Stephen Rhoads at RAB scooped me Thursday. My intention had been to write a post investigating how much money Robinson Cano might be in a position to get once he hits free agency. Rhoads beat me to the punch, forcing me to change my focus. Fortunately for me, I came across another idea while researching my Cano salary post.
Rhoads was elaborating upon a rumor that Scott Boras has approached the Yankees about renegotiating Cano’s current contract. Stephen concluded that Robbie may be in a position to get a six year, $100 million deal from the Yankees. He linked to a Mike Axisa post from the summer that suggested Cano may be due for a six year, $120 million pay out. Those contract numbers represent serious bank for Robbie, but Cano is a steal at those prices because he’s one of the best players in baseball … right? Right?
Robinson is an immensely talented baseball player. He’s tantalized fans and scouts alike with his natural ability since he burst onto the scene in 2005 to replace an injured (and awful) Tony Womack. He locked up his reputation as one of the best players in the entire sport in 2010, when he had his best season to date. He reinforced his reputation as one of the game’s best with a stellar 2011 season.
An annual salary of $17 to $20 million would make Robinson Cano one of baseball’s twenty highest paid players. That isn’t such a big deal, given Cano’s reputation as being one of the game’s twenty best players. The dirty little secret, however, is that, as good as Robbie is, the operative word in these last two paragraphs is reputation. Robbie may have a reputation as being one of the game’s best, but the numbers don’t back that up.
In terms of WAR, wOBA, Home Runs, SLG and OBP — reputation too — 2010 was far and away Robinson’s best season in baseball. He had an amazing year, posting 6.5 fWAR, a .389 wOBA, 29 homers, a .534 SLG and a .381 OBP. That was an amazing season, an All Star season to say the least. It wasn’t, however, a top ten season in baseball that year.
Cano’s fWAR of 6.5 ranked 11th in the game in 2010 among position players. That’s amazing, but it isn’t as amazing as the hype surrounding that season would suggest. His wOBA rates similarly. Cano placed 12th in all of baseball in 2010, which is truly phenomenal, but to hear people talk about it you’d think Robbie was one of the top five hitters in the game. He wasn’t. His .389 2010 wOBA was tied with Ryan Zimmerman‘s mark, and just .001 points ahead of Shin-Soo Choo. Both of those guys are excellent ball players, but neither’s 2010 season was as hyped as Cano’s.
2011 tells a similar story. Once again, Robbie had a great season. He posted 5.6 fWAR with a .375 wOBA, 28 homers, a .533 SLG and a .349 OBP. That was an All Star caliber season, but it wasn’t one of the top seasons in all of baseball. In 2010 he came close to having one of the top seasons in baseball. He didn’t come close in 2011. His fWAR ranked 22nd in the entire game while his wOBA was 27th in all of baseball. He placed just ahead of Aramis Ramirez. Is anyone talking about giving Aramis $100 million?
This raises three questions. Is Robbie overrated, as my title implies? If so, why is he overrated? And, regardless, given that he’s critical to the Yankees’ long-term success and will soon be a free-agent, should he be as highly paid as Stephen and Mike at RAB suggest? I’ll tackle these in order.
Bluntly put, Robbie is overrated. Don’t get me wrong. Robbie is great. He’s phenomenal. I never want to see him in another uniform for the rest of his career. But, just about everyone who follows baseball, professional and amateur alike, talks about Cano as though he’s been one of the game’s single best players for the last couple of seasons. That’s simply not true. He’s been one of the top fifteen to twenty position players in the last two seasons, but he hasn’t been as good as the hype. Perhaps this is a cruel application of the definition of overrated, but the facts are when someone is not as good as we claim, he is overrated.
There are two reasons why Robbie is (just a little) overrated. First, he plays in New York. He’s succeeding on the world’s biggest stage. That will make any star burn brighter. Second, Robbie looks so good playing baseball that we think he’s better than he is. Cano is one of the most graceful, exciting baseball players I’ve ever seen in a lifetime of watching this game. When he does something good on the field, its often something astounding, and he executes with pizazz. Whether its running down a ball in the gap and making an impossible throw to first across his body or dropping his bat and briefly admiring a ball that he’s just hit into the stratosphere, Robbie does a lot of things in baseball that no one else can do. The problem is that he does many near-impossible things so well that we forget to notice all the essential things that he does badly, like take pitches. We overrate Cano because he’s so much fun to watch play baseball that we naturally think he’s better than he is.
All that said, even if we say Robbie is a top five player when he is not, he is still a top twenty player who will be a free agent after the 2013 season at the latest, which would be just his age 30 season. Should the Yankees make him not just one of the top twenty highest paid position players in the game, but one of the top twenty highest paid players, period? I vote yes, resoundingly, slightly overrated or not (and I emphasize slightly, because Robbie is obviously an elite player).
Since 2009 Robbie has accumulated 16.4 fWAR, while hitting .314/.361/.529, for a .378 wOBA. That may not make him a top ten position player, but it does rank 13th in the game during that time. Among second basemen only Ben Zobrist and Chase Utley have been better during that stretch, and not by much. Setting defense aside, Robbie’s .378 wOBA during that stretch is 14th in the game and tops among all second basemen. Having turned 29 this October, Robbie figures to be one of the game’s elite second basemen for the next five or six years. He figures to be worth at least $18 million a season to the Yankees. The team should pay him fairly and lock him up for a few more seasons if it can. He is, after all, perhaps the game’s best second basemen, even if he’s not perhaps its best player.
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