Robinson Cano traveled to Seattle Thursday, and sources told CBSSports.com that the Mariners offered the superstar second baseman a nine-year, $225 million contract in hopes of forging a deal with the top free agent and setting themselves up for a big winter.
The Yankees are said by sources to be willing to go only to $175 million for seven years, if they're not there yet, and Yankees people have suggested many times they have no plans to top $200 million (or even $175 million). So Seattle appears at least to have by far and away the best offer unless a third team comes out of the woodwork.
The Mariners, for years offensively weak, were said by a source to have "bumped" a first bid of around $200 million, and one person familiar with the talks said they intended to be $50 million above the Yankees, who are known to be drawing the line at around $175 million, with a willingness to increase a recent bid of about $158 million about 10 percent but not much more. The Yankees are regretful about the Alex Rodriguez contract, and fear a repeat of a big-bucks deal for a star who will age. Cano is 31.
Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes first reported the Mariners were willing to go to $230 million or even $240 million, so perhaps there was hope from the Cano camp the Mariners might boost their $225-million idea. However, Mariners sources were suggesting they likely couldn't go much higher than $225M, as ownership had its limits.
A $225-million, nine-year bid would still give Cano an average annual value (AAV) of $25-million, which is equal to Josh Hamilton, slightly more than Albert Pujols and among the biggest in baseball history -- though not quite the record $27.5 million average salary of his good friend and longtime teammate Rodriguez, the financial record-holder.
The Mariners understand they have to be well above the Yankees to get Cano to move nearly 3,000 miles, but they are said to have some limits, so they aren't expected to hit the $260-million figure Cano asked of the Yankees.
Still, $225 million is among the very top in baseball history.
"I think they've got to blow him away,'' one connected Mariners person said. "They've got to make an offer he can't refuse."
Cano was said to have flown up from Los Angeles with his relatively new agent Jay Z to join the lead agent Brodie Van Wagenen, who handled the initial Mariners meeting, as Rojas and Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported Cano was on the way to Seattle.
One source said the Mariners, who are talking about acquiring a few other big stars, are intent on accomplishing something major before the Winter Meetings, which begin Monday in Orlando.
While Cano is surely upset that the Yankees are still at least $85 million shy of his $260-million request, it is hard to imagine him surrendering his Yankees dream for a mere $25 million extra to $200 million. So the Mariners understood they had to do something attention grabbing.
While second base isn't the Mariners' first area of need, it's no surprise they may be the one willing to break the bank. They've tried hard for big stars in recent winters such as Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton and others, only to come up empty. They showed strong interest this winter in Jacoby Ellsbury, a native of the Northwest, before he went to the Yankees for $153 million over seven years.
The Mariners have to overcome a lot to win Cano, so they need to open their wallet big time. And it's not just that they're the Mariners and the Yankees are the Yankees. Consider ...
• It is well known that the new Cano agent Jay Z badly wanted Cano in New York, where he can presumably take full advantage of his marketing ideas, whatever they may be, and where Cano can be close to him.
• Cano's father Jose Cano, who played for the Houston Astros, and who's something of a stage father, badly wanted Cano in New York, too, and Cano listens to his father.
• Seattle is a long way from the 40-40 club and other New York City haunts Cano loves to frequent (and it isn't even known if he's a coffee drinker).
• Seattle is a long way from New York, and an even longer way from the Dominican Republic.
• Safeco Field historically has been one of the worst parks for hitters in the majors (though they lowered the fences and moved them in a bit last year). One baseball person wondered whether he could jeopardize his Hall-of-Fame chances by going from a 30-homer guy to 20.
• The Mariners still couldn't offer him much in the way of lineup protection.While they are trying for other big players such as Matt Kemp and Nelson Cruz, their best player at present is Kyle Seager.
• They are the Mariners. They've been crummy four straight years and have never made a World Series, contrasting with the Yankees, who have only missed the playoffs twice since 1995 and averaged 96 wins in that period.
So, it's no surprise the Mariners have to make a big play to have a chance.
Most would take a deal for $50 million, even if came from a longtime losing team with some inconveniences. Alex Rodriguez went to Texas for his first record deal of $252 million, when he wanted to be a Met.
The Yankees have long suggested they plan to go no higher than $175 million, and while that's a decent negotiating strategy, it sets the bar for other interested teams. The bar should be about $225 million, or perhaps even higher for Seattle, which has had difficulty luring players to the Pacific Northwest.
The Mariners are desperate to change their story. Their attendance has fallen off a cliff. They have a new big-bucks TV deal coming. So it's no wonder they have big plans.
They are talking to the Dodgers about at least Kemp. They have been in contact with free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz.
But they want Cano most of all. And if it takes a major expenditure, they do seem willing to do it. But the question remains: Will Cano take it?