Pretend it's the start of the 2013-2014 offseason. The top free agent available is a lefty hitter in his prime who hits for both plus average and plus power and owns a .307/.351/.503 batting line in 9 career seasons. He plays an up-the-middle defensive position that the Yankees would desperately need to fill and plays it at a plus level. He's almost universally regarded as the best player at his position, one of the top 10 players in all of baseball, and has been a perennial All Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and MVP candidate for the last 5 seasons. Oh, and he also fired his agent earlier in the season, the one known for squeezing every last drop he can out of the free agent market, to replace him with a rapper whose ties to New York couldn't be tighter if he was a sidewalk in Times Square.
If you haven't figured it out, that's the situation coming up in about 5 months with Robinson Cano. And if he played for any other team on the planet, Yankee fans would be pushing each other out of the way to talk about how the Yankees need to go after him this offseason. I bet I already know what they'd be saying about his flaws to justify why the Yankees should go after him. His streakiness? "K-Long would work with him to smooth out his swing and tailor it to Yankee Stadium. He could hit 40 home runs with that short porch!!" His tendency to be over-aggressive at the plate? "Being around guys like Teix and Gardner would help him develop more patience. It's the Yankee Way." His perceived lack of hustle on some plays? "Oh he wouldn't be doing that anymore around guys like Jeter. Wearing the pinstripes makes you a different player because of all the tradition and ..." blah, blah, blah.
I know I'd be sitting here writing posts about some of that stuff, especially the working with K-Long bit. And I guarantee a lot of you out there would be saying and doing it too. You'd all want the Yankees to sign Cano, at some price for some number of years, and you know you would. So why is it that Robbie Cano has gone on a 3-week slump and suddenly become the new Alex Rodriguez?
I'm not even being facetious or rhetorical here. What's the deal? Some of the comments I've read on this site and many others around the blogosphere make it sound like Cano is one of the worst players in baseball. He swings too much, he's too streaky, he hasn't hit in the postseason, he doesn't carry the team, he's not clutch, he doesn't hustle, he doesn't care, he's kindasortamaybe connected to PEDs. Newsflash, guys and gals, that's who Robinson Cano has always been. At least the first 3 parts. The rest are so ridiculous and right out of the "Reasons To Hate A-Rod" and "Unintentionally Racist Baseball Analysis" handbooks that I don't even care to get into them.
Cano has always been aggressive at the plate, he's always been streaky, and he's always been good. Really, really good. Elite-level production good. He's been acknowledged as the best player on this team since about 2010-2011 and he's had his share of slumps since then, so why all this venom towards him when he's having another slump this season? I know I shouldn't have to ask this question on a blog with the title this one has, but is it about the money? Is that what it is? Because if everybody just wants to hate on Cano now because he's going to get paid, grow up.
Have you forgotten about the insanely team-friendly deal Cano's been playing on since 2008? He got paid $28 mil combined from '08-2011 and rewarded the Yankees with 2 ASG bids, 2 Silver Sluggers, 2 Top-6 MVP finishes, 1 Gold Glove, and a World Series title in that span. He's been on more expensive option years of $14 mil last year and $15 mil this year, but even those are good deals for the Yankees for what his total production in these 2 years will end up being. Since 2009, Cano ranks 6th in MLB in total fWAR with 25.1, and it's not particularly close back to 7th (Albert Pujols- 23.6) or 8th (Dustin Pedroia- 22.5). That's a testament to his talent, his elite-level production, and his durability. Robbie has missed a combined 10 games in the last 5+ seasons, including just 1 last year and none this year.
In the world of baseball contracts, where everybody is overpaid and the amount of money you make is still heavily influenced by past performance, Robinson Cano has more than earned his new deal, whatever it ends up being. To turn on him now during a slump because of a new contract he hasn't even signed yet is just plain stupid and downright childish. It's classic "spoiled Yankee fan" syndrome. His streakiness wasn't a problem when he was raking in the middle of your order for $6 mil a season, but now if he's making $21 mil that's unacceptable to you? Please.
If you're going to make a case against re-signing him, at least reference his continued struggles against LHP and the possibility of him turning into an extreme platoon hitter later in his career. Don't take the easy way out by saying he doesn't always run down the first base line and that's why the Yankees shouldn't re-sign him. Second newsflash, gang, Ryan Braun doesn't always run hard down the first base line either. Neither does Giancarlo Stanton. Or Justin Upton. I bet nobody would turn down those guys if they were available in a trade at this moment.
And it won't even take a single prospect to bring Cano (back) into the fold next season. Just money, the most abundant resource the Yankees have at their disposal. Now I don't want them signing him to an 8-year/$200 million deal anymore than you do, but personally, I feel like those days are over in baseball because of guys like A-Rod and Pujols. The baseball world has smartened up in the last few years and that's probably going to work to the Yankees' advantage when negotiation time comes. But don't lose sight of what and who Robbie Cano is just because the Yankees might have to overpay a bit to keep him and don't try to kid yourselves into thinking Cano is an easily-replaceable piece of the puzzle. He's hands down the best player on this team, he's one of the best players in baseball, and he's somebody the Yankees need going forward. Don't turn him into the bad guy just because you need a new big contract to complain about. Dude's just in a slump, deal with it.
(Photo courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)