Robinson Cano is the free agent this winter and reportedly wants a contract just north of $300 million.
He’s ridiculous, right? Nobody, except maybe Mike Trout, is worth that kind of investment. He wants more money than Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols, who signed their record-deals at roughly the same age and were already much more accomplished. By the time they turned 30 they were slam-dunk Hall of Famers, two of the greatest players of all time. Robinson Cano, who has zero Hall of Famers among the ten best comps on his Baseball-Reference page, still has quite a ways to go.
First on that list is Nomar Garciaparra, who couldn’t stay healthy after turning 30 and watched his Cooperstown hopes go up in smoke. Second is Chase Utley, who dropped off significantly after turning 31 — the same age Robinson Cano turned on October 22. Cano’s third-closest comp is David Wright, who signed a lengthy contract extension with the other New York team just last winter. Wright received an eight-year deal worth $138 million that made him the highest paid player in franchise history.
While $138 million is a lot of money, it’s a long way from $310 million.
But Cano’s been better than Wright, and just about every other ballplayer, for that matter, over the past four years. Since opening day 2010, only Miguel Cabrera has been more valuable per FanGraphs WAR and only by about half a win per season. Only Prince Fielder has played more games. Only Cabrera has more RBI. Nobody has more doubles. Robinson Cano has emerged as the best player on a team loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers. He’s the most indispensable of all the Yankees, a superstar in every sense of the word.
But seeing as how he’s already 31, he probably won’t be one for much longer, if at all. He may have a few more big seasons, but his best years might already behind him. If that’s the case, then somebody’s going to waste a lot of money on his decline phase. It’s a mistake the Yankees have made before and will probably make again, but with so much of their funds already tied up with Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, the last thing New York needs is another albatross contract weighing down its payroll. Just because they have more money than God doesn’t mean they should break the bank for Cano, at least not if they want to get under the luxury-tax threshold any time this decade.
It’s obvious the Yankees need to keep Cano, but at what cost? His market value will be determined by the level of interest he draws from other teams, which isn’t much so far. If nobody makes Cano a serious offer, New York will have all the power at the bargaining table. But if someone like the Dodgers or Rangers gets involved in a bidding war, then the Yankees will have a tough decision to make.
Will they do what they’ve always done: open up their checkbooks and pay top-dollar to secure elite talent? Or will they change course by tightening their belt and letting their MVP walk?
I’m pretty sure New York will pay almost any price to keep Robinson Cano in pinstripes. I have no idea how high they’re willing to go, but I’m willing to bet it’s a good deal short of $300 mil.