It’s all about the money. “Money, money, money makes the world go round,” intones the comic in the Broadway musical. Money counts! Always has. Always will.
“Follow the money!” That was Ben Bradlee’s marching order to his hotshot pair of rookie reporters. Masters Woodward and Bernstein did precisely as the boss demanded and it led to the toppling of the president of the United States.
Vulgar as it may seem to the squeamish there is nothing abnormal about this essential notion governing the mentality of the most materialistic society ever to bloom on the face of this earth. It was yet another president – the one who presided over much of that hedonistic romp known as “the Roaring Twenties” – who famously declared, “The business of America is business!”
And what is the essential grist of business? Why it is money! What else? It’s how you make it and how you spend it, old Sport.
But why must it permeate everything we do, say, think, or yearn for all the way from the corridors of high finance to the ball yards of the Republic? It’s in baseball that money, in all of its omnipotence, begins to look silly.
The issue of money has come to obsess baseball, dominating everything from policy through performance. Where once the rallying cry was “Take me out to the Ballgame,” now it’s “Show me the Color of your Money!” No aspect of the game is more hotly disputed than the infernal mishmash of contracts, payroll, free-agency, and luxury tax. Shaping up ingloriously is a banner year for all this bloody stuff.
In Boston, they’ll spend the season counting down the Fenway service time of Jacoby Ellsbury, their most talented player although there’s reasonable doubt about his motivation. With “Mr. Squeeze” –Scott Boras – for an agent it’s reasonably presumed he’s gone at season’s end and can’t wait to split, probably for the West Coast. Shades of Freddie Lynn!
If the Red Sox’ season turns out to be a dud, which is entirely possible, given the early look of things, the outcry to trade him somewhere, anywhere, while it’s still possible to get a bucket of balls and a bundle of bats in return will reach operatic extremes by the end of July. It’s a depressing prospect that could only amuse a talk show gang.
But as these fiascos go, it will be chump-change compared to the grand opera now shaping up in New York where Robinson Cano becomes the latest alleged franchise-player to go to the mattress with the Yankees. It’s the worst-case scenario for the erstwhile money-is-no-object Bronx Bombers, who suddenly find themselves rapidly deflating and crying poor-mouth.
Talented as he may be, Cano is over-rated. Aren’t they all? But the Yankees have convinced themselves that they can’t let this guy flee if only because he’d be their only alleged franchise-player still in his prime and not teetering toward dotage while commanding a superstar’s salary.
Compounding the mess is the fact that Cano, who, in his perpetual nonchalance, will gladly hustle the last lousy dime, also has for an agent the insufferable Boras, who has mastered the dubious art of hustling the last lousy dime.
It’s the perfect storm of contract disputes that’s now evolving in the Bronx. It has all the choice ingredients: a player with a gravely exaggerated sense of his worth, an agent who thinks it’s all about him, and the ultimate team in the ultimate market gripped by panic as they brink on an identity crisis. Early in March, the pot already boils. This one’s going to be a whopper.
And if the Yankees’ season turns out to be a dud – already a very strong possibility, given the early look of things – the Cano controversy could get wonderfully ugly.
If I were them I’d be looking for ways to bail out on this guy, much as I would if I were the Red Sox in the matter of Ellsbury. But because Cano is the better player, and there’s more at stake in his case, the matter is more urgent for the Yankees, and more complex.
Cano is a 30-year-old middle-infielder believed to be seeking power-hitter Joey Voto or Albert Pujols money, and that means a ten-year deal for upwards to a quarter of a billion bucks which, by the way, is well more than either Voto or Pujols are worth. But such a contract for Cano is even more absurd. For all his skills, he remains capable of going AWOL for an entire post-season, which is precisely the stunt he pulled just last fall, seemingly without allowing it to ruin his winter.
Is this where the Yankees want to go as they enter the last wretched throes of Alex Rodriguez’s epic meltdown with his historic albatross of a contract now effectively paralyzing the franchise? Next question: Do the Yankees ever learn?
It would have been unthinkable even a year ago, and deemed treasonous when Big Daddy George was still with us, but you have to believe Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman are pondering the option of waving on Cano. For they know that if they cave in to him and Boras, it will be near impossible to meet their determined goal of keeping next season’s payroll under $189 million, thereby avoiding the huge penalties about to go into effect in what amounts to baseball’s new – if unofficial – “salary cap.” Baseball has its own fiscal cliff. It’s called the “luxury tax.”
To keep Cano, the Yankees would have to excise other killer contracts. That Curtis Granderson must be sacrificed is a foregone conclusion. But deeper cuts are necessary and nobody’s going to relieve them of the nine-figure millstone pacts of Brothers Teixeira and Sabathia. Nor would they dare stiff Derek Jeter. Which leaves them with the ever- lovely A-Rod and his $114 million still on the books.
They will try to purge A-Rod. Doubtless they’re plotting it even as we speak. The process will be fascinating – maybe the biggest story of the 2013 season – and it’s almost certainly doomed to fail.
A contract is a contract is a contract, as Gertie Stein might have said. It’s the most fundamental premise of the business of America. It’s all about the money.
How the Yankees would love to have the Dodgers come along and rescue them as they did the Red Sox by casually absorbing Boston’s bloated contracts last summer. The Dodgers’ payroll is so far over the tax-threshold they don’t even pay attention anymore. What’s another $100 million among plutocrats? Money is king in La La Land. Someday, they’ll wake up and it will be Monday morning again. But it ain’t happening this year.
The Dodgers are believed to covet Cano, and Boras is near certain to plant him out there, where he, too, is based. But why should the Dodgers get the Yankees off the hook now? Loaded up as they are, they’ll gladly wait until October.
Of course, dumping ridiculous contracts guarantees nothing but the opportunity to reprise your ruinous folly. Few are impressed with what the Red Sox have thus far done with the huge savings accrued by shedding Messrs. Gonzalez, Beckett, Crawford, and Punto. Replacing them with a gaggle of journeyman spare parts and pricey bit pieces is not dazzling the cranky Nation thus far.
Patience is urged. It’s the policy that has been changed, not just the lineup. Every once in a while in baseball you have to swallow your pride and start over. It’s a lesson Boston bellied up to last summer and accepted with something akin to humiliation. Now it’s the Yankees’ turn.
But then patience is in even shorter supply in the Bronx than in the Back Bay. The turn of the screw will be even more painful down there. But they’ll adjust and sooner or later they’ll be back on the money train. They’ll be unable to resist. It’s in their genes.