Is It Time for the Yankees to Extend Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson?

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

Add Ryan Zimmerman to the list of young superstars who have opted for long-term security over free agency. The 27-year old third baseman recently signed a $100 million, six-year extension that will take effect in 2014, keeping Zimmerman in the nation’s capital until at least the end of the decade. Although all long-term deals come with significant risk, the deal’s average annual value of just under $16 million (which is discounted because of a $10 million personal services deferral) could wind up being a relative bargain for the Nationals, especially when you consider the paucity of top flight third basemen.

Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals have shaken hands on a new $100 million contract extension. (Photo: AP)

By signing Zimmerman to a long-term deal, the Nationals not only locked up their young third baseman for the next eight-years, but also prevented 29 other teams from having a chance to woo him. With more and more young superstars opting for security over an opportunity to test the market, it has become more difficult to build a team through free agency. Not only have long-term deals taken several of the games best players off the market (e.g., Evan LongoriaRyan BraunTroy TulowitzkiMatt Kemp, etc.), but when superstars do make it to free agency, they are either just past their prime or extremely expensive, and in many cases, both.

During the last decade, the Yankees’ relied heavily on free agency to supplement a core group of players around which the franchise’s most recent dynasty was built. More recently, however, the team has started to focus on player development and trades. In many ways, the recent swap of Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda was an illustration of this transition. After failing to sign Cliff Lee the season before, and facing future free agent classes with a limited number of aces, the Yankees opted instead to trade their best offensive prospect for a top young arm. Although pitchers like Matt Cain and Cole Hamels remain potential free agents in 2012, the risk of either, or both, re-signing, combined with the likely inflated cost, was probably a significant influence on GM Brian Cashman’s decision to pull the trigger.

The Yankees’ relative strength on offense was likely another factor influencing the Montero/Pineda deal, but for how long can they maintain that advantage? A big part of the answer to that question is the long-term status of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, who are both under favorable contracts that contain options through the 2013 seasons, but thereafter would become eligible for free agency. Assuming both players have their 2013 options exercised, the Yankees are due to pay their second baseman and centerfielder $29 million and $23 million, respectively, over the next two seasons. Considering their production and the positions they play, both deals represent significant bargains (for perspective, fangraphs.com estimates the two players provided approximately $57 million in combined value last year alone), but they don’t last forever.

Should the Yankees work to ensure that Granderson and Cano remain a part of the picture beyond 2013?

Cano and Granderson will be entering their age-31 and age-33 seasons when they are eligible for free agency after 2013, so neither player is as young as the recent crop of stars who have signed long-term extensions (in fact, each player is in the midst of a deal that bought out their initial years of free agency). However, they both project to be productive contributors well into the future, so there’s a good chance each will command a handsome contract if allowed to reach the open market. But, should the Yankees let them?

Over the years, the Yankees have mostly shied away from locking up young players and negotiating extensions in the middle of an existing contract. Although this policy has proven to be expensive at times, it has also helped mitigate some of the risk associated with projecting future performance. In the team’s more “free spending” days, that was usually a preferable trade-off, but, considering its new cost conscious approach, that may no longer be the case.

Assuming the Yankees are bullish on Cano’s and Granderson’s ability to maintain their performance, it might be the right time to consider signing both players to an extension. By making an overture two years in advance of free agency, the Yankees could extract a discount in exchange for the added years of security as well as the potential to increase the salary paid in 2012 and 2013. Also, with Derek Jeter’s contract up in 2014 and the likelihood that Alex Rodriguez will be in the midst of a transition to DH by that time, the last thing the team would need is to be distracted by two high profile free agents while also trying to replace the left side of its infield.

In addition to creating a greater level of roster stability beyond 2013, there is also a practical financial benefit to signing either or both players to an extension. According to reports, the Yankees have targeted 2014 as the year in which it would like to dip below the luxury tax threshold of $189 million. Needless to say, that goal would be negatively impacted if the Yankees signed Cano and Granderson to expensive long-term deals during the preceding offseason. However, if the Yankees structured extensions as new contracts that begin in 2012, the AAV implications for 2014 would be lowered (see chart below), essentially transferring some of the bargain the team currently enjoys to a more beneficial period.

AAV Implications of Hypothetical Contract Extensions for Cano and Granderson

Note: Unless the contract extension alone has an AAV below the current contract AAV, rolling the next two years into a new deal would also yield a lower 2014 AAV.
Source: Cots Contracts (for current contract data)

Using two hypothetical extensions ($100 million for Cano and $85 million for Granderson) as an illustration, the Yankees could lower the combined AAV in 2014 by over $3 million. Although that might not seem like much, every dollar counts when operating under a budget, so a $3 million savings could make the difference between paying a 50% luxury tax or none at all (in addition, falling below the threshold in one season would ensure the Yankees wouldn’t pay the top rate again until 2019).

If the Yankees have serious interest in re-signing Cano and Granderson after 2013, and the parties involved can agree on mutually beneficial terms, it might make sense, and cents, to begin the process now. Otherwise, the Yankees could be facing a budget crunch alongside the need to restock its roster, and the only viable free agents available just might be their own.

14 thoughts on “Is It Time for the Yankees to Extend Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson?

