Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano
In the last several weeks, I have gone through the harrowing experiences of first upending my life and moving, followed immediately by, like all other Tri-Staters, weathering a pair of historic storms in the Northeast. Catastrophic events really have a way of putting things into perspective. For the last 12 days I have done little other than prepare for the worst, check in on relatives and friends, and find different ways to offer my services to those suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. While recovery is far from over, it is nice to return to social media and the warming baseball hot stove as a means of coping with the tragedy that my beloved city has endured. I am thankful for the fact that the members of my household (in Brooklyn) and my parents’ household (in Staten Island) made it through without issue. My thoughts are with those who suffered loss, and I will continue to be committed to aiding relief efforts in any way I can, including providing reading material as a distraction.
I apologize for my long absence, and aim to continue to accomplish my goal of forecasting the Yanks’ offseason moves.
Young Robinson: A Star is Born
If you are anything like me, you pay a lot of attention to what is happening in the lower levels of the Yanks’ system. Not all of us, however, are lucky enough to have spent a few years living in the bucolic borough of Staten Island with the ability to check out the Baby Bombers at the underrated Richmond County Ballpark. That was when I first laid eyes on that sweet swing. Sure, he’s put a bit of muscle on since 2001, but the mechanics are almost identical. If you’ve never been to a NY Penn League game, well, you aren’t necessarily missing all that much. Often the young’ns can appear nervous, or even awkward, and the play tends to be a bit sloppy. The rosters are comprised mostly of raw international free agents and mid-to-late round amateur draft selections. You can probably probably figure out why I found Robbie to be memorable. The same smoothness and quiet confidence that stands out at the major league level put him in a league of his own in the NYPL. After seeing him stroke two doubles and make a diving stab in the field on an August night in 2001, I made it a point to remember that somewhat unique name: Robinson Cano
If Robbie wasn’t seen as a prospect by the Front Office at age 18, he definitely elevated himself to that status at age 19. He split the season between the Staten Island Yankees and the Greensboro Bats of the South Atlantic League, flashing impressive power for his age and slugging 15 HRs in 599 ABs. After another impressive showing in his age 20 season (split between High-A Tampa and AA Trenton), Cano found himself on the list of the Top 10 2B prospects in the game. As a result, that wasn’t the only list Robinson would find himself on after the 2003 season – he was also on the list of prospects the Yankees offered to the Texas Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez deal. Texas would opt for 2012′s most famous defensive replacement, Joaquin Arias, instead.
We all know the rest. To sum up: With the A-Rod trade, Alfonso Soriano was out as the Yankees 2B for the foreseeable future. After stopgaps such as Enrique Wilson and Tony Womack sputtered in 2004-2005, Robbie made his major league debut on May 3, 2005. After an inauspicious beginning in the basement of the Yankees’ development system and several failed trade attempts, Robinson Cano was here to stay.
On October 30, 2012, the Yankees shocked no one by choosing to exercise Robbie’s $15 million option for the 2013 season, ensuring that we are unlikely to know the future of Cano in pinstripes until, at the earliest, sometime next December. If we can expect a season similar to Robbie’s last 4, then the Yankees will probably consider that figure a bargain. From 2009-2012, here is Cano’s average offensive output:
In that time, he has made 3 All-Star teams, earned two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards, and is coming off a season where he set career highs in HR, OPS, OPS+, BB, and runs scored. At age 30, he is without a doubt in the heart of his prime, and the best offensive player in a lineup laden with firepower (even if the gunpowder is getting a little stale, if you catch my drift). The Yankees paid Cano $39 million for a cumulative bWAR of 25.3 from 2009-2012. Let’s assume they will get somewhere between 6.5-7 bWAR out of Robbie for $15 million in 2013. Using a league average cost per win of about $2.5 million, it’s safe to say that newly retained superagent Scott Boras will want the Yankees to compensate Robbie for the perceived $25-$30 million they “owe” Cano for the discounted production they’ve received over that extension. Oh, and he’ll want that in years and dollars. What will the Yankees do? And how does this fit with the looming $189 million plan for 2014?
This past week, we began to hear some rumblings about what a potential contract negotiation between Robbie (and Scott Boras) and the Yankees would actually look like, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be pretty. Long gone are the days of the free spending Boss, willing to override the GM and endorse mammoth checks for marquee players. This is the era of what can be called “Cashball” – a much richer cousin of Moneyball but with the same approach and eye for a bargain. Alex Rodriguez had to negotiate his bloated contract directly with the Steinbrenner family. Rafael Soriano got his cushy deal from blowhard Randy Levine. But even those types of negotiations are likely over. Remember when Cash played the villain in the Jeter negotiations? Yeah. I have a feeling we are going to see that guy again.
Now that Brian Cashman is clearly in control of the Steinbrenner purse strings, Yankees fans should prepare themselves for the reality that the majority of other teams’ supporters must face every year – sometimes star players are allowed to walk. For now, the point is moot. We are guaranteed one more year of our homegrown star, and there isn’t any reason to think that it will not be a MVP-caliber one. We should, however, ready ourselves for that inevitable moment next December when Cashman may tell Robbie and Scott to “test the waters” the same way he did with Derek Jeter. Robinson will turn 31 in October of 2013, and is rumored to be looking for a deal in the range of 7-10 years, with an average annual value comparable to what Prince Fielder received from the Tigers. While Prince signed at age 28, his poor defense, non-premium position, and body type may have tempered any advantage his age may have given him over Robbie. In Boras’s eyes, the two players may be monetarily equivalent. There’s also a strong possibility that, despite being older, Robbie may be worth even more.
So how would, let’s say, a 7 yr/$175M deal fit into the Yankees’ plan to get under – and stay under – the luxury tax starting in 2014? You don’t have to be a mathlete to realize almost immediately that it doesn’t, especially not with A-Rod, Tex, and CC on the books at a high AAV for a few more years. The Yankees don’t want to overpay for what may turn out to be an unproductive twilight for Robbie at a non-2B position, and Robbie feels like he already gave the Yankees their hometown discount in his last deal. Neither side looks prepared to give in at this point. Will this be a tragic ballad for Yankee fans, or a power ballad that caps a Hall of Fame career to the raised lighters of the NY faithful? Luckily, this is one decision that need not be made this offseason.
The Yankees made this one easy for me by picking up the option (we knew they would), but for continuity purposes:
2013 Status: STAYS
Next Up: What does one do with a Swisher?