NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Jacoby Ellsbury walked into Fenway Park last week fearing the worst. Similar thoughts have to be racing through Robinson Cano’s head right now.
The former star for the Yankees will make his first trip back to the Bronx since signing a monster free agent contract with Seattle when the Mariners and Yankees open a three-game series on Tuesday.
And he’s ready for some animosity.
“I have to say I hope it’s good,” Cano said over the weekend. “Hopefully they understand that this is a business and I don’t have anything against the fans, the team, anybody. I can tell you I’m excited to go back and be able to see guys that I played with for a long time. Be able to see (Derek) Jeter play in his last year. Just looking forward to going back.”
Cano did it all during his nine-year run in pinstripes, hitting a collective .309 with 204 home runs and 822 RBI, and winning the 2009 World Series. But this past offseason he decided he wanted to get paid — and paid he got, to the tune of $240 million over 10 years by the Mariners. The Yankees reportedly never had any interest in budging off their seven-year, $175 million offer. They ended up spending close to $500 million this past offseason, but not a single dime on the player thought to be the one they absolutely had to have.
So what’s happened since? The Yankees are 15-10 and enjoy a 2 1/2-game lead atop AL East. The Mariners are 10-14 and sit 4 1/2 out in the AL West. Cano has 28 hits and is batting .301, but has just one home run to go along with his 11 RBI. Despite his apparent lack of power, Cano, even in the more spacious Safeco Field, will likely at least challenge the .314, 27, 107 he put up last year with the Yankees. But since the Mariners chose to not add any other offensive pieces once the Cano contract went on the books, it’s hard to imagine them keeping pace with more balanced squads in their division — Oakland, Texas and Los Angeles.
When Ellsbury came up for his first at-bat at Fenway following his offseason defection from the Red Sox to the hated Yankees for $153 million over seven years, he was booed, but it wasn’t as bad as many thought it would be. Ellsbury promptly tripled to open the game and the Yankees went on to a 9-3 win.
What will the reception be for Cano? The Yankees, themselves, said they don’t hold any grudges toward Cano for getting every last dollar he could. The fans, though, may be another matter.
“The fans really love what Robbie Cano did for the Yankees – probably similar to Jacoby and what he did for the Red Sox – but sometimes seeing a player in another uniform, you’re going to get some people who are upset,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Overall, the people who are happy with what he did in a Yankee uniform, which would lead me to believe, you’re going to hear clapping.”
“When people say, ‘What’s the reception going to be?’ I don’t know,” Derek Jeter said. “You’re going to have – just like most receptions – some people who are going to cheer for him and respect everything that he’s done here. And then you’ll have people that boo because probably they’re a little sad he’s not here.
“Regardless of what happens, I’m pretty sure all Yankee fans appreciated that he was here,” Jeter added.
And, of course, being in first place could also soften the blow. The Yankees are coming off a stretch of winning four out of six against the Red Sox and Angels, including a 3-2 victory over Los Angeles in the rubber game on Sunday night.
CC Sabathia, who will start Tuesday’s opener, said Cano remains one of the best hitters in the game, and now that he’s the enemy he must be respected.
“That guy’s such a good hitter. I mean I’ve seen him wear people out, good pitches, bad pitches, whatever,” Sabathia said. “So I’ll look to just try and make pitches, keep him off balance and trying to get him to hit it at somebody.
“It will be (odd), especially because we had a good relationship. … It’s going to be tough to face Curtis (Granderson with the Mets) come next week. … Prince (Fielder) and I are probably the closest I am with anybody in baseball, and every time we play each other we want to beat each other.”
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon told MLB.com he expects everyone to want a piece of Cano, but he’s more concerned with putting his best player in position to contribute to some victories.
“It will probably be a little different, but it’s our job to control the atmosphere and his access and that’s what we’ll do — just like we protect all of our players to a certain extent,” McClendon said. “You only have so much access to them and after that they got to get ready to play baseball.”
“I think everybody’s different but you’re going to have emotions — some of them are going to be mixed — but you want to do well against your old team,” he added.
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