By Sweeny Murti
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The way Yankee fans view Robinson Cano has started to shift and it will go to an entirely new level when the 2013 season begins.
When Cano takes the field April 1st against Boston, it will be the first game he plays at age 30. With his 20’s in his rearview mirror, Cano is no longer one of the young guys on this team that can ride along relatively unnoticed, overshadowed by the bigger names and bigger salaries. Robinson Cano is about to feel – for the first time, really – the full scale pressure of being a star on the New York Yankees.
Public opinion has already started to turn on Cano and we haven’t even started the exhibition season yet. His abysmal 3-for-40 performance last postseason and his impending free agency have everything to do with it. Cano is primed to cash in with a contract that will certainly be north of $100 million and could even push $200 million.
And with the Yankees already saddled with A-Rod’s 114 ton contract for the next five years, and Mark Teixeira’s production slipping a bit with four more years left on his deal, there is an even greater sense of fear among Yankee fans that re-signing Cano to a mega-deal will be a mistake they regret for years to come.
I will tell you today, and every day the rest of this year, that – precisely for those reasons – NOT re-signing Cano will be the mistake the Yankees will regret for years to come.
Of course, a 10-year deal for anyone over 30 is lunacy. Even a seven or eight year deal will be one that won’t bring much value on the back end (think Bernie Williams or Mike Piazza). But this is the system that baseball teams have to play in. To get the next four to five peak years of a player’s career, they will have to overpay on the back end. A team with the resources like the Yankees can benefit from the front end (continued All-Star level production) and live with the demise that follows. So, we work off the premise that full value for a contract like this is never attainable, but is simply the cost of doing business.
There is a perception amongst fans that Cano’s flaws are too great to make him a player you build your team around for the next half decade. You hear them all the time – he doesn’t run hard, he doesn’t hit in the clutch, he doesn’t dive for ground balls, etc.
While it’s true there are a few things about his game you’d like to improve, it’s hard to ignore the obvious – that Robinson Cano is one of the best hitters in the game and the Yankees are simply not in a position to let a player like this get away.
Put it this way – if Robinson Cano played for any other team and was entering this season at age 30, a year away from free agency, with a three-year slash line of .311/.370/.539 and averaging 45 doubles and 30 home runs per season – all while winning three straight Gold Gloves at second base and finishing in the top six in MVP voting all three years…well, let’s just say Yankee fans would be salivating.
The public outcry would be deafening if the Yankees didn’t sign that player, no matter the cost. The Yankees were called cheap this winter when they let Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, and Raul Ibanez get away. How much worse would that howling be if Cano was playing out a free agent year with Oakland or Miami and then didn’t sign with the Yankees?
I’ve also heard from fans that the Yankees should trade Cano now just so they get something for him instead of letting him walk as a free agent. That they should send him packing and load up on prospects. While that idea sounds wonderful in theory, the chances of getting a big enough haul of talent for a player entering his free agent year are slim. An added impediment is that, under the new CBA, a team acquiring a player mid-season cannot get draft pick compensation if that player signs elsewhere.
And beyond that, what contending team trades away their best hitter? Even if the Yankees are a few games out of first place, with the current postseason structure, it would be beyond stupid to trade away your best hitter in a pennant race. Only teams out of the race entirely trade away their stars (think Carlos Beltran and the Mets two years ago). Otherwise, you sink or swim with your best.
Sure, the Yankees could go the same route the Cardinals took with Albert Pujols, which I think was smart given their circumstances. But the Cardinals do not have the same revenue streams and financial might of the New York Yankees, and they don’t play in the American League East. Even more to the point, they don’t play in Yankee Stadium where left-handed power is the single greatest offensive asset.
With A-Rod’s future in doubt, Teixeira admittedly on the downside of his career, and Curtis Granderson a more likely candidate for free agent departure, it makes no sense to let Cano get away in his prime.
When was the last time the Yankees let one of the best hitters in the game, a guy they really wanted to keep, get away by their choice? Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada all chose retirement when let go by the Yankees. None of them were 30-year old studs with free agent bonanzas awaiting.
George Steinbrenner often said that the worst mistake he ever made was letting Reggie Jackson leave as a free agent after the 1981 season. And that was a 35-year old Reggie, who had only one more great season in him, but did help lead the Angels to the within one game of the World Series twice in five years.
Hal Steinbrenner should learn from his father’s mistakes. He won’t get a hometown discount, and he won’t get a deal done before Cano hits free agency (how many Scott Boras clients don’t hit the open market this close to major paydays?). But what Hal needs to do is find a way to make Cano fit into his $189 million and under plans.
Because Robinson Cano will be the player the Yankees lineup should be built around for the rest of this decade.
Should the Yankees build their future around Robinson Cano? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…