Even though Spring Training games have barely started, there is already talk about next off-season’s issues, namely a potential extension for Robinson Cano. Though it would buck the long-standing trend that the Yankees have of not extended players in-season, or until current contracts are concluded. Add to the situation that Cano has signed uber-agent Scott Boras, and that the Yankees have so far held true to their goal of getting to $189 million dollar payroll. That said, let’s take a look at exactly what Cano could potentially get from the Yankees.
First, let me go totally on the record as saying that I am unequivocally and unabashedly opposed to giving Cano anything more than a five-year, maybe six-year deal. I’ve talked about why quite a bit here, but on the whole, it comes down to one thing: if I am the Yankees, I am simply not willing to go through the Alex Rodriguez situation again. To clarify, I mean that I am unwilling to pay upwards of $20 million dollars a year for a guy that is a lot closer to the end of his career than the beginning, and whose production will decline precipitously, making him hard to move (if at all), and nowhere near worth the value you are paying him. (Abstractly, no one human being is worth such obscene amounts of money, but that is entirely besides the point.) Regardless, Cano will get a deal, either in the Bronx, or somewhere else.
Currently, the second baseman who best matches Cano in terms of comparables according to BaseballReference.com is Chase Utley. (Yes, I know Cano is better, stop shouting.) Utley is making $85 million dollars throughout the course of this present contract, which is the most ever for a second baseman. Also, Utley signed his 7-year deal in 2006, when he was 27 years old. Presumably, that would have been a terrific deal for the Phillies, and ultimately, it was until the last few years. Utley has had a significant drop off in production, as well as being ravaged by injury. Now, at 34 years old, he is, at the conclusion of his deal, three years older than Cano will be when he signs as a free agent. It is worth bearing in mind that much of Utley’s decay was due to injury, particularly of late. When he was good, he was good. However, he is a classic case of aging poorly and injury; once the injuries began to take their told in 2010 (at 31 years of age, ironically), Utley’s production started to decline, posting a .275 BA, his lowest since his second full season in the majors. In 2011 and 2012, Utley posted career lows once again in average, and homers (outside of his rookie season).
Ultimately, my best guess is that Cano will probably get somewhere in the $180 million range over seven, maybe eight years. He will smash the current contract record set by Utley, and in all likelihood, it won’t even be close. The Yankees won’t get a home-town discount, and to that end, probably won’t have the luxury of being able to sign him with any figure, “significant” or not, before he hits the open market and sees what he is worth. Arguably, the Yankees fleeced Cano by extending him the last time, taking advantage of questions about Cano’s work ethic and ability, and getting far more out of the player than what he could make for the same performance on the open market. (In case anyone is interested, the Rays did a similar deal years ago with Evan Longoria.)
Further complicating matters is that, unlike in past years, the Yankees aren’t the only kid at the candy store with a fat wallet. The Tigers have been spending a good deal (though that is an unlikely landing spot for Cano given the contracts they already have); the Angels are always a threat; the Dodgers seem to be printing money, and with a new TV deal, may swoop in. Or, picture this one, Yankees fans: the Mets, with Jason Bay and Johan Santana, and a bunch of cheap, no-name players but still some cash to burn, can run out and at least drive up the price on Cano. If there is one thing that we have learned the last few off-seasons, it’s that there is always a sleeper team out there that can come from nowhere and get the winning ticket at the last moment, so it’s not exactly as far-fetched as one might think. And, if a bidding war breaks out, it might not be so crazy to see Cano get $200 million, at which point, based on their current models, the Yankees might bow out of the race.
I know that Cano is better than Chase Utley. However, he is older now, before free agency, than Utley when he signed his deal. Additionally, second base is not exactly the place to move if agility begins to decline with age. Cano is a spectacular fielder, but how long will that last? We all see what happens when the bat speed goes, as evidenced by Alex Rodriguez’s dreadful showing in the 2012 post-season. Would the Yankees be willing to make a similar deal in length, for Cano given this same knowledge, not to mention a giant warning sign hiding out in Florida working on his hip rehabilitation?
If they are, as Hal Steinbrenner has suggested, thinking about doing away with the $189 million dollar mandate, would it be to sign another mid-30’s player whose peak days are more behind him than ahead, or rather invest in younger players- maybe locking up younger talent before they can exploit it for big cash, as they previously did with Cano? Should they, if there is an excellent chance we will be having the same conversations about Cano in five years as we are about Alex Rodriguez right now? And better question: aren’t you glad you aren’t Brian Cashman and his team, who have to think about all of these factors and come up with a solution that may or may not shape the entire structure of the franchise (and likely, your own future with it), for the foreseeable future?
With the specter of the A-Rod deal still hanging over their heads, it still remains to be seen whether or not Yankees brass will be willing to give Cano- a star in his own right, likely the future face of the franchise long after Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have hung up their cleats- everything and anything he wants. But by the same token, and for exactly the same reasons, it’s hard to see them not getting him back in pinstripes for the rest of his career, either. Time will tell, but one thing is for certain: before the Yankees sign Cano, they will have to take a long hard look at their history and make a decision about whether or not they are doomed to carry those same mistakes into their future.