Why The Yankees Should Not Extend Robinson Cano

The Yankees seem to be quietly negotiating with Robinson Cano for a long term contract extension. This is a mistake. I’m not against a Cano extension per se, but I am against a Cano extension, which let’s say will cost something like 8 years / $200 million, before the end of the 2013 season.

I don’t doubt that Cano will hit very well this season, be an MVP candidate, and project to be a strong player for at least the medium term. However, the Yankees do not have sufficient information yet to determine whether or not they can afford to sign him to that kind of mega deal. They need two very key sets of information: First, how do Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez play in 2013? And second, how does the Yankee farm system collectively perform?

The former is important because it will reveal a lot about how the Yankees can expect their assets to perform over the next few years. Under the best case scenario, Teixeira returns to 5+ WAR, very-good-for-a-first-baseman form, CC Sabathia is himself, and Alex Rodriguez proves he can be a productive player post surgery. In this case, resigning Cano makes sense. The Yankee roster is in good health, and won’t need many high-priced additions other than Cano in order to compete. And should Cano’s career take a quick turn for the worst, they won’t immediately have four zombie contracts, just one.

But under the worst case scenario? Teixeira continues to slide into mediocrity, Sabathia’s arm continues to show its career workload, and the Yankees fail to get out from under Alex Rodriguez’s contract in the middle of a truly terrible performance. All of the sudden, the Yankees’ $189 million salary cap starts looking more like $100 million, plus three albatross contracts, without a ton of hope on the roster. At that point, the Yankees need to start thinking about a medium-term strategy that looks a lot more like a rebuilding mid-market club than a traditional Yankee offseason. Cano’s contract becomes a deadly risk, where the Yankees are one injury to their star 2nd baseman away from a majority-zombie payroll.

Just as important will be progress on the farm system. If things go well in 2013–meaning Gary Sanchez and two of the outfield crop continue to be great prospects and move up the ranks, Adams and/or Joseph start looking like a Cano backup plan and there is some pitching good news from Hensley, Campos, Ramirez, and Montgomery–the Yankees will have a lot of 2014 options. They can plan a roster with or without Cano based on this extra information. Michael Pineda is also in this category.

Again, I’d argue that good news here makes it easier to sign Cano to a huge contract. If you are more confident that the Yankees can count on the farm for 2-3 lineup spots and a pitcher or two, plus Michael Pineda, they know that they will need fewer dollars allocated to sign mid-level free agents to fill the roster out. They’ll have a fairly robust roster even while concentrating their payroll in fewer and fewer players. If there is more bad news on the farm, you start having to spread the free agent dollars out to more positions, instead of spending it all on Cano.

And let’s be honest: is there any real benefit to locking Cano up early? He is unlikely to give the Yankees much, if any, discount. If anything, Brian Cashman has shown that he tends to get screwed when negotiating against his own stars and no other team. I can’t imagine that even an MVP-caliber repeat of 2012 would change his asking much. The smart decision is to wait and see, and then possibly make an offer to Cano in November, or let him walk.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

9 thoughts on “Why The Yankees Should Not Extend Robinson Cano

  1. TheOneWhoKnocks

    I agree the Yanks shouldn’t extend Cano.
    Sherman earlier today indicated the Yanks were willing to go up to 7 years $175m, but that Boras and Cano are looking for upwards of $200 mil.
    Even at 7 yrs 175m, I’m opposed to it.
    I disagree that they need to see how A-Rod and Tex perform, or how their farm system does.
    We have a pretty good idea how Tex is going to perform already, and even if A-Rod returns to his pre-surgery levels, he’s a solid player but that contract is an albatross regardless. The farm could have a great year but it doesn’t matter until they are proving it at the big league level.
    All of that stuff matters, but is really besides the point.
    The point is the Yanks have a budget of $189m next season, they have a lot of holes (whether you assume best or worst case scenarios for everyone involved) and mega deals for players around Cano’s age are historically a bad idea. Another thing against Cano is that middle infielders historically age poorly. There hasn’t been a 2B in history who was worth that kind of money in his 30’s.

