The Mariners are no longer frozen out of hot-stove excitement. They are the center of it.
After two years of failing to cajole top free agents into coming to Seattle, the Mariners have made the coup of the offseason. Two sources close to the negotiations say they have convinced baseball’s top free agent — All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano — to sign a 10-year contract.
All it took was a contract that tied for the third-richest in major-league history.
Reports emerged Friday morning that Cano and the Mariners had agreed to a 10-year, $240 million contract. The news shocked the baseball world, particularly in New York, where Cano has played for the Yankees the past nine seasons, making five All-Star teams and winning a World Series in 2009.
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The Mariners would not confirm the deal, despite multiple news outlets reporting the same news. “If and when an agreement is completed and finalized, we will announce,” the team’s statement said.
Many details have to be agreed upon and completed in a deal of this magnitude, but multiple sources say an agreement is in place. Cano needs only to pass an extensive physical the next few days before an announcement could be finalized.
It’s close enough to being done that even Mariners legend Ken Griffey Jr. was optimistic.
“I think he’s going to be good for the organization,” Griffey said in a phone interview. “Any time you get that type of player, it’s going to be a good thing.”
It’s a massive financial commitment from the Mariners. Their largest previous free-agent signing came in 2004, when they signed Adrian Beltre to a five-year, $64 million contract. The team did show a willingness to spend enormous sums of money before the 2013 season, locking up ace pitcher Felix Hernandez with a seven-year, $175 million contract extension.
Cano’s contract would tie Albert Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Angels in 2012. The two largest contracts belong to Cano’s former teammate, Alex Rodriguez, who signed a $252 million contract with the Rangers in 2001 and a $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2008.
Cano, 31, will be 41 when the contract ends. The final years of the contract, which will be backloaded, is when his value likely won’t equate to his annual salary. But the Mariners believe this signing will change the growing perception of a moribund, dysfunctional franchise that free agents avoid. The club hopes Cano’s signing will draw other free agents to Seattle and Safeco Field.
“It can happen,” Griffey said. “I hope it does. We’ve struggled as a whole getting people to come there. Hopefully, this is an eye-opener to get guys to come here in their prime and start changing the way things have been.”
The Mariners have the payroll flexibility to continue to be big spenders this offseason. And they will need to supplement their roster to protect Cano in the lineup. With only Hernandez ($22 million), Hisashi Iwakuma ($6.5 million) and Willie Bloomquist ($2.9 million) having significant salaries next season, there is money to spend. Team CEO Howard Lincoln has said the Mariners’ payroll budget would likely increase next season. The team spent $84 million in 2013 after budgeting $95 million.
A $100 million budget in 2014 would mean they can still make legitimate and competitive offers to other free agents such as outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
For Mariners fans starved for signs of life, the past few days have been tension filled.
The notion of Cano not in Yankee pinstripes seemed unrealistic at first. Cano’s baseball brilliance was born and nurtured in the organization. He embraced the city of New York, and the nightlife and celebrity scene that came with it. His decision to leave his previous agent, Scott Boras, to sign with rapper Jay Z’s fledgling sports-management company, Roc Nation Sports, in April, only added to the perception that Cano would be a Yankee forever.
But his initial request for a 10-year, $305 million contract was met with derision from Yankees ownership. Instead, the Yankees first offered six years, $160 million and then upped it to seven years, $175 million. The low offer opened Cano to other possibilities. The Mariners, armed with plenty of money, offered more than $200 million.
The talks turned serious Thursday. By that evening, Cano flew to Seattle, along with representatives led by Brodie Van Wagenen and Jay Z.
Suddenly, a deal seemed possible.
Then came another possible twist early Friday morning. News outlets in New York reported the negotiations had broken down and Lincoln had stormed out of the meetings. Those reports were dismissed by sources close to the negotiations.
Word of a possible deal leaked onto social media Friday morning. Yankees sources confirmed to multiple outlets they were out of the running.
In Seattle, M’s fans rejoiced that Cano was coming. By the end of this offseason, he might not be the only one.
|Largest baseball contracts in MLB history|
|1. Alex Rodriguez, 32||Yankees||2008-17||10 years, $275 million|
|2. Alex Rodriguez, 25||Rangers||2001-10||10 years, $252 million|
|3. Robinson Cano, 31||Mariners||2014-23||10 years, $240 million|
|3. Albert Pujols, 32||Angels||2012-21||10 years, $240 million|
|5. Joey Votto, 30||Reds||2014-23||10 years, $225 million|
|Cano at Safeco|
|Last season, when the fences were moved in, Robinson Cano went 2 for 13 with one home run and four RBI. Here are his career numbers at Safeco Field.|
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @RyanDivish