Hey, you can’t blame Robinson Cano for dreaming big.

The up-until-now New York Yankees second baseman is a free agent, after all. Dreaming big is what free agents are supposed to do. To dream small is to low-ball oneself, and one should never do that.

But Cano and his people aren’t going to get what they want. You know that. I know that. The Yankees know that.

And if Cano doesn’t know that, time will inevitably make him know it.

What is it that Cano and his people want? Well, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports floated the idea of a $300 million contract—which would be the first of its kind in Major League Baseball—back in September, and Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York reported on Monday that this is still what Cano wants.

To be exact, he wants 10 years and $310 million. Not even $30 million per year, because why demand that when you can demand $31 million per year?

“We want Robbie back; we think Robbie is terrific,” said Yankees president Randy Levine to Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York 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.”

Just as superstar players are supposed to dream big during free agency, this is what their incumbent teams are supposed to do: draw a line in the sand and initiate a blinking contest.

Maybe the Yankees won’t be the beneficiaries in the end, but Cano is bound to be the one to blink first. It’s just a matter of time before he does indeed get “more realistic.”

Let’s consider the two things Cano is looking to sell himself as. First up is the notion that he’s a great player worthy of a considerable sum of money.

To this end, well, yeah. He’s a career .300 hitter with a 125 OPS+ and 204 career home runs. That’s outstanding stuff for a second baseman, and he’s better at this stage than he was earlier. His 141 OPS+ over the last four seasons trumps the 111 OPS+ he had from 2005 to 2009.

But the latest word is that Cano’s people aren’t just trying to sell him as a great baseball player. They apparently fancy him as a cultural icon as well.

“They’re selling him as Michael Jordan, not as a baseball player,” a major league official told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. “As a guy that’s going to be a big rock star and bring all these fans in. Last year, that wasn’t the case.” 

Let the record show that I say this with no malice whatsoever, but this, obviously, is laughable.

The baseball world is at a point in its history where it really doesn’t have any players who are that much bigger than the game.

It’s not that Major League Baseball is hurting for superstars. It has more to do with how hard it is for any one superstar to get so tremendously popular, and that’s partially because of the nature of baseball’s fanbase.

Baseball rooting interests are local, not national. What the heck do fans in San Francisco need Cano for? They have Buster Posey. Fans in Detroit have Miguel Cabrera. Even elsewhere in New York, plenty of fans go for David Wright rather than Cano.

Sure, some superstars have appeal that reaches beyond local borders. Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, two of Cano’s longtime teammates, come to mind as examples. Albert Pujols was in that camp during his heyday. I’ll wager there’s something about Bryce Harper that strikes a national chord.

But Cano? It’s not like he’s ever been a leading All-Star vote-getter. Heck, he barely even cracked the top 20 for jersey sales this year. In fact, according to MLB.com, he was eight spots behind the top second baseman on the list: Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

Perhaps Jay Z, Cano’s high-profile and boastful new business partner, was hoping that his own personal brand would somehow inflate Cano’s personal brand. Instead, you get the sense that most baseball fans have rolled their eyes and are now waiting for Cano to get a contract that former agent Scott Boras could have gotten him without all the added hype.

Therein lies the other quandary Cano is facing: Even Boras would be hard-pressed to do well in the market for Cano’s services.

There was a time when it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Los Angeles Dodgers would be in on Cano this winter. But Magic Johnson said in early October that it wasn‘t going to happen, and then the Dodgers signed somebody else to play second base: Cuban defector Alex Guerrero.

With the Dodgers seemingly out of the equation, there is no obvious alternative for Cano outside The Bronx.

The Tigers have been big spenders recently and have a vacancy at second base with Omar Infante hitting free agency. But they already have Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez signed to big-money contracts, and they will soon have to worry about Miguel Cabrera. Since they might sign Max Scherzer to a big extension before they get to him, now’s not a great time for them to get involved with Cano.

The Los Angeles Angels have also been big spenders recently. But given what they’ve gotten out of Pujols and Hamilton so far, it’s fair to wonder if Angels owner Arte Moreno has cold feet when it comes to big-money contracts.

Plus, there will eventually have to be money for Mike Trout.

The Washington Nationals are an interesting option. But they have a talented youngster in Anthony Rendon ready to man second base, and a long-term contract for Cano could ultimately complicate hammering out long-term deals for Harper and Stephen Strasburg, among others.

The Texas Rangers? They could probably make it happen, but their middle infield is crowded enough with Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler blocking top prospect Jurickson Profar

The New York Mets? Well, they did meet with Jay Z this week, as Ken Davidoff and Dan Martin of the New York Post were first to report. But they’ve swung and missed on the last few big-money deals they’ve tried, and general manager Sandy Alderson has said it’s unlikely the club will even so much as sign a $100 million player. 

Will a mystery team come calling? That’s always possible, especially given that the new national TV deals going into effect in 2014 mean extra money for all 30 clubs.

But as Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs and others have pointed out, those only mean an extra $25 million per year. Nobody suddenly has enough extra money lying around to give in to Cano’s apparent desire for $31 million per year.

Could the Yankees swing it? Sure they could. The extra TV money may not be an extra $31 million per year, but it’s in addition to all the other money they get from a huge local TV contract and consistently excellent attendance figures.

But they obviously don’t want to, and they have their reasons.

They have the luxury tax to worry about, for starters, and the last thing they need is a contract that has the potential to be an even bigger debacle than the 10-year, $275 million contract they gave Alex Rodriguez back in 2007.

Cano and his people are presumably keeping how that contract came to be at the forefront of their minds. After A-Rod opted out of his contract following the 2007 season, there was all sorts of talk coming from the Yankees about how they wouldn’t cave. But sure enough, they caved.

Whatever hope Cano and his people may be drawing from that incident, however, is misplaced. Things are different now.

Hank Steinbrenner was one of the driving forces, if not the driving force, in getting A-Rod’s mega-contract done. He’s since been pushed into the shadows, with the much more measured and calculating Hal Steinbrenner taking charge.

It will be a huge shocker if Hal authorizes a deal bigger than the A-Rod contract. He knows what an albatross that deal is now and how difficult it’s made life in regard to the organization’s bottom line. He also knows that there’s no reason to even come close to A-Rod numbers until Cano starts making some real music with another team.

And that’s highly unlikely to happen at Cano’s asking price. Even in a market that’s flush with extra cash, his asking price is too high. He’ll have to come down sooner or later.

Maybe it will be sooner. Maybe it will be later. But it will happen. Nobody’s going to rush to meet Cano at $310 million. He’ll have to meet everyone else at a much smaller number and then work his way as close to $310 million as he can.

It’s just a matter of when he’s going to realize that his big dream is nothing but a fantasy.


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