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Red Sox could teach Yankees how to build a winner

Posted by Adam Kaufman  November 19, 2013 07:59 PM

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Can you believe it? A reason to applaud the Yankees that isn’t related to Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter.

Free agent second baseman Robinson Cano and his hip hop mogul agent, Jay Z, are reportedly seeking a Major League Baseball-record 10-year, $310 million contract. Seemingly, New York has no intention of paying such a ridiculous fee for his All-Star services.

"We want Robbie back; we think Robbie is terrific," Yanks president Randy Levine told on Tuesday. "But we have no interest in doing any 10-year deals and no interest in paying $300 million to any player. Until he gets a little more realistic, we have nothing to talk about.''

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It’s nice to know the Bombers are learning their lesson, since they’ve been burned once already by this type of deal. How could we forget when they handed Alex Rodriguez a guaranteed $275 million for a decade of work in 2007? Currently, that accused steroid user, think-for-himself’er, and diminished version of his former self is on the books for another $90 million through 2017. Moreover, like Cano now, A-Rod was also 31 when he began his new deal. This discussion might be a little different if Cano was, say, 27, but probably not much.

The Yankees do want Cano and are reportedly willing to pay him in the neighborhood of $165 million over seven years, which is more than I’d advise a team spend when it might be buried in the American League East for at least the next couple of years on account of existing bad contract commitments, a lack of a good farm system, and a desire to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. But, I don’t think general manager Brian Cashman will be soliciting my advice.

The news that the two sides are roughly $150 million apart is laughable. How many players can even command $150 million talks, let alone such a discrepancy? But, market value, a modest free agent talent pool, and a surplus of funds in the game has given the durable and consistent Cano the opportunity to attempt to name his number, while simultaneously thrusting the Yanks into the position where they have to make a difficult decision with the Steinbrenner family trust.

Now, perhaps most everything that could have broken right for the 2013 Red Sox did, but they’re the World Series champs and that means, lucky or otherwise, Boston has a model worth acknowledging.

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No member of the Sox earned even $16 million last year, though new fan-favorite John Lackey checked in close at $15.95 million. That ranked him 36th in MLB. Fewer than 10 members of the team reached eight-figures.

In fact, offseason acquisitions Mike Carp ($508.5K), Ryan Dempster ($13.25M), Stephen Drew ($9.5M), Jonny Gomes ($5M), Joel Hanrahan ($7.04M), Mike Napoli ($5M), David Ross ($3.1M), Koji Uehara ($4.75M), and Shane Victorino ($13M) earned a combined $61,148,500 in base salaries in 2013, which is essentially twice what Cano is eying per year in free agency. Pick any combination of that group to get the total down to $31 million, and you’d still consider taking that package over one Cano. Well, I would.

The Yankees – without Cano – have four of the highest-paid players in baseball in Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira, who all earn at least $23 million annually. The regularly contending Tigers possess two of the game’s Top 10 earners in Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, but many others are on bad teams. And, no matter the organization, very few of those high-priced players would be considered to have good contracts for their ball clubs.

As has been popularly discussed, most long-term, big-money deals don’t work out for more than a few years and are later viewed as bad contracts. Manny Ramirez is an exception, maybe the only one, and his was an eight-year deal (that arguably wouldn’t have held up in a 10th year). Still, teams keep signing these agreements, whether to keep fans coming to games, to market top-tier talent, or because they believe it’s what’s necessary to win. More often than not, however, the latter has been proven incredibly unreliable.

Who would blame Cano? If you could earn $30 million a year at your job, would you take $20 million? It’s a boatload of money no matter how you slice it, but the discrepancy is significant.

Unfortunately, particularly with new television money coming in for each club starting next year, teams aren’t suddenly going to stop paying lump sums of dough to the perennial MVP candidates, especially if someone like Tim Lincecum is able to command a two-year, $35 million extension following two sub-par seasons with the Giants, simply because of his past successes and the potential that remains at age 29.

That’s not to say teams should behave like the Marlins (who are cheap) or Astros (who are rebuilding) – two clubs with a combined payroll in 2013 of about $53 million – or even that franchises should target staying under $100, as 16 did last year. Many of those squads are ultra competitive, yes, like the Rays, Athletics, Pirates, Braves, and Indians, but the idea should be geared toward striking a balance.

Have a few stars, develop a farm system – where perhaps some of those players become underpaid superstars (Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, to name a couple of extreme cases) before they reach free agency – and, as important as anything, acquire depth.

The Red Sox could have viewed Carl Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez as improper fits in Boston for one reason or another, though Gonzalez did generally perform when he wasn't whining about the schedule, and then gone ahead and targeted the likes of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke with their Dodger-money. They could also hand Jacoby Ellsbury a giant deal this offseason, or make a competitive run at catcher Brian McCann. But they won’t.

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For the time-being, that is no longer their business model. The Monster is taking a snack-break. Until it proves unreliable, the Sox appear content with short-term, reasonably-priced deals with (often veteran) talent who can help in a variety of ways. As Jay Z might say, Ben Cherington has changed the game.

Credit the Yankees for at least considering a more realistic view to rebuild their operation, even if that means handing fewer big dollars to Ellsbury, Drew, McCann, Jhonny Peralta, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran, or Jarrod Saltalamacchia. It’s a small step in the right direction. Of course, until they get the underperforming Rodriguez – among others – off their books, Cano’s future salary in the Bronx, in Flushing, or anywhere else may be the least of their problems.

In the end, expect Cano to remain with the Yanks, but not for 10 years or anywhere near $300 million. In turn, anticipate another playoff-less year for the clean-shaven crew in pinstripes, as well. That’s not Cano’s fault, but there’s only so much money left in the piggy bank. At least his agent can mention him in a hit single with Kanye West. Maybe he can get in on the royalties?

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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