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NEW YORK -- The Seattle Mariners have emerged as major players in the sweepstakes for free agent Robinson Cano, according to several sources who spoke to ESPNNewYork.com on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.
With the New York Yankees not wanting to offer Cano more than a seven-year contract or as much as $200 million, an industry source with knowledge of the negotiations put the Yankees' chances of retaining the five-time All-Star second baseman at "less than 50-50."
"It doesn't look too good right now," said the source.
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik refused to confirm a meeting with Cano.
"We've talked to everybody," Zduriencik told ESPNNewYork's Andrew Marchand on Tuesday. "There's not a free agent we haven't talked to. We've cast a wide net.''
Sources familiar with the negotiations between the Yankees and Cano told ESPNNewYork.com that the Yankees believe Seattle might be willing to offer Cano $200 million over eight years.
One of the sources said the Mariners were "desperate for hitting and desperate to put people in the ballpark."
"I wouldn't presume to say that there's no one out there that will meet [Cano's] demands,'' said another source, who named Seattle along with possibly the Texas Rangers as teams that might be willing to outbid the Yankees for Cano's services.
"Now it's a question of, does [Cano] want to be a Yankee, or is he just about the money?" a baseball insider said.
According to sources, the Yankees believe they learned the answer when it was reported in October that Cano's side had demanded a 10-year deal worth $310 million. Cano has since said he never made any such demand.
Cano's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, did not respond to a request for comment, and a source said the agent was meeting with another team Tuesday afternoon. The source would not specify the team but said "It's a big, big meeting.''
The Yankees have had no contact with Cano or his representatives since last Tuesday, when they presented Cano with an offer believed to be for seven years and $160 million. At the same meeting, the Cano side was said to have lowered its demands slightly; it has since been reported Cano is asking for $252 million over nine years with a vesting option for a 10th year at $28 million.
The Yankees are said to be willing to increase their offer, but not substantially; an insider said the club might be willing to go to $175 million over seven years, an average salary of $25 million, and characterized the offer as "incredibly fair."
"Not even [Derek] Jeter got that kind of money," the insider said.
Jeter's 10-year deal that expired before the 2010 season paid him $189 million. He subsequently signed a three-year deal for $51 million, and this October he agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal for 2014.
According to a source who was briefed on the meeting, the Yankees have rejected the idea of any deal longer than seven years for Cano based on their history of bad deals -- notably, Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million contract -- and the contracts given to Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Ryan Howard, none of which have panned out.
Instead, the Yankees presented an analysis of Cano's value that determined he was worth approximately $25 million per season -- below Rodriguez's record annual average salary of $27.5 million but equal to what is being paid to Hamilton, Howard and Felix Hernandez -- but for no more than seven years, considering he turned 31 in October.
According to the source, Cano's side presented its client as not only "the best player on the board,'' but also as the best player in baseball and someone who is "indispensable'' to the Yankees.
The Yankees disagreed with that statement and cited diminished attendance and TV ratings in 2013 in the absence of Rodriguez and Jeter, both of whom missed much of the season because of injuries, as evidence that Cano lacks the star power to attract ticket buyers.
"We don't see Robbie Cano as the best player in the game,'' one of participants at the meeting is reported to have said. "We see him as one of the best.''
Cano is a career .309 hitter who has averaged 28 home runs and 103 RBIs in each of his past five seasons. In 2013, hitting with little or no protection in the Yankees' injury-depleted lineup, Cano batted a team-high .314 with 27 HRs and 107 RBIs and had an .899 OPS. He has finished in the top 10 in the last four American League MVP ballots, coming in fifth this year.
According to an executive familiar with both the Cano meetings and the struggle to work out a new contract for Jeter in 2010: "These negotiations have been far less contentious.''
"Jeter was very unhappy [with his negotiations],'' the source said, "but in the end, he compromised, because he really wanted to be a Yankee.''
Three years later, the Yankees aren't so sure they can say the same about Cano.
Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com contributed to this story.