NEW YORK -- You really had to be motivated to come out and see Robinson Cano on Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
The night of Cano's first game in New York since leaving the Yankees for a 10-year, $240 million contract this winter was bitterly cold. I saw some snow flurries on my drive in. A fierce rain subsided some by game time, but even in the heated, open press box, we huddled in our overcoats. I can't imagine how cold it was for the scattered fans placed haphazardly around the stadium in a steady, if playable downpour.
Here's something else I have trouble imagining: why on earth these people, almost universally, loudly booed Robinson Cano. They booed his name during lineup introductions. And a man who played nine years, 1,374 games with the Yankees, winning a World Series, making five All-Star teams, playing in seven postseasons, was treated like a member of the Boston Red Sox.
"You sold out! You sold out!" came the cry from the Bleacher Creatures.
Let's examine that one, shall we?
Cano hit free agency this offseason. The Yankees presented a final offer of seven years, $175 million. Really generous, right? How can Cano claim he didn't "get respect from them"?
"You know, I think sometimes, during negotiations for a player, players can get passionate, get heated, want certain things to happen," Cano's former manager, Joe Girardi, said Tuesday afternoon. "And they can get involved." Girardi paused. "$175 million is a lot of money, for seven years. And I think we've always respected Robbie Cano and his talents. And we'll continue to respect Robbie Cano and his talents. And I think you'll see that with how we'll pitch to him."
But there's some disconnect there. Cano was respected, but not considered indispensable by the Yankees. Never mind that he's been far and away the best at his position for the past decade or so. He managed to play more games during his Yankees tenure than Derek Jeter, even if you take Jeter's injury-marred 2013 out of the equation.
And there's also the context of Cano's deal in terms of other deals around baseball. His 10 years and $240 million looks utterly reasonable in a world where Miguel Cabrera, a better hitter but not close to Cano's equal in the field, makes $248 million in an eight-year extension.
Jacoby Ellsbury received $153 million over seven years from the Yankees, or slightly less than the Yankees offered Cano. To put that in perspective: Ellsbury managed to exceed a 125 OPS+ only twice in eight seasons. Cano's career OPS+ is 125. Ellsbury's career-high in games played is 158, and he's topped 134 once in the past four seasons. It's been eight years since Robinson Cano played in fewer than 159 games in any season.
And no one would seriously argue Ellsbury is better in centerfield than Cano is at second base.
So yes, one begins to understand why Cano would feel disrespected.
Tuesday afternoon, Cano didn't want to talk about the past, even the very recent past, when asked about this past winter. Notably, though, he didn't walk away from his comments about being disrespected, either.
After we watched a group of three put a Seattle Mariners backdrop behind where Cano would speak, in the Yankees' press conference room, Cano sat at the podium and answered questions, the Mariners logo behind him, the Yankees' interlocking NY still in front of him.
"I was looking for, not about people making a scene about him coming back," Cano said about what he thought about when he considered this return date. "He'll be angry, he'll be mad. You want to go out there, do this, do that. I'm just happy to be back, like I said. See guys that I played with a long time, and guys who were so kind and nice to me. And I want to say hi to them, and see the New York crowd, who would see me when I was here."
That crowd, though, didn't welcome Cano back. Neither did the Yankees, incidentally. When Jose Reyes returned to Citi Field as a Marlin, the Mets prepared a tribute video. Cano was introduced exactly as any other Mariner, or opposing player.
He wasn't booed like one, though. He got it much worse.
"I think he's gonna hear a lot of cheers," Girardi predicted prior to the game. "Whenever you're a player who was a great player somewhere, and you decided to leave and you come back, I've always felt that the people who are cheering you are showing you respect. And the people that are booing you are really showing their respect for you. Because they didn't want you to leave. So that's the way I've always kind of felt it is."
If the Yankees hadn't wanted Cano to leave, they could have chosen to act on actual market forces, and not whatever Bill Madden seemed to believe the market would be for the best player in a free-agent market for a sport swimming in new television revenue. Instead, the Yankees, who frequently promise their fans they'll do whatever it takes to win a World Series every year, came up $65 million shy of offering Cano the most money. Their current second baseman, Brian Roberts, has a season-high of 77 games played in any season since 2009, and his OPS+ entering Tuesday night was 65.
Roberts, though, wasn't booed. Yankees ownership wasn't booed. Cano received the abuse, for taking $65 million more to play elsewhere. How many of those booing Cano on Tuesday night would actually pass on $65 million to stay in their current jobs? Show of hands?
And don't get smug, non-Yankees fans. Mets fans did the same thing to Jose Reyes back in 2012, after he spurned his lifelong team's offer of, well, nothing, and signed with the Marlins. What a disloyal jerk, right?
Cano wouldn't answer me when I asked him why fans seem to do this, not just to Cano, but to all departing free agents inexplicably doing right for themselves and their families.
The boos got louder for Cano as the night went on, though this was possibly a self-defense move by fans who believed the boos could keep them warm.
"I think they really appreciated Robbie, and wanted him to stay," Girardi said. "I think they're not happy that he left."
Their anger, though, was misplaced.