Heading into this offseason, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Robinson Cano would remain in pinstripes for the foreseeable future, and that sense of optimism has only grown (perhaps to the point of pragmatism). The Red Sox extended Dustin Pedroia. The Tigers traded for Ian Kinsler. The Rangers ostensibly dealt Kinsler to give the starting gig to Jurickson Profar. The Dodgers and Mets have said “no thanks,” and the former invested $28 MM in what they hope is Yasiel Puig 2.0. And the Angels have over $60 MM per season invested in four players with the most question marks West of the Bronx.
And now we’re here, where the Yankees realized that bidding against themselves is a fool’s errand, leaving Cano in the fortunate position of deciding between having enough money to purchase a personal jet, or holding out for a small island. The prevailing assumption remains that Cano will cave, and accept the richest contract ever given to a second baseman – somewhere between the 7-year, $161 MM offer purportedly floated by the Yankees, and the 9-year, $234 MM deal suggested by MLBTR.
All that being said … if Cano were to find his millions elsewhere, what could the Yankees do with the leftover funds?
Over the past four years, Cano has averaged 7.5 bWAR, or 6.4 fWAR. The discrepancy in the numbers is wholly defensive, as bWAR has consistently pegged Cano as an excellent defender, whereas fWAR has wavered between mediocre and excellent. But I digress. Based on this, it seems reasonable to expect that Cano could produce between 6 and 7 WAR this season, for between $23 MM and $26 MM. Could the Yankees patch a couple of holes with that money, and receive commensurate production?
MLBTR projects a 3-year, $25 MM deal for Infante – or $8.3 MM per season. Over the past four seasons, Infante has averaged 2.7 bWAR/2.6 fWAR, with a 102 wRC+ along the way. He is, for all intents and purpose, a solid-average player at the keystone (with the added bonus of positional flexibility).
The oft-injured Garza is projected to garner a 4-year, $64 MM deal, good for an average annual value of $16 MM. Since arriving in Tampa Bay five years ago, Garza has averaged a solid 3.3 bWAR/3.8 fWAR over a full season’s worth of innings. He also has an AL East ‘pedigree,’ and a few excellent starts in the playoffs. However, Garza has not been healthy of late, missing roughly twenty starts over the last two seasons with arm and upper-body injuries. The talent is not in question for the 30-year old starter, yet the risk is very apparent.
This tandem would fill two glaring holes on the roster, albeit with a massive downgrade at both second base and in the heart of the lineup. A healthy Garza, however, may well allow the two to more than approximate Cano’s lost production.
Steamer Estimate for 2014 – 5.1 fWAR (N.B. – Steamer projects Cano at 5.4 fWAR)
Option 2: Infante and Shin-Soo Choo
In lieu of pairing a replacement for Cano with a starting pitcher, the Yankees could opt for offense with Choo, who MLBTR projects to earn $16.7 MM per year for the next six seasons.
With the exception of an injury-riddled 2011, Choo has been a consistently excellent offensive force for the last half-decade, posting a wRC+ between 131 and 151 each year, and between 4.8 and 6.3 oWAR. His defensive metrics have varied greatly, leading to some skewed overall WAR figures, but most recognize him as a solid defender in a corner outfield position.
Infante and Choo is interesting, as it may well bar a significant drop in offense – Infante and Choo at least match the combined production the Yankees received from Cano and the horror that was right field last season.
Steamer Estimate for 2014 – 5.2 fWAR
Here, the Yankees are replacing Cano, and adding significant depth to the rotation. Neither Feldman ($8.5 MM) nor Maholm ($7 MM) profile as much more than back of the rotation starters, yet both look like much better bets than the dregs that filled out the rotation last season. Moreover, Feldman has experience pitching in a bandbox, Maholm is a southpaw (generally a benefit in Yankee Stadium and the AL East), and both limit walks and keep the ball on the ground.
Steamer Estimate for 2014 – 5.5 fWAR (N.B. – Steamer has Maholm making only 16 starts)
Option 4: Infante and Ubaldo Jimenez
By this point, you can sense a pattern – I think the Yankees should replace Cano with an experienced second baseman, and I believe that that would be their goal. Jimenez, projected to earn an AAV of $13 MM, looked reborn last year. His strikeout and walk rates improved dramatically, and his ERA was right in-line with his peripherals (3.30 ERA, 3.43 FIP). At 28, a return to his 2010 and 2011 levels of dominance seems at least somewhat attainable, and there is little to suggest that last season was a fluke. A repeat of 2013 alone would give the Yankees something similar to the “second ace” that they are always looking for, and $13 MM seems a bargain for that sort of production.
Steamer Estimate for 2014 – 4.9 fWAR
Option 5: Jacoby Ellsbury and Maholm
This is essentially the “replace Cano with another superstar” approach … assuming you consider Ellsbury a star. Projected to earn an AAV of $21.4 MM over the next six years, Ellsbury was a superstar in 2011, an all-star in 2013, and an injury-prone disappointment in between. He is, in short, incredibly difficult to project. His base-running and defense have never really been in question, however, and one can dream that Yankee Stadium would unlock the power we saw in 2011.
Steamer Estimate for 2014 – 5.1 fWAR
In the end, there are likely dozens of combinations of talent that the Yankees could bring on-board with any money saved in letting Cano walk, and a few may even come close to replicating his production. Considering the replacement and sub-replacement-level production the team received from some of the other holes that could be filled with a cool $25 MM, the Yankees may even end up with excess value. And I did not even touch on Carlos Beltran, or any of the handful of relievers that could be counted on as a reliable 8th inning option.
Does this mean that I would endorse letting Cano walk? I am not quite sure. However, despite the hand-wringing over the fear of Cano suiting up for a different team, I do feel that he is at least somewhat replaceable – enough so that the Yankees should stand fast in their negotiations.