Yankees' desire to control the 2014 payroll. It's not as though the Bombers can no longer afford to sign a star of this magnitude. The Yankees have decided to tighten the purse strings. If, based on recent history, this is an unlikely direction for them, that doesn't make it illegal.
On the other side of the issue, the Yankees, from a competitive standpoint, cannot afford to lose Cano. Derek Jeter is nearing 39, attempting to come back from a broken ankle. Alex Rodriguez is nearing 38 and is attempting to come back from another hip surgery. By now, his diminishing productivity and his decreasing availability are becoming facts of life.
And the loss of power elsewhere in the Yankees' lineup makes Cano's presence even more of a necessity.
The fact that the Yankees have entered into contract talks with Cano now, and are using terms such as "significant" to describe their offer to Cano, demonstrates their understanding of what a unique case this is.
That recognition -- in the face of the Yankees' recent, restrained approach toward spending -- makes the Cano contract situation, yes indeed, significant.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.