The assumption has always been that it is only a matter of time and dollar bills before the Yankees and Robinson Cano come to an agreement that will keep the Yankee second baseman in pinstripes for the next several years. In terms of performance, Cano is the Yankee most deserving of a major financial commitment. He’s only 29 years old and has his best years in front of him. He’s emerging as a charismatic leader of the franchise. And he hits pretty well too. In fact, from 2009-2011 Robbie ranks as the 13th best player in all of baseball, according to fWAR. The players ahead of him on that list have, for the most part, all gotten their paydays. Robbie is a Scott Boras client playing for the richest team in all of sports. He’ll be looking to get his.
Now that Ian Kinsler has signed his $75 million extension a market is beginning to emerge for Robbie’s talents. Kinsler and Cano go about putting up their numbers in different ways, but they actually put up similar numbers. Kinsler has accumulated 25.2 fWAR during his career and a .365 wOBA versus 24.7 and .358 for Cano. In that regard, Cano should look to receive at least as much money as Kinsler. Ian has produced a bit better over the years, but Robinson is more durable.
Kinsler’s contract, however, is a base line. Ian didn’t hit free-agency. It is highly likely that Cano will. Scott Boras always takes his client to free-agency and the Yankees seldom if ever negotiate with players who are under contract. Cano will almost certainly test the market. On the market he’ll get more money than $75 million for five years.
My finger in the air estimate says that six years and $120 million or seven years and $135 million will be Robbie’s final price tag. It seems like an over pay for any team who signs him, but that is the purpose of free-agency. Boras is brilliant at getting his clients more money than they deserve. Just ask Prince Fielder.
That means that the Yankees will be looking at a $130 million cash commitment to keep Cano through his mid to late thirties. With that in mind, it is worth asking if it makes sense for the Yankees to keep Cano at all? If some other team wants to offer him that big money (some one will, I promise) why not let him decline elsewhere?
There are three reasons why the Yankees should seriously consider letting their star second baseman leave the team if his price becomes too steep. The first is financial. The Yankees have a lot of bad contracts, probably more than any other team. The Bombers are not a pay for performance organization. Instead, the team has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia. Only Sabathia remains as effective as he was when he signed his deal. It’s not that the other players are performing badly, it’s just that they are being paid to be the best players on the team, perhaps in baseball, and they’re not. In three years time A-Rod and Tex won’t be any better than they are now, but they will still be under contract.
Why add Cano’s name to that list? The Yankees have already made him unfathomably rich. They don’t owe him a mega-contract that will add his name to the growing list of aging baseball superstars who are being paid for what they did in their primes. At a certain point the Yankees are going to need financial flexibility. They can’t get it from their existing contracts. They could potentially get it from Cano. It would be the shrewd move. The Yankees would have gotten his prime years at a bargain, allowing him to decline in another city.
The second reason it makes sense for the Yankees to (at least consider) letting Cano walk is because he’s, um, kind of over rated. Don’t get me wrong, Cano is great. He’s been hands down the best Yankee the last three years. However, he hasn’t been a top ten baseball player, as I demonstrated above. Cano doesn’t produce as much as Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera or Joey Votto. People just think he does, probably because he’s about as graceful a ball player as you’ll ever see and because he’s emerged as the best player on the biggest team. That produces a lot of hype, but hype doesn’t change the fact that Cano has posted a .378 wOBA over the past three years while Votto posted a .419. The hype that surrounds Cano makes him a prime candidate for an over pay contract. Let some other team make that mistake.
Finally, giving Cano a big money extension would essentially be doubling down on the strategies that haven’t worked for the Yankees the past few seasons, and ignoring the ones that have. In 2010 and 2011 the best players on the Yankees have been Cano, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner (if you believe Gardner’s defensive contributions are legitimate, which I do), according to Fangraphs. Nick Swisher sneaks in there just behind A-Rod. The players getting the job done for the team have been young, less expensive players in their late twenties, not the shiny acquisitions from the free-agent market. It would be wiser for the Yankees to try to find another Granderson or Swisher, rather than turn Cano into the next Tex.
None of this means that I don’t want the Yankees to keep Robbie, provided he keeps on hitting. At the right price I most certainly do. Cano projects to be one of the game’s best second baseman for the next five or six years. That’s an asset worth paying for. It’s just not an asset worth over paying for. For that reason, I wouldn’t shed any tears if Robbie and the Yankees part ways once his contract expires after next season. It would just be smart business.