  1. TheOneWhoKnocks

    I probably let both players walk. I imagine they are both looking for AAV around $20m on deals that will take them as close to 40 yrs old as possible. How often do long term contracts for players in ages 32-39 work out? Very rarely. I take my chances on the FA market and with internal options.

    • Bill

      Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t have any impact bats on the near horizon internally, and many of their current impact bats are aging/declining.
      Getting impact bats on the FA market (whether resigning their own, or going to the open market) necessitates signing players into their mid-late thirties.

      • TheOneWhoKnocks

        I see what your saying, but there are other options. By 2014 we will probably have an impact OF ready (Mason Williams maybe) and if not there are always stopgap options someone who can have an impact but sign for 1-2 years(like beltran this offseason) I wouldn’t rush to extend guys like Cano and Granderson. They are already past/soon to be past their primes, you know what they are going to get on the open market and you know signing an extension isn’t going to save you much $$$. Wait it out unless one of them is willing to sign at a reasonable rate.

  2. Erick

    Interesting analisys, I am all for resigning Cano. As far as Granderson, I don’t like the possibility of taking him to his age 38 season.

    Cano I don’t mind extending until his age 36.

  3. Bill

    Granderson’s option for 2013 is now for 15M, by virtue of his top 5 MVP finish in 2011.

  4. T.O. Chris

    I think the best, realistic, overall option is to extend Cano for as close to 6 years as possible, then pick up Granderson’s option for 2013 and trade him in the offseason.

    The best idea probably is to let both go instead of handing out a 6-8 year deal, but we all know Cano is getting another contract. I’m cool with keeping one, the other one has to go in some way in my opinion. Cano seems like the better bet, I do have concerns about Cano as he reaches his mid to late 30’s, but not as much as I do with Granderson.

  5. Thanks for pointing that out. I wasn’t aware of it and missed the notation on Cotts. However, the increase doesn’t really change the analysis much.

  6. I understand some of the reticence about extending Cano and Granderson, but letting these players walk after 2013 could leave the Yankees’ roster barren, and the FA crops are only getting thinner. I think extending Cano now would be a no brainer, but can see wanting to wait and see on Granderson. Either way, I would expect both players to be productive into their mid-30s.

    • T.O. Chris

      Why would you think Granderson will be productive? His skill set certainly isn’t sustainable when his bat speed starts to drop and his bad route taking in the OF is going to really show up when his speed starts to drop. You can say this of a lot of people, but I think his drop off is going to be more sudden and harder than most just based on how he does what he does.

      • Considering his intelligence and athleticism, I expect him to age well. I am not sure why you think his bat speed will decline more suddenly, and don’t subscribe to the notion that he “takes bad routes”. Instead, my main concern would be his ability to sustain his success against lefties.

        • T.O. Chris

          He’s a small (6’1, 185) power hitter, who generates all of his power from supreme bat speed. I don’t think his bat speed is going to drop off quicker than most, I think it doesn’t have to. It only has to drop off some and you will see a very noticeable drop in the pop in his bat. A big reason he was able to make the adjustments with Long to help hit lefties is because of his bat speed, so that’s something else that should start to regress again with a decline in bat speed.

          He pretty clearly takes bad routes in the outfield, it’s one of the reasons he has to make some spectacular catches, because he’s out of position. The catch in AJ’s playoff game is a good example of one of his terrible routes to a ball. That play looks wonderful for highlights, but it shouldn’t have been anywhere near that hard a play. He has a problem reading the ball off the bat, which is why a lot of times he pauses too long before breaking on the ball, but he has the speed to make up for it. When the speeds starts to drop off he is going to be headed to LF pretty quickly. Johnny Damon had a similar problem with route reading, like Granderson he made up for that with speed. Towards the end of his Yankee run his defense had gotten unbearable because of the drop in his speed causing the route running to come more in focus.

          I’m afraid that the collective way he plays the game, the things that give him so much value to a baseball team, are things that tend to regress very quickly with age. You don’t want to end up with a high strike out, low batting average, 18-20 HR, left fielder, who takes bad routes. Which I think is a very possible outcome for Granderson in his mid 30’s. You can’t intelligence your way out of aging, especially when what makes you a great player is tied to the fact that you are a supreme athlete.

  7. Long Gone

    I’m guessing the Yankees will wait and see with Granderson. How well he is playing in 2 years and how good and close to major leagues guys like Santana and Williams are in 2 years. It would be great if they extended Cano now, bringing his contract to his age 35/36 season but what are the chances that happens with Boris as his agent? Btw, I’m not one of those people that think Boris casues players to become free agents and not sign with thier current teams, but rather that players get him becasue they want the most money and want to become free agents.

  8. These questions seem to always come up when a player is 1-2 years away from FA and coming off a huge year. But that would be the worst time to extend somebody, and a great way to sign a deal you’ll regret later. 2011 was by far and away the best of Granderson’s career, would anyone be surprised if his numbers dropped next year? That’s the most likely outcome, rather than a continuation of last season. We can cite the adjustments he made with Kevin Long all we like, but pitchers will find holes in his swing (still strikes out a ton) and correcting that could alter his production.

    On Cano, he’s such an precocious talent that I would have no problem with locking him up. I don’t see anything but prime production out of him until he hits his mid 30’s. He’s never hurt, supplies big offensive numbers and good defense from 2B, and he doesn’t have any glaring flaws in his game.

    Yes Robbie, wait and see on Grandy.

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