After discussing what life might be like without Robinson Cano, let’s focus on the second baseman’s reported contractual demands and what he realistically can obtain. There isn’t a question that Cano will beat Ian Kinsler‘s 5 year $75M deal from Texas, a record in terms of AAV for second basemen. The real debate: could Cano get money and length comparable to guys like Mark Teixeira and Prince Fielder?
What Cano undeniably has on his side is the position he plays. He’s far and away the best offensive second baseman in the past three seasons, posting a 142 wRC+. Dustin Pedroia is a distant second with a mark of 124. Additionally, Cano’s offensive performance from ages 27-29 could be considered legendary. Compared to other second basemen, only Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Rod Carew, and Bill Kenworthy performed better. Plus, aside from Carew, that group all played very early in the 20th century, which makes it more remarkable in modern times. For additional perspective, Cano is equal with Joe Morgan per wRC+, and better than guys like Chase Utley, Craig Biggio, and Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri. Surprised? Take a look for yourself. It’s also important to note that wRC+ is park adjusted, so the fact that Cano plays in Yankee Stadium does not inflate this stat.
Why did I choose ages 27-29? Not only does it make the comparison a little easier because Cano’s age 29 year was 2012, but also because these three seasons have been Cano’s peak.
Next, I’d like to compare Cano’s numbers at this stage in his career to Matt Holliday‘s same age 27-29 seasons, after which he signed a 7 year, $120M deal with St. Louis. Yes, Cano won’t be a free agent until after 2013’s age 30 season, but this is about as close as it gets in terms of comparisons. Both are Scott Boras clients and will have signed their lucrative deals one year apart in terms of age. Statistically, the two posted eerily similar numbers:
Cano has the upper hand in home runs and contact rate, while Holliday sweeps the remaining hitting categories. However, because Holliday played two of these seasons in batter-friendly Coors Field, he only beats out Cano slightly per wRC+. Plus, despite Holliday being able to sustain a high BABIP, Cano’s more “normal” BABIP makes him a safer bet. What really sets the two apart, however, are the positions they play. Big hitting corner outfielders aren’t terribly difficult to find, while plus bat second basemen are a rarity.
Holliday’s 7 year $120M deal netted slightly more than a $17M AAV. Adjusting for inflation, that $120M (contract agreed to in January 2010) is equivalent to roughly $127M today, which makes the AAV about $18M. As mentioned, we must consider Cano’s value as a second baseman. Yet, will this really enable him to shatter what Holliday earned? Cano should at least make $18M AAV, but I would be stunned if someone gave him the 10 years he’s asking for.
Let’s think about the contract length this way: Cano is going to be one year older than Holliday when he signs, yet he expects to get three additional years? Recall that second baseman age poorly, which could force a transition to third base. Not only that, but the only players to net 10 year deals after the age of 30 are Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols. Obviously, the Rodriguez deal has become a disaster, and Pujols’ production already dropped off in year one. In fact, the longest deal for any player after the age of 30 was given to Jayson Werth, a 7 year pact.
One other note: the Boras “door in the face” negotiating tactic is nothing new. With Holliday, Boras initially wanted a Teixiera type deal (8 years, $180M). Interestingly, in the three years leading up to Teix’s free agency (ages 26-28), his wRC+ was 139, worse than Cano and Holliday. Yet, Holliday received substantially less than Teix.
Essentially, Cano has leverage in terms of positional value, but the age he’s hitting free agency will hurt him. Sure, it only takes one stupid owner to write a blank check, but I don’t think anyone is crazy enough to give Cano 10 years, through his age 40 season. Boras knows this, and will probably trade years in exchange for extra money. So while Cano’s pure offensive value is probably around $18M per season, he should be able to get up to $20M per, possibly more, if the years are slashed to 7 or 8.
At 7 years, I think the Yankees would be willing to meet Cano’s $20M AAV demand. As illustrated in my previous article, there will be room in regard to the Competitive Balance Tax payroll. However, the decline of second basemen in their 30s undoubtedly concerns Brian Cashman and the other 29 general managers. When push comes to shove, if the Yankees can get the length they’re comfortable with, I expect them to bend when it comes down to money.