SBD/December 9, 2013/Franchises

Mariners Make Splash With Cano Deal In Hopes Of Wooing Fans, Other Free Agents

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Cano's contracts represents the largest free agent deal in Mariners history
The Mariners have been "the talk of the baseball world" since it was reported the team reached a 10-year, $240M deal with free agent 2B Robinson Cano, and "all indications" are the contract will be finalized this week, according to Ryan Divish of the SEATTLE TIMES. Cano, who "flew back to his native Dominican Republic and was shown on television wearing a Mariners cap, likely will take an extensive physical in the next few days" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/8). In Seattle, Geoff Baker wrote the deal "marks a stunning about-face for a franchise that for years kept overall payroll below past levels." The Mariners after a franchise-high $118M payroll in '08 have "avoided surpassing" $100M again. Through most of Exec VP & GM of Baseball Operations Jack Zduriencik's five-year tenure, the Mariners "allowed their biggest contracts to expire while completing a regional sports television network purchase analysts say is worth billions." The team was in negotiations "to assume a controlling share" of Root Sports, and completion of the TV acquisition "likely enabled the Mariners to finally land a big-time free agent instead of getting outbid." Most analysts "agree the Mariners are close to being at least" a $1B franchise, which would be "double what it was worth when Zduriencik took over and the payroll reductions began" in '08 (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/7). The SEATTLE TIMES' Divish wrote the Mariners believe this signing "will change the growing perception of a moribund, dysfunctional franchise that free agents avoid." The club hopes Cano's signing "will draw other free agents to Seattle." The Mariners "have the payroll flexibility to continue to be big spenders this offseason." The team spent $84M in '13 after budgeting $95M, and are believed to have a $100M budget in '14. The Mariners' largest free agent signing prior to Cano was a five-year, $64M contract for 3B Adrian Beltre in '04 (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/7).

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS: ESPN.com's Jim Caple wrote there "was a time when the Mariners were the team" in Seattle. But those days "are long gone." The Mariners now are "probably the third or even the fourth most popular team in town." They "desperately needed to do something to restore their local cred, even if it meant overpaying for Cano" (ESPN.com, 12/7). In N.Y., Tyler Kepner noted the Mariners have "just two winning seasons in their last 10." Average attendance at Safeco Field "has fallen to 21,747 -- half of what it was in 2001, when Seattle last made the playoffs" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/7). ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote the Mariners "needed a star acquisition, a marquee name, to jump-start the enthusiasm of the fan base." As the team "went through a decadelong decline, the fans went away, and now they at least have some reason to think about coming back." The $240M to sign Cano was "the cost of restoring hope" (ESPN.com, 12/7). In Seattle, Larry Stone wrote the Mariners deserve credit for having the "audacity to launch a pursuit of the top player on the free-agent market," and for "having the cojones to pull it off." To do so "required a stunning reversal in philosophy" by Mariners Chair & CEO Howard Lincoln. The old Mariners way "clearly wasn't working." Stone: "I salute the Mariners for going big and bold" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/7). Also in Seattle, Jerry Brewer wrote this "gigantic deal is about more than talent acquisition." It is about "regaining credibility, within baseball and the local community." It is about "trying to win, which the Mariners have been accused of not caring about over the past 12 years." Brewer: "Consider the past week the Seahawks Effect." The Seahawks are "dominating the attention and reminding long-suffering Seattle sports fans that it’s OK to demand more" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/7).

ON THE OTHER HAND...: The SEATTLE TIMES' Baker wrote the "dramatic financial splash comes too late." It also "doesn't change problems at the very top of the organization." Manager Eric Wedge "left at season's end, fleeing what he describes as 'total dysfunction and a lack of leadership'" The sentiment is "echoed by current and past Mariners baseball operations employees beyond Wedge." Sources said that "any manager -- and the players under him -- will fall short of success without a halt to ongoing interference from Lincoln and whomever succeeds" President & COO Chuck Armstrong, who will retire Jan. 31. The sources also "raised serious doubts about the GM tasked with reversing years of futility in one offseason, saying Zduriencik has kept his job only because Lincoln and Armstrong won’t admit another critical hiring mistake" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/8). SNY's Adam Schein addressed the impact of the deal on Cano's endorsement portfolio, asking, "Is he going to market Starbucks?" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 12/6).

THE JAY Z EFFECT: ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote Cano's deal with the Mariners "might not establish" Jay Z and Roc Nation Sports "as a classic 'rival' to" agent Scott Boras. But it puts Jay Z and CAA Baseball co-Head Brodie Van Wagenen "in a club with Boras and Dan Lozano as the only agents ever to negotiate contracts" of $200M plus. If other big-name players "are impressed enough by Jay Z's pitch to come on board -- and the Cano deal helped sway them -- that's the ultimate test." But industry observers are "united in the belief that Van Wagenen and the CAA people did all the grunt work, crunched the numbers and conducted all the arduous preparations, and that the whole idea of a 'collaboration' with Jay Z was overblown" (ESPN.com, 12/6). In Detroit, Tony Paul wrote the signing "is a major coup" for Jay Z, "even if it's not the $300 million they had sought" (DETROIT NEWS, 12/8). ESPN's Bomani Jones said, “I just want to know what happened to all those people this morning who were saying that Jay Z had messed it up and overplayed his hand trying to get the tenth year and then Robinson Cano got the tenth year. I’ve never heard more people speak positively about Scott Boras in my life then I did this morning” (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 12/6). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser: “I’m stunned by the money, I’m stunned by the length of the deal. Let me say that Jay Z has walked into the agent business with a thunderclap. It’s a big win for him” (“PTI,” ESPN, 12/6). SNY's Bob Raissman said Jay Z "is the biggest winner" in the deal "outside of Cano." The N.Y. Daily News' Andy Martino said Jay Z is "going to get more clients out of this" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 12/6).
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