SEATTLE — Robinson Cano seemed to be next in line as the player to wear pinstripes for his entire career, all set to follow the path laid before him by mentors named Jeter, Posada and Rivera.
And then the Seattle Mariners blew him away with an offer of financial and career security the New York Yankees never came close to matching.
“I was looking for a contract where I would just be able to play and focus on the game and wouldn’t wonder when I’m 37, 38 would I have a job one day. Would I be able to play?” Cano said. “The one thing in Seattle is I get the chance. Am I going to keep working hard? Yes. Even harder? Yes. I’m going to do my best and play the same way I was playing in New York and go out there and do my business and win games.”
Cano never stopped smiling on Thursday as he was introduced as the Mariners’ new All-Star second baseman. He had $240 million reasons to grin after signing a deal that tied for the fourth largest in baseball history. He has security for the next 10 years knowing that at age 31, he’ll likely never go through the process of needing to seek another contact.
With music mogul Jay Z watching from the side of the room, his first client with Roc Nation Sports inked the fifth deal in baseball history to top the $200 million mark.
“Today isn’t about me. It’s about him,” Jay Z said as he declined interview requests.
Cano and his negotiating team spoke glowingly of working with the Mariners and Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik. But Cano felt the Yankees lacked in their efforts to keep him.
Asked if he ever thought he’d leave New York, Cano said, “Honestly, no.” Later, Cano said he never felt the Yankees wanted him back.
“I didn’t feel respect. I didn’t get respect from them and I didn’t see any effort,” Cano said.
The Yankees’ top offer was $175 million over seven years. Cano said he didn’t want to go through the contract process in his mid-to-late 30s. Seattle’s willingness to push the contract out to 10 years — and the whopping monetary commitment — sealed the agreement.
Cano’s representative, Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA Baseball, said an agreement was reached last Thursday night when the sides met for three hours after Cano, Jay Z and his negotiating team flew out to Seattle for the final meetings.
Seattle was one of three teams Cano was considering. Wagenen didn’t identify them.
“It started early in the free agency period. We had multiple conversations, multiple meetings, lots of trips back and forth cross country, ultimately I think we had four trips in a span of 12 days before we finally reached an agreement,” Van Wagenen said.
Cano had spent his entire career with the Yankees. The five-time All-Star played in 160 games last season and hit .314 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs. Cano posted a .899 on-base plus slugging percentage and finished fifth in American League MVP voting.
He was New York’s most feared hitter for the past several years, and the loss of a middle infielder who bats .300 and hits 30 homers stings. Cano posted a .899 on-base plus slugging percentage last season and finished fifth in American League MVP voting.
Only the two deals signed by Alex Rodriguez — first with Texas and then the Yankees — and Joey Votto’s contract with Cincinnati were worth more. Albert Pujols also signed a $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Cano will make $24 million per season from 2014-23 and the contract includes bonuses for awards. It’s the fifth deal to top $200 million in baseball history.
All parties agree the contract numbers could seem inflated on the backside of the contract. But the Mariners feel they are getting a bargain to start. They celebrated the signing with a highlight package from Cano’s career set to Jay Z’s “Show Me What You Got,” and had a small gathering for fans where “Hello Cano” shirts were handed out.
“We think even at this number he going to perform and has performed over what the contract is going to pay him,” Zduriencik said. “When you look at the length of the contract it’s a tremendous investment by this organization and it’s a huge step.”
Cano’s been one of the most durable players in baseball for the past seven seasons, missing only 14 out of 1,120 games since the start of the 2007 season. He’s a career .309 hitter who has averaged 24 homers and 97 RBIs per season.
Cano will be the anchor for a lineup that’s lacked consistency at the plate most of the past decade. Seattle made other additions at the winter meetings to support Cano, agreeing to a one-year deal with Corey Hart and acquiring Logan Morrison in a trade with the Miami Marlins. Those deals could be finalized as early as Friday.
It’s the second straight offseason Seattle has made a massive financial commitment after giving a $175 million, seven-year deal to ace Felix Hernandez last winter. Seattle has the room to make significant cash commitments because the only major contracts on the books for 2014 are for Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and only Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak are entering arbitration.
Hernandez and Cano talked by phone with the Mariners ace giving a strong recruiting pitch even if Seattle is far from the New York spotlight.
“If I am his teammate right now, I’m some kind of pumped,” Zduriencik said.