The deal that shook up baseball, revolutionized the Mariners and made Robinson Cano a very rich man was finalized while Jack Zduriencik sat in his car, parked in front of The Capital Grille restaurant in Seattle.
The Mariners’ entourage — which admittedly is not nearly as cutting-edge hip as Cano’s entourage — felt that their three-hour meeting last Thursday evening at Safeco Field with Cano, agent Brodie Van Wagenen and, of course, Jay Z, had gone exceedingly well. Contrary to reports, there was no rift between Howard Lincoln and Jay Z that led to the Mariners’ CEO exploding in anger.
“Make-believe. Completely false report,” Van Wagenen said at Cano’s introductory news conference Thursday.
But when they parted ways that evening — Jay Z and his people heading to Los Angeles for a concert, Cano for a private plane to the Dominican and the Mariners’ baseball operations staff for a bite to eat — Zduriencik still wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. The Mariners, after all, had been far down this road before, with Josh Hamilton and others, only to have it all fall apart in the end.
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Just as Zduriencik pulled up to the restaurant, his phone rang. It was Van Wagenen, ready to close the deal. So Zduriencik set up a conference call on his radio speaker, with Lincoln piped in from Hawaii, team president Chuck Armstrong from his office, and minority owner Chris Larson from his home. The team’s lead attorney, Bart Waldman, sat next to Zduriencik in the car.
Cano’s side presented some final requests. The Mariners’ contingent told the agent they’d get back to him, had one final, far-flung caucus via speaker phone, and called Van Wagenen back.
“If we do this, do we have a deal?” Zduriencik asked.
“If you do that, you have a deal,’’ Van Wagenen replied.
And thus ended, on a darkened street, the negotiation that few people believed would be resolved in the Mariners’ favor.
“I know people were saying and writing Seattle was being played,” Zduriencik said. “I didn’t get that feeling. From my first conversation with Robinson, I didn’t get that feeling.”
Glowing on the podium on Thursday, Cano explained what led him to Safeco Field, with his family in the audience. Jay Z looked on from the side, but declined to comment, telling reporters: “Today isn’t about me. It’s about him.”
Cano spoke repeatedly about how he came to view the Mariners as a family welcoming a new member, a notion reinforced in a phone call with Felix Hernandez.
Said Cano: “They showed me love. They showed they wanted me from Day One. … I can’t really explain how happy I am right now. Not because of the contract, but the way I’ve been embraced by the Mariner organization.”
Just as significantly, the Yankees conveyed a different message.
“I didn’t feel respect. I didn’t get respect from them, and I didn’t see any effort,” Cano said.
Meanwhile, the Mariners committed internally to putting forth a full-court press on the All-Star second baseman. Zduriencik said the team’s consensus at the outset of free agency, from ownership on down, was, “ ‘Let’s not get sold short on this one, and let’s get it.’ And we did. We were very aggressive. … They (ownership) believed it was time for us to strike with a star.”
Cano’s camp was duly impressed. Van Wagenen met with 20-plus teams at the general manager meetings in November, and narrowed the field down to nine or 10. The Mariners began to emerge as a viable candidate, a message Van Wagenen expressed often to the Seattle camp.
“I definitely wanted to reassure Jack and the Mariners this was an opportunity Robinson would consider, and we needed to explore it properly,’’ he said.
Two weeks ago, the field narrowed to five teams. Van Wagenen made four trips from New York to Seattle in the span of 12 days as the candidates for Cano narrowed to three teams.
The final trip west included the whole Cano group, including Jay Z, of whom Van Wagenen said, “There’s nothing Roc Nation Sports does, or Roc Nation does, that Jay Z doesn’t have his fingerprints on. So throughout this process, he’s been intimately involved the whole way.”
Van Wagenen said the Mariners convinced Cano of “their level of respect for him as a player and person. That commitment level resonated with him.”
And, let’s get real, so did the money. And the years.
“You could have stopped at a seven-year deal and probably wouldn’t have gotten it done,” Zduriencik said. “You probably could have gone to an eight-year deal and that wouldn’t have gotten it done. The fact the ownership group went to 10 was a big, big factor.”
Zduriencik believes the Mariners actually got a bargain in the early part of the contract, based on the going rate for superstars. And they believe Cano will age well enough for the second half to not be the disaster many predict from virtually all longterm contracts.
Zduriencik knows what’s at stake — including his own hide. But in that exhilarating and exhausting moment in front of the restaurant, all he wanted to do was revel in the moment.
So he joined the rest of the Mariner contingent inside, later to be joined by Van Wagenen, where they had a toast to their new second baseman.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org