    They have about $50mil to spend in the offseason, and they need 3 SP, 3 RP, LF, C, 2B and question marks at 3B and RF.
    $25m on Cano is not the way I would start addressing those holes.
    We’ve already made the big contract mistakes with Tex and Arod, let’s learn from our mistakes. Losing Cano is losing 5-7 wins in 2014. I think with all those holes, you can find a way to add 5-7 wins more efficiently than giving a big contract to cano where we’ll be suffering at the back end.

    If Yankees ownership extends Cano, than they need to drop this $189 nonsense.

    Edit: but I get what you are saying about waiting til 2013 is over, there is no rush to extend him now seeing as we wouldn’t save any money regardless, just wait until the season is over.

  2. TheOneWhoKnocks

    I couldn’t see this happening in a million years but the Yankees should seriously consider trading him midseason.

    A compensation pick is nice, but a player of Cano’s caliber can bring back a serious haul. (think Teixeira for Andrus, Feliz, Harrison and Salty)
    He’d be an upgrade for every team at 2B, his salary for half a season is something any contending team could afford.

    Cano to the Cardinals for Taveras? I think the Yankees are missing a potential golden opportunity here.

    • I think there’s a broader question of: At what point would the Yankees sell? It is very tempting given the 2nd wild card to hold out hope well past the trade deadline, but its not inconceivable for the Yankees to be sitting a solid 4th in the AL East at that point, and should consider jump-starting their reloading process by selling off their pending free agents.

      This wouldn’t just be Cano. You could imagine a scenario where you get good return for Cano, Granderson, Youkilis, Kuroda, Hughes, Logan, Joba, and/or Aardsma.

  3. tanzo

    I agree. It may not only be the money but the years. Going past 5 years at 25-27 per is nuts. A 36 year old trying to play second base will not look pretty. 5 year 125-130 million with a possible option 6th year should be the max. If this season is a bust, then trade Cano at deadline for something, then see if you can sign as FA.

  4. OldYanksFan

    I don’t think anyone goes 8/$200m. Frankly, I’d be stunned if the Yankees are considering 7/$175m.

    I think over the remainder of his career, Cano could optimistically post 30 WAR. That’s worth $135m. Add the 10% “he’s an elite FA” tax and you get $150m. Even that is a bit high for me, but I hate to let a homegrown stud go. And even with a year or 2 of $189m, the Yankees will return to $200m+ payroll in 2016. And at least by the time Cano shits the bed, the ARod, Teix and CC contracts should be off the books.

    7/$150 is the absolute max I go.

  5. Duh, Innings!

    4 years $94M, what Sabathia will earn 2013-16.

    Cano is not more valuable than Sabathia and turns 31 on November 22 thus he’d be only 35 at contract’s end.

    Giving Cano $25M or more a year for his age 36-39 seasons is ludicrous.

    Once again, Hall Of Fame secondbasemen Joe Morgan, Bill Mazerowski, Rod Carew, Ryne Sandberg, and Roberto Alomar all declined after age 33.

    A-Rod’s decline began in his age 32 season.

    Also Cano is not as good as through 2000 Jeter or through 2007 A-Rod and has never posted 30 HR and 100 RBI in a season.

    $94M would be the second-biggest monetary payout to a homegrown Yankee.

  6. runnerkmf

    I would not go more that 5-6 years on him, even if they overpay him for those years. ARod should have taught us that, if nothing else, we don’t want to be burdened years beyond reason.

    • smurfy

      amen. Show him we love him, but we are not blind.

  7. Martin

    @TheOneWhoKnocks. Your list of Yankee needs was pretty thorough. However, I would add one more need…Shortstop. The Yankees do not have a viable replacement at this point for Jeter. He is going to be 38 or 39 come June 26. He has a player option after this year. Nunez…while I like his bat/speed/enthusiasm needs more improvement defensively. I have not heard tell of a shortstop stud in the Yankee farm system. I am all for trading off Cano and the others at the deadline whether we are in the hunt or not. This team is not a WS team. If they are lucky enough to make the playoffs it will be one and out. They need players/prospects. They have some chips that would be worth something to teams who actually have a shot at WS. However, the big stumbling block for Yankee ownership is ticket sales. They will not risk trading off all those pieces especially Cano because of the short term loss on ticket sales. I hope they have the balls to trade Cano/the rest of free agents and look long term.

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