Cano, Yankees at a contract standoff

Robinson Cano will hit free agency at about the same age as A-Rod did. Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

SARASOTA, Fla. -- There have been no big shifts in the New York Yankees' early contract discussions with Robinson Cano. This is what team owner Hal Steinbrenner told the Associated Press on Tuesday:

"We expressed to [agent] Scott [Boras] how much we like Robbie and what a great Yankee he's been, and we hope he continues his career here for a long time to come. We just indicated to him on a very preliminary basis that we were willing to consider a significant long-term contract, and left it at that. There's really nothing to report since then."

The Yankees and the Steinbrenners' next generation have taken some lumps this winter for the team's recent austerity, for the push to get to a $189 million payroll for 2014. But whatever happens in the Cano negotiations won't be impacted by that recent fiscal discipline; the Yankees can always structure the deal so Cano is paid a salary that is workable within their 2014 budget, with a whole lot more riches coming later. Once the Yankees get to the $189 million threshold, they will likely grow their payroll markedly thereafter.

So the Yankees' negotiations with Cano will really come down to two significant factors:

1. The impact of the disastrous Alex Rodriguez contract

There is no doubt that there are similarities between A-Rod and Cano in terms of performance and age, and that will affect the Yankees' thinking. Cano is one of the game's best players now and would be 31 years old at the time he'd become a free agent in the fall. Rodriguez was 32 years old at the time he opted out of his $252 million contract and negotiated a new 10-year, $275 million deal -- and now the Yankees are on the hook for $114 million over the last half of the contract, at a time when Rodriguez has had two major hip operations and is, at best, an above-average player.

There are differences between Cano and Rodriguez, in their personalities and in their physical makeup; Cano is more compact, and may have less wear and tear on him than Rodriguez did at the time of his deal. There are great unknowns that the Yankees will never get to the root of: How much of Rodriguez's regression could be due to his use of performance-enhancing drugs, and how much of his greatness was built on the pharmaceuticals?

My guess is this: The Yankees' baseball operations department -- which recommended that the team pass on the renegotiated Alex Rodriguez deal -- will recommend to ownership that the Yankees pay Cano very well, but not over a 10-year deal. I think something in the range of a seven-year deal, $189 million deal (or $27 million a year) is going to be much more palatable to the baseball people in the organization; I can't ever see them giving their OK to another 10-year deal.

2. Cano's own primary endgame

If what he wants most is to get paid the most amount of money possible -- which is his choice, of course -- then he should wait through the year and go into free agency, to engage with as many teams as possible. The Chicago Cubs, who have money to spend, could be in play, as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams that are currently fielding strong clubs.

But don't forget a team like the Houston Astros, who have created enormous payroll flexibility and will have a lot of money available. If Cano reaches free agency, perhaps another team would push the Yankees in the bidding -- although I suspect the Yankees will give Cano their best offer at some point before free agency and withdraw from the bidding if he turns down their last-best, and then start to look elsewhere. His best chance for the most dollars will come next fall.

If Cano's real desire is to remain with the Yankees while being extremely well-compensated, then he should make his deal now. Because they will give him a whopper contract right now, if he seriously engages them, and he can avoid the inherent injury risk that comes with the last season before his free agency. If he stays in New York, he will become the natural heir to a lot of the commercial riches that Derek Jeter eventually will leave behind -- the endorsements and the prominence that comes with being the most well-known player for one of the most well-known teams in the world.

The Yankees are reaching a crossroads in their history. Mariano Rivera is likely to retire after this year, and Andy Pettitte and Jeter won't be far behind. They want Cano, and as the richest franchise in the sport, they'll pay him.

But if this drags out, they will not hesitate to move in another direction; if you have tens of millions of dollars to spend -- and the Yankees will, after next season -- there are many ways to upgrade a roster. There figure to be a lot of other prominent players in the market in the next calendar year, from David Price to Giancarlo Stanton to Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees won't wait long for Cano to take their money.

This negotiation is destined to go the distance, writes Joel Sherman.

Lohse and the Dodgers

As if Kyle Lohse doesn't enough working against him, between the draft-pick compensation issue and his age of 34, there is this, rival officials say -- the Dodgers' surplus of starters.

As one GM noted last week, Lohse's best chance of getting a deal now is for a major injury to occur, to compel a team to invest in the right-hander, in the way that Victor Martinez's injury created opportunity for Prince Fielder a year ago.

But teams that suffer an injury to a starting pitcher this spring also have another option: They can simply pick up the phone and call L.A. to ask about Chris Capuano or one of their other available starters. Lohse is a better option, but he'll also be more expensive, and this time of year, there are few dollars available.

Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of the pitchers new to the Dodgers' camp, has a high-wire act to balance, writes J.P. Hoornstra. He got some advice from Sandy Koufax.

Chad Billingsley is feeling good.

Verlander turns 30

Justin Verlander turns 30 today, and he hopes to have 10 more seasons, writes Tom Gage. From the piece:

    What are you going to be doing when you're 40?

    "Hopefully the same thing I'm doing now," he said.

    With a win total of?

    Verlander hesitated, but didn't duck the question.

    "With a win total of 287," Verlander said.

    And there you have it: The next 10 years laid out for the pitcher many call the best in the game.
    Verlander would like nothing more on his 30th birthday, which is today, than to know in 10 years he'll still have the stuff to be a starting pitcher for the Tigers.

    Still be heading out from a day of spring training to the golf course.

    Still doing what he loves the most, and envisioned -- or at least hoped for -- since he was 10 years old.

    "When I was little, I wrote an essay on what I'd be doing when I'm 30," Verlander said. "And I'm doing pretty much exactly what I thought I would be."

More PED fallout