- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Jay Z might have encountered "99 Problems" during his foray into the baseball representation business, but finding a team willing to spend $240 million on a player who's never finished higher than third in a most valuable player race was not among them.
In the past few weeks, the master rapper and entrepreneur has discovered that baseball can be just as much a circus as the music business. In early November, Jay Z landed on the Major League Baseball Players Association's radar for giving a $34,000 watch to Robinson Cano in apparent violation of MLBPA rules. Lou Merloni, a former major leaguer-turned-Boston talk show host, called Cano an "idiot" for leaving Scott Boras for Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports. And Jay Z might have imperiled the Cano negotiations with Seattle with a late bout of heavy-handedness that reportedly threw club chairman Howard Lincoln into a tizzy, although we'll probably never know how dicey things got down the stretch this week.
In the end, by Friday morning, Roc Nation group and its partners at Creative Artists Agency had landed a 10-year deal for Cano that ties the highest payout ever for a player not named Alex Rodriguez. And Jay Z still had time to get to the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., for the latest stop on his Magna Carta tour Friday night.
The end result might not establish the music industry superstar as a classic "rival" to Boras, who has the mother of all clienteles and a legacy of megadeals. But it puts Jay Z and Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA in a club with Boras and Dan Lozano as the only agents ever to negotiate contracts of $200 million-plus. And it certainly averts the potential nightmare scenario of Cano having to crawl back to the New York Yankees for a tick more than the $153 million they gave Jacoby Ellsbury earlier in the week.
There will be all sorts of spins in the aftermath of Jay Z's first big baseball score. But the true success of the deal can't be gauged for a few more years, when these salient questions are answered:
• Will Cano thrive in Seattle and help lure other players to the Pacific Northwest, or has he just guaranteed himself a lengthy run in the baseball wilderness, where he'll be surrounded by .500 talent and wake up to find himself miserable and irrelevant? Sorry, Seattle fans, but it wouldn't be the first time that's happened. The success of Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik's grand experiment hinges just as much on Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and the other young hitters who've been core parts in a team that's still looking to get over the hump.
• Does the money outweigh what appeared to be Cano's principal objective -- staying in New York, basking in the glow of the big city and finishing out a career as a Yankee? He cashed in at the end, but had to travel 3,000 miles to do it. We talked to three competing agents in the wake of Cano's deal, and they concurred that the Cano-Seattle union has the potential to not end well.
"If the only priority is to get paid, there's always a sucker -- and Seattle was the sucker," an agent said. "Does this deal make them better? Yes. Does it make them formidable? No.
"For everybody to say this is an A-plus for Jay Z, I just don't buy it. That would have been getting New York to pay $240 million. Getting Seattle to pay $240 million wasn't some masterstroke."
• Will Cano's payday entice other marquee players to sign up with Jay Z and CAA as they approach free agency? Some teams might have been caught off guard by the circus atmosphere surrounding the Cano negotiations. But it doesn't really matter what teams think. CAA already has a powerhouse clientele that includes the likes of Ryan Zimmerman, Buster Posey, Matt Cain and Ryan Braun. 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.
Jay Z will ultimately receive lots of credit for Cano's payday, but there's rampant skepticism in the industry over what he contributed to the process other than recruiting Cano away from Boras last spring. That's no small feat. But lots of industry observers are united in the belief that Van Wagenen and the CAA people did 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.
"Jay Z certainly has clout," said another agent. "But to me, his value comes in being a figurehead."
In a slightly bizarre twist, some agents who are inclined to trash Boras because he's arrogant or poaches their clients tend to view him in a more positive light now. Boras built his business from the ground floor in the '80s, and he's accepted a reputation as baseball's No. 1 villain while negotiating contracts that have benefited countless players he didn't represent. And say what you will about Boras: It's hard to turn on an Angels or Dodgers game without seeing him on TV standing there behind the screen for nine innings. He's pumped tons of money into his company, and he logs the hours.
And Jay Z? He's still just dabbling in the sports representation business, working with Cano, NBA star Kevin Durant and a few others as a sidelight to his music empire.
"I have players who kid me about Jay Z, and I tell them, 'You don't want to be represented by somebody who's represented by somebody,'" said one agent, laughing.
This whole Boras-Jay Z thing isn't over by a long shot. The Mariners will presumably introduce Cano next week in Seattle or Orlando, Fla., during the winter meetings, and Boras will take center stage to promote outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who's the only nine-figure bat left on the market. It would be the ultimate hoot if the Yankees jump in on Choo and wind up with two Scott Boras outfielders for $50 million or so more than the Mariners spent on one Robinson Cano.
When the agents, egos, the business of baseball and multimillions collide, there's never a shortage of reasons to stay tuned.
2dKevin Van Valkenburg