Long Contracts To 30-Somethings Have Suddenly Become Toxic

By Jason Keidel
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Even if you disagree with Monday’s column that the Yankee Empire is ending, if you don’t know whether they need a rebirth or reboot, one decision affects all the others.

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What about Robinson Cano?

With A-Rod reduced to the solemn cheers of his most ardent apologists, and Derek Jeter struggling just to string together a week’s worth of games, Cano is the face of the Yankees. Which makes sense, really, on myriad levels.

Cano is the natural, with a savant’s swing, an iron arm and balletic grace at second base. Yet even with all his gifts and genuine, neon smile, he is conflicted. Despite playing on the biggest stage in sports and for the sport’s biggest team, he doesn’t even huff down to first base every time.

Not even in a contract year, The contract year, the one that makes anyone with just a plebian strain of Cano blood rich for the next century. If that isn’t enough incentive to run hard for 90 feet, then what is?

If you’ve met Cano, and I have, you feel better than you did before you met him. His radiant charm pierces all objectivity. He’s living the dream, and he knows it. And you don’t hate him for it.

But his apparent apathy, as much as risk or age or injury, should be a major concern for the Yankees, who are making a serious statement whether they sign him or wave goodbye to the last prince their farm produced.

Even with his casual approach to his profession, he’s worth four years at $100 million. Trouble is, he will ask for double.

Firing Scott Boras and hiring Jay-Z doesn’t mean hometown discount. Forget what you think about rap or Jay-Z’s place in its pantheon; he didn’t achieve stratospheric success by being naive.

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He knows this contract sets a precedent. So does Cano, who signed with a younger, hungrier name to get more money. Boras had a long, lucrative history with the Yankees, so switching agents wasn’t an act of conciliation.

The Yankees have the money, despite Hal and Hank Steinbrenner’s new, penurious posture with their roster. And the Yankees don’t let their own walk to the enemy. They poach your players, never the reverse.

But for the first time in 20 years the Yankees will not be seen as the most fertile soil in the sport, the glamourous, velvet-roped funnel to fame and World Series rings. The Bronx always sold itself, and if you weren’t convinced, they could triple your salary. Not now, not with A-Rod dead, Jeter dying and Mo retiring. Could Cano actually sign somewhere else, where the winning is more abundant and the headaches are less redundant?

How far the Yankees fall this fall starts with Cano. Everyone knows it, which gives the sublime second baseman even more leverage. But does he even care to use it? And do the Yankees care? Would they actually jam the restart button in the name of fiscal discipline?

Long contracts to 30-somethings have suddenly become toxic, particularly in the gory wake of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, who signed megawatt contracts and then flamed out, with eons left on their deals.

It could be, as it often is, that the Yankees are negotiating against themselves. No one except the Dodgers can or will offer Cano $200 million, and maybe Magic Johnson will close his colossal wallet for the winter. But if the Dodgers win the World Series and feel frisky, backed by stacks of cable TV cash, they could do what was once impossible: outspend the Yankees for their own player.

Cano turns 31 in October and, for only the second time in his career, he is almost assured to be on vacation on his birthday. The question is: With whom will he blow the candles? Where he lands will say a lot about the future of baseball, at least in the Bronx.

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