Robinson Cano — Let him Walk?

The New York Yankees enter the 2013 season in unfamiliar territory – a team in transition, struggling to remain competitive amidst an improving AL East while under orders from management to cut salary.   Against this backdrop, Robinson Cano enters the final year of a contract that he signed in 2008 – and having led the Yanks in WAR over that period, Cano stands to land a large contract next winter.   Clearly from a cost-cutting perspective, with $75M guaranteed to Sabathia, ARod and Teixeira in each of years 2014-2016, Cano will be a tough sign.  However, ignoring the constraints of these horrible contracts, I still think they should let Cano walk.

First, a bit of historical context for Cano, who has been one of the best players in the AL since reaching the majors in 2005 (outside of a bizarre 2008 campaign that saw him post a 0.3 WAR and total only 14 HRs).  2013 will be Cano’s age 30 season, and since 1969, he is one of 11 second basemen to post 30 WAR prior to age 30.  (The full list is here).   That list is exclusive:  4 Hall of Famers (Morgan, Alomar, Sandberg and Carew), two should be Hall of Famers (Whitaker, Grich), the vastly underrated Willie Randolph (who happened to be this author’s first favorite player as I took up residence at 2B for my first organized baseball team at age 8), two current perennial all-stars (Utley and Pedroia), and Chuck Knoblauch (which one of these doesn’t belong).

For purposes of looking at a potential Cano extension, we can pare this list.  After the age of 30, Rod Carew spent most of his time at 1B, a significantly less demanding position, so we’ll exclude Carew.  Further, since Pedroia and Utley are still active they offer little reference.  Chuck Knoblauch’s career path is about as atypical as they come – following his 30th, he forgot how to throw the baseball 50 feet to first base and was out of baseball at 33.

That leaves us 6 players of similar excellence to Cano through a similar age.  Here is what each player did from age 31 forward (which would be the era of Cano’s free agent deal next Winter):

Player

Post Age 30 WAR

Morgan

44.4

Whitaker

30.6

Grich

22.8

Randolph

22

Alomar

18.5

Sandberg

18.4

Joe Morgan got a bit of a late start, debuting at age 25, but produced at an elite level that made him the best 2B of all time.  Lou Whitaker similarly produced at a level near his 20s.  The other four managed to produce in the 2-3 WAR per season range – decent every day starting players through their 30s through retirement.

The other quality about Cano that has always bothered me is his plate discipline (admittedly, likely because when I played baseball I was forced to be a patient hitter due to my lack of power).  Over the past four seasons, Cano’s .384 wOBA is good for 15th in baseball, but his walk rate is by far the lowest of the top 30 hitters.   If anyone has a good way to delve into this issue, I would love to hear it, but I have always wondered whether his late of patience at the plate would mean he ages more poorly as a hitter than those that aren’t reliant almost solely on superhuman hand eye coordination.

Obviously, the final question will be price.   Prince Fielder miraculously convinced the Tigers to pay him $214M over 10 years – he is two years younger than Cano, but obviously plays a much less demanding defensive position, and put kindly, has a body type that most don’t expect to age particularly well.    Of course, the marginal price of wins increases over time, and fluctuates depending on where the acquiring team sits on its respective win curve.   Putting all the pieces together, it would be hard for me to see Cano failing to command at least 6/$150M, and likely somewhat higher in terms of AAV, perhaps with an extra year or two (or option years) tacked on.

Given the brief historical review of how elite 2B age, it is hard to see Cano turning a profit for his team at much over $100M in total value.  The Yankees are in need of a complete overhaul – Derek Jeter is 39, A-Rod is an injured 38, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira both on the wrong side of 30, and the Yankees young arms in the minors have failed to develop according to plan.  As such, it is hard for me to see how signing Cano at 7-10 years for close to $200,000,000 won’t leave them in the same position as they are today – sporting immoveable contracts on an aging roster in desperate need of young talent.  I’d let him walk on a deal longer than 4-5 years/$100M – and I cannot believe that the Dodgers, Rangers or some other big market team won’t offer more.

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About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
This entry was posted in Contracts, Hall Of Fame, MLB, Teams, Yankees and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Robinson Cano — Let him Walk?

  1. Pingback: Mark Teixeira: Aging Or Stubborn Against the Shift (or Both)? | Sports By the Numbers

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