By Sweeny Murti
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Is there a market for Robinson Cano beyond the New York Yankees? That is what we hope to learn at the Winter Meetings next week in Orlando.
Cano is not unlike any other upper-echelon free agent of recent years. The market for these guys tends to take time to develop because of the amount of money involved. We know the Yankees are interested, but we also know they are very far apart on terms right now. We should also be aware that the negotiations really only began in earnest last week and now we will see how quickly things can move.
The biggest thing working against Cano right now is that no other teams have come forward to proclaim themselves as serious bidders. Quite the contrary actually. Magic Johnson went public to say the Dodgers would not pursue Cano, and then the Dodgers signed Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero to a four-year contract. The Tigers -- always a team with eyes on big prizes -- traded for second baseman Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, who moved Kinsler because of their own glut of middle infielders. No, and no. The Mets met with Cano's agent, Jay Z, but they have time and time again said they are not playing in the deep end of the free-agent pool where Cano swims.
Who else is there? Speculation tends to center around Washington and Seattle. But the Nationals say they love Anthony Rendon and don't have a need at second base. The Mariners were reported last week to be a stealth team to watch, always on the lookout for offense, but it has been tough to recruit in the Pacific Northwest
If another team is going to sign Cano, I'm picking the Nationals. Beyond their history of making such a move (Jayson Werth), Cano struck up a friendship with Bryce Harper a couple of years ago. Harper, a huge fan of Cano, went out of his way to meet the Yankees' second baseman before a spring-training game a few years ago and the two remained in touch. The Nationals were so close in 2012 but took a step back in 2013. They might feel that they can put themselves over the top with a big move like this.
Still, that's probably the longshot with the Yankees still considered the favorite, despite the huge gap that remains in contract talks. Here are two key contracts the Yankees have to beat, in my opinion: Mark Teixeira's eight years/$180 million and Derek Jeter's 10 years/$189 million.
Beating the AAV (Average Annual Value) on Teixeira's deal is almost a must, I believe. Teixeira was two years younger than Cano is now, but for a homegrown player regarded as the best in the game at his position, the Yankees will have to do better than the $22.5 million they gave Teixeira after the 2008 season.
As for the Jeter contract that covered 2001-2010, it is a little something to satisfy the ego -- make Cano the second-highest paid Yankee in history (behind A-Rod's epic 10-year deal -- the second one, I mean).
If the Yankees go eight years, $190 million ($23.75 million AAV), well, that's a deal that meets both requirements and should be one that the Yankees can handle. And the Yankees best pitch to Cano, besides the money, should be the type of receptions that Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte received at the end of this season. The treatment Jeter gets on an annual basis is a good sales pitch, too. Even Cano's boyhood idol, Bernie Williams, gets huge ovations at every visit. The Yankees' legends are treated like royalty. That won't happen anywhere else for Cano.
So we wait to see how this market develops and what kind of urgency is placed on both sides if there is no deal at the end of next week's Winter Meetings.
And while all of baseball will be focused on Orlando next week, Jay Z will be in Los Angeles, Fresno and San Jose, finishing out the California leg of the Magna Carter North American Tour. Hopefully Brian Cashman can get backstage to negotiate.
*Carlos Beltran still makes too much sense as a Yankee. I'd be shocked if this doesn't happen. The biggest advantage to the Yankees is that he's a switch-hitter. With Mark Teixeira held to only 15 games last year, the Yankees were lacking a switch-hitter for essentially the entire season.
Think about the 2009 Yankees -- Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Melky Cabrera. And think back to the late 90s dynasty -- Williams, Posada, Tim Raines, Chili Davis. At their most successful, in the era of matchup relief pitching, the Yankees have been stacked with matchup-killing switch-hitters with power from both sides of the plate sprinkled up and down the lineup. The healthy return of Teixeira and the addition of Beltran would bring a balance to the Yankees' lineup that was missing last year.
I'm still amazed by people who think Beltran didn't handle New York well. It's all based on Mets fans' memories of one at-bat, the called strike three that ended Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.
In seven seasons with the Mets, Beltran made five All-Star teams, racked up an .869 OPS in over 3,600 plate appearances and had five seasons of more than 30 doubles. He had three seasons of more than 100 RBIs and tied the Mets' single-season home-run record with 41 in 2006.
And in that '06 NLCS, Beltran was batting .308 (8-for-26) with three home runs before the strikeout that haunts Mets fans to this day. To hold that one AB against him is not a fair assessment of his Mets career. After averaging 149 games per year from '05-'08, injuries kept him under 100 games played in each of the next two years. That certainly left a few feelings of bitterness. But Beltran has physically rebounded with another pair of All-Star seasons with St. Louis in 2012 and 2013.
No, Beltran isn't making the Yankees any younger (he turns 37 next April), but he immediately becomes the best outfielder on the team if he signs with them, and on a two -- even three -- year deal, he is a good fit.
*Phil Hughes came off a 4-14, 5.19 ERA season and still got a three-year, $24 million deal from the Twins. Yes, the bigger Target Field should help bring down his home-run total and his ERA. But the Twins have to believe he will simply pitch better in order to make it a good investment, right?
The Twins have long been considered to be one of the smartest and best-run organizations in the game. No, they didn't give out an outrageous contract. (Hughes cost himself probably $30-50 million by having such a bad 2013 season.) But it should tell you something that the Twins feel Hughes is worth their time and money.
*While the Yankees continue to look for starting pitching to fill out their rotation, is Jeff Samardzija someone they might consider trading for? I'm not yet sure that the Yankees have what it takes to get him, but after being converted to a starter Samardzija racked up seasons of 174 and 213 innings for the Cubs. Perhaps he is turning into the innings eater that Cashman covets.
Cashman and Theo Epstein, once division rivals, finally are able to talk trade -- remember, the Yanks and Cubs got together on the Alfonso Soriano deal last summer -- and maybe they talk about it again. I wouldn't think he's Plan A or B, but if the Yankees are not able to bring back Hiroki Kuroda and reel in Masahiro Tanaka through the new Japanese posting system they will need to hit the trade market to acquire pitching.
I'm not saying Samardzija is the best option available, but he is an interesting name to consider. And the Cubs' GM that drafted him out of Notre Dame is Jim Hendry, who is now a special assistant to ... Cashman.
*Tickets are still available for the special night in Danbury, CT, on January 18. Williams, in his annual benefit dinner/concert to benefit the Hillside Food Outreach, will be hosting and honoring Rivera. The program will include an entertaining Q&A with both former Yankees, great silent and live auction items and a musical performance by Williams and his band. Need a good present for your favorite Yankees fan and want to support a good cause at the same time? Get tickets at www.hillsidefoodoutreach.org.
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