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Robinson Cano teams with Jay-Z, but what is Hal Steinbrenner’s state of mind?

Everyone has been reading the tea leaves since Robinson Cano replaced baseball super agent Scot Boras with an agency fronted by music mogul Jay-Z.

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Does teaming with Jay-Z improve Cano's chances of remaining a Yankee?
Does teaming with Jay-Z improve Cano's chances of remaining a Yankee?
Nick Laham

Everyone has been reading the tea leaves since Robinson Cano replaced baseball super agent Scot Boras with an agency fronted by music mogul Jay-Z.

Most have interpreted the move to mean Cano desperately wants to the remain in the Bronx, so much so that ditching Boras indicates his willingness to give the Yankees a hometown discount. However, not everyone has agreed that's a good thing. Even if the Yankees save some money in the deal, that argument goes, the length and cost of the contract will still be prohibitive. In other words, Boras' reputation for prying players away from their current teams was the Bronx Bombers only hope of being saved from themselves.

Although Cano's decision to change representation could have a small impact on the timing and terms of his next contract, much of the analysis has been a little naïve. Does anyone really believe Scot Boras was so stubborn he would disregard the wishes of Cano and risk pocketing a seven figure commission? Sure, Boras has established a pattern of having his clients test free agency, but there are enough exceptions, such as Elvis Andrus most recently, to indicate he hasn't gone rogue.

So, if Boras wasn't ignoring his direction, why would Cano switch agents just months before his current contract expires? Perhaps the simple answer is the allure of Jay-Z. Instead of assuming Cano's will was being thwarted by Boras, a more plausible explanation involves a superstar athlete being enticed by an opportunity to do business with someone who has become icon to his generation. Athletes and entertainers have always had a symbiotic relationship when it comes to their fame and fortune, so to Cano, partnering with Jay-Z is likely about much more than his next deal.

Cano would do just fine with any agent. Maxwell Smart could go to the bargaining table on his behalf and come away with a lucrative contract. Would you believe eight years and 180 million? That might even be a low estimate. Cano is going to get paid regardless of his representation. However, there is one man who stands in the way of the second baseman getting that money from the Yankees: Hal Steinbrenner.

Despite having a record setting payroll of $230 million on Opening Day, the Yankees are already exhibiting scars from the team's fiscal restraint. Now, imagine having to cut $41 million from the payroll and give Cano a hefty raise. If your math can't handle such large figures, don't bother. I've already crunched the numbers.

The Yankees do not have many commitments for the 2014 season, but the contracts on the books come with lots of zeros. If the Bronx Bombers give Cano a contract with an AAV of $23 million, that would leave Brian Cashman with approximately $39-$54 million left to spend on 31 roster spots. You don't need to be a math genius to see that if the Yankees sign Cano and continue with their plan to dip below the $189 million luxury tax threshold, their chances of succeeding in 2014 (and beyond) will be very slim.

Yankee fans can debate whether the team should re-sign Cano until they're blue in the face, but that argument is really a red herring. The real topic should be the prudence of abruptly adopting drastic cost cutting initiatives when so many expensive contracts remain on the books. Unless Hal Steinbrenner can make the case that the long-term financial health of the franchise is at stake (which independent valuations contradict), there's only one compelling reason to trim payroll so drastically: greed. It would be one thing for Steinbrenner to implement a plan that gradually reigns in player costs, but by doing so, he would forfeit the new CBA's extremely lucrative incentives, which expire in 2016. That's why his current plan to get below the luxury tax threshold sooner than later is nothing more than a money grab.

Although Cano's decision to dump Boras certainly seems like a catalyst to get a deal done with the Yankees, both the player and team would probably be better off taking a step back. Before committing to each other, the Yankees need to reassess their priorities, while Cano needs to understand exactly what direction the Yankees are headed. A partnership between the two only works if the organization remains committed to its winning percentage first and its profit margin second. Unfortunately for Yankee fans, that's not something Boras or Jay-Z can negotiate on their behalf.