There was possibly no player more closely tied to a franchise he later departed than Albert Pujols, proving that there is no such thing as an irreplaceable player. (Image: Matthew Emmons, US Presswire)

A Word About “Irreplaceable” Players


A lot has been made lately about Robinson Cano and his future with the New York Yankees in light of the fact that GM Brian Cashman made accidental mention of the fact that Hal Steinbrenner and ownership made an overture to Cano and his agent this week. That discussion, which included talk of a “significant deal” prompted to Cano’s father to profess his desire and hope that his son would remain a Yankee for his entire career.

I can’t think of a reason that someone wouldn’t like the idea of Cano in the Yankee fold for the duration of his career, all things being equal. That’s a valid point. But then there is that subset of Yankees fans who think the sky would quite literally cave in over 161st and River Ave. if Cano left the Yankees for one reason or other. While Cano would be missed- he is a great player, and has accomplished a lot for the Yankees- there is no such thing as an irreplaceable player.

Robinson Cano is a great player, but no player is irreplaceble. (Image: Kim Klement, US Presswire)

Cano is a terrific player. He is a home-grown super star for the Yankees, arguably the first in a long time, and definitely the best in a while. His effortless talent in the field is unquestioned, and his offensive prowess puts him at the heart of a very, very strong lineup. Having gotten the questions about work ethic out of the way long ago, Cano has solidified himself as the one (every day) player on the team that the Yankees could build around for the next few years as they look to get their next championship, prompting calls by some to sign him to whatever deal he demands in order to keep him in New York. Those same people claim that Cano is irreplaceable, that losing him would bring certain disaster for the Yankees. In short, some say that Cano is “irreplaceable.”

But there is no such thing as an irreplaceable player. There is no one player whose mere presence on a team will forever doom a team to win or lose ever again. There is no one player who can dictate the course of the team, even if his absence will result in a team hurting in the short-term. Baseball is a sport that is predicated on an entire team producing, not just one player.

One player, while his impact might be extremely significant (perhaps even the most important) does not make or break a team. Think about it: was there a player most heavily associated with an MLB franchise than Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals? Ten years, two World Series championships, nine All-Star appearances. A player that grew up in the franchise and added to its rich history. But when the time came for a huge payday, what he felt that his skills and ability warranted, what did the Cardinals do? They took a big, deep breath and walked away. What happened immediately thereafter? Well, they didn’t win a World Series, but they made the playoffs, making it to the NLCS.

The roof isn’t caving in on the Cards for the long-term. ESPN’s Keith Law, one of the best in the business, ranked the St. Louis Cardinals as having the #1 farm system in all of major league baseball. Strong pitching prospects, big hitting prospects, no huge areas of need of weakness. The Cards have it right: it’s more than one player, or even two players. It’s about building a team the right way- depth, pitching, hitting. Overall quality of the farm system is how they have built their organization, cultivating talent from within, not necessarily the mega-watt star power of one exceptional player.

They know that one player will eventually age, decline in production, and stop being worth his contract. Rather than get involved in a deal like that, they’ve chose to groom his replacement- cheaper, younger, more upside. The Cards realized the exceptional player they gave up in Pujols, no doubt. But they also realized that perhaps the future quality of the organization- an extension for one of their top pitching prospects, for instance, of a heavy-hitting outfielder- is more important than a player who has far fewer good years than bad years left. They have refused to mortgage the future for the right-now, finding a delicate balance between competing every year and thinking about the future, as well.

Maybe such a thing isn’t necessarily possible in a win-now town like New York City. A couple of injuries, and people in this town are already writing obits on the Yankees’ 2013 season, almost a full month before any pitch that matters is thrown. Maybe that will work in Robinson Cano’s favor, the idea that losing any player, particularly a home-grown star- and over money, ironically- is something that the mighty Yankees cannot stomach. Maybe the Yankees will decide to pay Cano whatever he wants- they are, after all, the Yankees, and if they can’t buy themselves out of a mistake here and there, even with other deals that may leave a sour taste down the road (if they haven’t already)- Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez- who possibly can? They are the Yankees, after all, right? Maybe the next ten weeks, with the losses of Curtis Granderson and Teixeira, combined with the offensive power lost with the departures of Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Rodriguez, too, will be too much to bear, and for the Yankees hand. Maybe they will realize in the coming weeks just how indispensible Cano’s talent and ability is to them on a team surrounded by aging players everywhere.

But maybe Hal Steinbrenner will hold firm to his $189 million dollar edict and set a new precedent in the Bronx the eschews the last 40 years of Yankees front-office management under the Steinbrenner Doctrine. Maybe they will draw the line in the sand for Cano, the way the Cardinals did with Pujols. Maybe the Yankees will realize that internal development, finding players for the future that are just as able, talented, and capable as the stars on the current roster, is the way to continue to build this franchise. Maybe they will decide that packing a ton of money into every position isn’t necessary if you have talent internally to do the same job at a fraction of a cost and a much higher upside left in him.

Maybe they will realize that money doesn’t buy championships, as evidenced by an increasing payroll over the last 12 years and only one championship to show for it. Maybe the Yankees and their fans, spoiled for so long under the Torre regime, will realize that an entire season is not made or broken by a World Series, that there are varying degrees of success, not just win or all failure. And maybe, just maybe, they too will realize that now player- no matter his star power, no matter his ability, no matter his pedigree- is irreplaceable. Even Robinson Cano.

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