The notion of a player in his 30s signing for a decade has quickly grown antiquated. "I don’t want to be like those guys that, two or three years into their contract, they do really good and then they don’t care. I do care," Cano says.
Robinson Cano was 31 years old when he left the Yankees for a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners in December 2013. The landscape for veteran free agents has changed plenty since then.
Cano is the last free agent to get a 10-year contract. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will reach free agency this winter at 26 years old, so they could be the next. But the notion of a player in his 30s signing for a decade has quickly grown antiquated.
Charlie Blackmon, the star center fielder for the Colorado Rockies, is 31 years old now, just as Cano was in 2013. But Blackmon passed up a chance at free agency Wednesday by signing an extension for three more years, plus two player options. Including this season, Blackmon is guaranteed $108 million through 2023 — a healthy sum, to be sure, but also a realistic appraisal of the changing value of older players.
Cano, at least, is motivated to prove that a 10-year deal can still make sense. The Mariners have not reached the playoffs with Cano, but he has remained an elite performer.
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“I want to earn every penny that I get here,” Cano said in spring training, at the couch by his locker stalls in Peoria, Ariz. “I don’t want to be like those guys that, two or three years into their contract, they do really good and then they don’t care. I do care. I love this game so much, this is what I dreamed when I was a kid. When I retire, I don’t want to miss the game. I want to say I gave it everything I got, so now it’s time for me to hang up the shoes and go home.”
Cano entered this season with 301 career home runs, trailing only Jeff Kent (377) for homers by a player who primarily played second base. Now 35, Cano will have a strong Hall of Fame case if he finishes his career the way he plans.
“If you can have a good year at the age of 34, why not have it at 35?” said Cano, who hit .280 with 23 homers last season, and added another home run to win the All-Star Game. “If you keep working hard, you tell your body that you’re ready to go — not like guys that start sitting down, they’re gaining weight, they don’t care. I have fans out there, I have my son, I have to be a good example. I feel comfortable now because I got the money, but money’s not everything.”
Cano spoke about his reputation, citing the Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar as a source of pride.
“He’s a Latino, he’s one of our guys,” said Cano, listing other superstars from Latin America, from Juan Marichal to David Ortiz. “That’s how I want to be remembered, as a guy that was productive in this game, not a guy that just feels comfortable because he gets the money.”
As great as Alomar was, he played his final game at 36, the same age Cano will be this fall. By then, his contract will be only half over.
“I know a lot of people were like, why are you going to Seattle?” Cano said. “But for me it was more the 10 years — and this year’s a good example.”
He cited examples of the most recent free agent market that frustrated many players, whose hopes for long-term deals never materialized. Cano is off the market, almost certainly for good. He timed his big deal just right.
“This way,” Cano said, “I’ll be able to have a contract and prepare myself and not worry about, at the age of 37, ‘Am I ever going to get a job again?’”
Ohtani shakes off spring struggles
Shohei Ohtani had four singles in 32 at-bats for the Los Angeles Angels in spring training. His performance on the mound was not much better. But Ohtani, the celebrated two-way rookie from Japan, had quite a first weekwhen it counted.
As the designated hitter on opening day in Oakland, Ohtani singled in his first at-bat. In his first start as a pitcher, he struck out six in six innings to beat the A’s. In his first at-bat at home, against Cleveland, he drilled a three-run homer. In his next game, he homered off the Indians’ Corey Kluber, a two-time Cy Young Award winner. On Friday, he launched a 449-foot homer against Oakland to power a comeback win.
The fast start, after the uneasy first impression, recalls the well-worn but charming tale of Ichiro Suzuki’s introduction to the majors at spring training with the Mariners in 2001. After watching Suzuki slap almost everything the opposite way, Manager Lou Piniella grew impatient with his much-hyped new star. Piniella told Suzuki’s interpreter that he needed to see bat speed, and asked if Suzuki ever pulled the ball.
“I watched as the interpreter went down to the end of the dugout, said something to Ichiro, and Ichiro nodded and smiled,” Piniella wrote last year in his memoir with Bill Madden.
“The next inning, he hit a high fastball onto the hill behind the right field fence. When he got back to the dugout he came up to me and said, ‘You happy now?’ I replied, ‘Yes, yes. I’m very happy. From here on out you can do whatever you want!’”
More than 3,000 hits later, Suzuki is still playing, back with the Mariners to extend a career that began with the Orix Blue Wave in 1992 — two years before Ohtani was born.