On Thursday afternoon, shortly before they were to meet the Seattle Mariners, Robinson Cano's representatives called the New York Yankees, saying they believed their client could get a 10-year deal for more than $US230 million ($253 million). They wanted to know how the Yankees would respond.
As a final offer, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the team could go to seven years and $US175 million but no higher, knowing full well it would not be enough to sway Cano.
While the Yankees held firm, the Mariners swooped in and agreed with Cano on a staggering 10-year, $US240 million contract, pending a physical, according to two people in baseball who had been informed of the deal.
The only thing Seattle could not provide Cano was the tradition and mystique of the Yankees and the buzz and excitement of New York, upon which he had long thrived.
But they could provide riches. The Mariners, in desperate need of a power hitter, gave Cano the third-largest contract in baseball history. It matches Albert Pujols' deal with the Los Angeles Angels and trails only Alex Rodriguez's two most recent contracts – the 10-year, $US252 million deal he signed in 2000 with Texas that he opted out of before re-signing with the Yankees in 2007 for 10 years and $US275 million.
The Mariners would not confirm the deal, which was negotiated by Cano's new agent, Jay Z, and Brodie Van Wagenen of Creative Artists Agency, but a statement via Twitter hinted an announcement would be forthcoming.
"We aren't able to confirm any news regarding Robinson Cano at this time," it said. "If & when an agreement is completed & finalized, we will announce."
Almost without dispute, Cano was the Yankees' best all-around player, and had been for several years, perhaps one of the top five position players in the game. Cano, who hit third in the line-up last season and dazzled with his superb defensive skills, was as dependable as he was good, playing in almost every inning of every game for the past seven years.
As such, the Yankees were willing to make a significant offer to Cano, one of their few remaining home-grown players.
Throughout the negotiations that began in the northern spring, the Yankees made lucrative but restrained offers. They shied from what they saw as the same trap they had fallen into with Rodriguez, and there was a strong sentiment within the organisation that the $US25 million a year they had allotted for Cano could be invested in several players instead of just one.
Even before Cano left, the Yankees had been working on alternatives, calculating from the tenor of the negotiations he would leave. The seven-year, $US153 million deal they reached with Jacoby Ellsbury on Tuesday, with an average annual salary of $US21.9 million, was just a tick below Cano's $US24 million average annual figure.
The Yankees made the deal with Ellsbury with the strong belief Cano would not return.
Signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, Cano spent nine years with the Yankees. He hit 204 home runs and batted .309 with a .355 on-base percentage and a .504 slugging percentage and almost never got hurt. Since 2007 he had played at least 159 games each season.
The Mariners, a team with a pitiful offence that had failed for years to sign a marquee free agent, were willing to overspend to gain credibility and perhaps lure more players to Seattle, where Safeco Field is considered difficult on hitters, and where the spotlight rarely shines.
Jay Z, looking for his first high-profile contract in his new professional undertaking, defied the sceptics to make a significant score for his agency Roc Nation Sports, which works with CAA.
The Yankees, on the other hand, had first-hand experience of the dangers of a 10-year commitment to a player in his 30s, and had no issues with credibility or attracting other free agents. Knowing they would not give Cano the most money or the most years, they appealed to his desire to remain in New York and play in Yankee Stadium, where the right-field fence is tantalisingly close. They also dangled their history, suggesting he would become the first Dominican player to be honoured with a plaque in Monument Park.
In the end, Cano will never find out. Short of a return, his Yankee career ends with five All-Star appearances, seven trips to the post-season and one championship. They only thing he did not get was 10 more years.
The New York Times