Early this season, when Robinson Cano had gotten off to a slow start, I was openly wondering if he had entered his decline phase. Granted, it would be a bit premature for a player to begin to decline at age 29, but it isn’t unheard of. At the time it looked like Robbie was putting together a 2012 season that was shaping up to be a bit worse than his 2011 campaign, which itself was not as good as his career best 2010 season. Three seasons could be seen as a trend.
A scorching hot month of June later (Robbie’s wOBA in June is .466, although at .408 it was solid in May as well), and my hypothesis doesn’t just look wrong, it looks flat out absurd. No one knows how long Robbie can maintain this pace, but if the season were to end today Cano would hit .310/.371/.591. Entering Sunday’s game Cano had a wOBA of .398. With an fWAR of 3.9, Fangraphs rates Robbie as the seventh best player in the game. Baseball Reference agrees. Robbie’s bWAR is 3.7, which ties him for sixth best in the game. No matter how you slice it, Robbie is on fire and looks to be having yet another lights out season at a key defensive position.
The multi-million dollar question is therefore what do you offer Robinson? Cano isn’t going to be a free-agent yet. The Yankees have a team option for 2013, an option that is guaranteed to be struck. But he’s a free agent after that. Scott Boras negotiates his contracts. He’s one of the most famous players in the game today and, although I’ve suggested he’s overrated in the past, that isn’t the case anymore. Since 2009 only six players in the game have been better. Most of the players ahead of Cano have gotten nine figure pay days. In 2014 Robbie will be just 31, younger than Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols were when they signed their mega-deals. Cano will want to get paid.
What do the Yankees pay him? I’ve wondered if the Yankees should let Cano walk when he’s a free-agent before, if the Yankees should let some other team pay him the huge cash as he enters his mid-thirties. Now, a Cano-less Yankees seem unimaginable. Now that Derek Jeter‘s wOBA has fallen back to .334, now that Nick Swisher‘s OBP is just .336, now that A-Rod’s SLG is just .437 the idea of letting the best offensive Yankee (and by a huge margin) walk is absurd.
Cano’s cost is not a trivial question. The Yankees themselves are larded up with bad deals, from Mark Teixeira‘s to A-Rod’s. Apart from Derek Jeter’s mega-deal, very few of the super contracts have worked out when the superstar player hits his mid-thirties. Everything therefore says that the Yankees should cut and run with Cano, even if it means losing out on three more productive seasons. Better to hand those seasons to another team than risk paying Robbie for the five lousy season that will follow.
Unfortunately, from this current vantage point that logic (and it is logical) seems too cold-blooded and reckless to execute. Unless something awful happens the rest of this season or in 2013 the Yankees will offer Robbie a new contract, and it will make him even wealthier than he is now. At his current pace, that seems like the right move, even if it means Cano is paid like a superstar when he turns 36 and probably can’t cut it anymore. He’s not just powering the Yankees. He’s turning into the team’s best second baseman since Willie Randolph, which is to say ever. The Bombers don’t let those kinds of players walk away. As a fan, I agree, even if the arm chair GM in me cringes. Hopefully they get Robbie for five and $125 million, instead of something closer to eight and $200 million.
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