When news broke that Robinson Cano eschewed Scott Boras in favor of Jay-Z and CAA, the consensus was that Cano would be here to stay. Perhaps it is a sign that Cano prefers pinstripes over say, Dodger blue, but that doesn’t mean the agency switch will bring him back cheaply. Even if he signs an in-season extension and foregoes the open market, it’s not like he’s going to come at a significant discount. Maybe he gets a year or two fewer than he would in free agency, but he’s still going to have an average salary anywhere between $20-25M. This is something the Yankees are particularly concerned with in relation to the Competitive Balance Tax Threshold of $189M.
I’ve already illustrated that the Yankees can sign Cano to a $25M AAV and maintain a payroll below $189M. However, we shouldn’t simply be worried about fitting Cano into the budget, or pleased that Cano dumped Boras. This is the real question: how does keeping Cano affect the Yankees’ chances in the near and long-term?
Obviously, the Yankees would be better off in 2014 with Cano and under $189M versus being without him and under the budget. But that’s a shortsighted view. This team is still stuck with the massive contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia. Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear that he believes his club don’t need an exorbitant payroll to be competitive. While this is the case for just about any team, it’s not the case for the Yankees given the payroll’s current constitution. Roughly $75M of the payroll is locked up through 2016 in Rodriguez, Teixeira, and Sabathia. In all likelihood, Cano will push that figure to $100M for 4 players, leaving $89M left for 21 other major-league roster spots, minus $12M or so in player benefit costs. Unless Hal is satisfied with a tax rate reset, allowing the Yankees to go back over in 2015, $100M in 4 players is a major issue. Unfortunately, given Hal’s statements, going back over the threshold in 2015 seems doubtful.
It’s going to be pretty difficult to field a World Series contender if Cano stays and Hal sticks to his plan. Sure, a lot of money will be coming off the books following 2016 (Teixeira and if Sabathia’s 2017 option does not vest) and 2017 (Rodriguez). But by then, Cano will already be in his mid-30s and his prime in the rear view mirror. Sure, Cano may be worth the money over the next 2 to 3, maybe even 4 seasons. But during that time, there’ll be significantly diminishing returns from Teixeira and Sabathia. Plus, who knows what A-Rod will bring to the table (likely little). Yes, the Yankees could still possibly be good during this time, but I highly doubt they’ll be great. If the team’s chances look bleak during Cano’s prime, much in thanks to the self-imposed budget, why pay him? By the time Teix, CC, and A-Rod are off the books, Cano will be far from the player we see today.
It’s not like the Yankees could patch up these flaws via free agency, anyway. Not only will ownership be restraining its financial muscle, but fewer quality and star players are hitting free agency. Given the budget, the Yankees wouldn’t really be able to afford any star-caliber players after Cano, but the inability to afford guys in the $10-13M range (ex: Nick Swisher) would be very problematic. This creates more pressure on internal development. While the organization does have some very good prospects in Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott, there’s no guarantee that they’ll become big contributors early in their careers (when Cano theoretically will still be at his best). In fact, perhaps only 1 or 2 of them ever even make it to the show.
As much as I like Cano, it might simply be in the franchise’s best interests to let him walk at the end of the season. Unless something drastic occurred, I wouldn’t trade him for prospects midseason – this year’s team should compete despite many being up in arms after two games. Let Cano sign elsewhere, take the compensation pick, and move on. The team would be significantly worse in 2014, but the Yankees would also be without yet another aging superstar around 2016, better molded to reshape the club’s roster building strategy.
Despite topping Forbes’ valuation list for MLB clubs at $2.3B, Hal’s cost-cutting goals indicate that the potential savings outweigh the importance of winning. He may say that the team can win and stay below $189M, but the truth is that it’ll be very difficult given the massive obligations already on hand. Instead of Cano’s return being a slam dunk, we unfortunately must come to grips with letting a star go. As Steve Goldman of Pinstriped Bible points out, the Cardinals and Rangers did this with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton respectively. It’s a shame to say that the Yankees should probably do the same.
By edogisgod (Hal Steinbrenner) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons