The Robinson Cano negotiations changed course faster than you can say "Empire State of Mind.''
A Yankees deal might not take much longer than that.
Cano's negotiations with the Yankees seemed destined to be a drawn-out affair when agent Scott Boras was handling things. But now that Cano has switched from the notoriously tough Boras (who has flown to New York to try to meet with Cano, so far to no avail) to hire rapper, native New Yorker and self-proclaimed Yankees fan Jay-Z, everything has changed.
The focus has gone from free agency and the spectre of a record contract to a certain in-season re-start of negotiations with the Yankees now that Cano is repped by the Brooklyn-reared singer and entrepreneur who has obtained a temporary agenting license from the union and enlisted CAA to help professionally steer negotiations. Jay-Z, who will be "intimately involved,'' according to CAA Baseball's co-head, Brodie Van Wagenen, only knows about another type of records. The rhetoric borders on the rosy now.
An in-season deal only months before free agency, a rarity for a superstar player, seems like a goal now. And that goes for both sides, not just the Yankees.
"Of course it's possible given that he won't be a free agent until November,'' said Van Wagenen, who will lead negotiations.
"There's a lot of time between now and then.''
And while there's no word yet that Van Wagenen (or for that matter, Jay-Z) has reached out yet to the Yankees, signs point to a strong effort to get a deal done before Cano hits free agency. Although Cano told some friends at the time that he wasn't thrilled with how the Yankees handled the Derek Jeter negotiations, that he wanted to go for the biggest deal and that he was at least open to a move from New York, there seems to be no sense hiding Cano's heart now.
"New York and the Yankee fans have been great to Robinson. He's cherished his time in pinstripes,'' Van Wagenen said. "He loves the fans and the city. He has a great sense of pride as a Yankee. Though, ultimately, whether he stays a Yankee remains to be seen.''
The Yankees aren't about to celebrate yet, but it's hard not to think Cano's at least tipped his hand that he wants to stay in the Bronx. Yankees president Randy Levine said, "Robinson Cano is a great Yankee, and we're hopeful he remains a Yankee for many years to come.''
The Yankees have had some knockdown, drag-out battles with Boras before, though they've ultimately been able to hammer out deals for the biggest players who wanted to remain a Yankee or had interest in becoming one, including the record, $275 million Alex Rodriguez contract, plus deals for $180 million for Mark Teixeira, $87.5 million for Bernie Williams and $35 million for Rafael Soriano. But in Jay-Z, who will be "intimately involved'' according to Van Wagenen, the Yankees are up against the guy who sang "... I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.''
Boras and Levine were talking behind the scenes about quietly trying to re-start contract talks once the season got going -- although, the chances of re-signing Cano before free agency at least from the outside seemed remote. Yankees people were confident they'd ultimately make it work with Boras (perhaps after he became a free agent), as they had with A-Rod, Teixeira and the others. But now, with Jay-Z, who owns a piece of the Brooklyn Nets, which is in partnership with the Yankees, it's almost impossible to imagine him taking Cano to the Dodgers, the Cubs, Cleveland, or elsewhere.
Boras has tried to reach out to Cano, making multiple calls and texts, and even flying Tuesday to New York to try to meet with him. But as of late Wednesday morning, he had not heard a word back from Cano, who is notoriously non-confrontational.
Boras can't figure he has much of a chance to win Cano back, not with Cano not returning his messages, but he must figure he wants to give Cano a chance to explain. A picture of Cano signing with Jay-Z on the Roc Nation Website, with a quote from the player, makes clear the switch has been made. Cano had switched to Boras a couple years earlier after New York-based Bobby Barad represented him earlier in his career, and did the deal that pays him $16 million this year.
With Cano having signed a representation agreement with Boras two weeks ago, Boras felt "blindsided'' by the latest switch, say people who have spoken to him.
The latest change might have been influenced by Robinson's father Jose, a former Astros pitcher who might have been hoping for a quicker deal and has his own interests in starting a baseball academy. Jay-Z's celebrity, especially in New York, and perhaps a chance for more marketing opportunities (Cano had recently complained about his separate marketing arm) appear to have been big factors in the sudden move.
The Yankees made what general manager Brian Cashman deemed a "significant'' offer to Cano several weeks ago, but Cano told folks he didn't believe that initial offer was even in the ballpark. He had been in contact with Boras or Boras' people, including Tony Bernazard, in the days before the switch, and apparently there'd been no suggestion anything was amiss, save for Cano expressing displeasure with a marketing company he was using and suggesting he'd find a new one.
That seems to be where Jay-Z came in. Cano met with Jay-Z friend Lebron James while playing in the World Baseball Classic in Miami in mid-March -- though it's hard to read too much into that as the new representation agreement with Boras came a few days later, on March 20.
While Cano has often suggested to friends that he wanted to push the envelope and get "the best deal,'' the switch to Jay-Z and his newly-launched sports agency, Roc Nation, seems to refocus things toward marketing and New York. In a recent New York Times article, Jay-Z was cited as an influence in A-Rod staying with the Yankees.
"Jay Z's a New York guy, but he's going to represent his guys, and it's going to be about where the player wants to go,'' said Jay-Z publicist Ron Berkowitz, who himself once worked briefly in the Yankees' front office as a PR man.
"I think, while this partnership has a New York element, it's formed to help accomplish the goals of Robinson Cano and his family,'' Van Wagenen said.
Meanwhile, some baseball people are scoffing at Cano's abrupt switch to a singer. Twins reliever Glen Perkins joked on Twitter. "It's been a good run @SFXBaseball but I'm going to switch my representation to Dwight Yoakum."
There's also the question whether Cano's tipped hand gives the Yankees the upper hand. Although, as one Yankees person suggested, "Brodie's no slouch.'' That is very true. CAA has done $100-million-plus deals for Ryan Braun, Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Cain and most recently for Buster Posey.
But if Van Wagenen is the designated point man, Jay-Z will be involved. He is a very successful businessman, but has no experience in baseball contract negotiations, which is the concern of folks around the game. "Jay Z has a very proven track record with everything that he does,'' Berkowitz said.
One agent not involved said Jay-Z's involvement has turned it into a "circus.'' But Van Wagenen suggested the negotiations will not affect the team on the field and their goal of winning a 28th World Series title. Speaking of Cano, Van Wagenen said, "He will not allow the personal contract situation to distract from that focus. The season has begin, and Robinson Cano's focus is on the field.''