The New York Yankees will be faced with a major decision this coming off-season when it comes to All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano. The question Brian Cashman stays awake at night asking himself is: “Is Robinson Cano worth the investment at this point in his career?”
In years past, this wouldn’t even be a question. The Yankees would have just given Cano the money, watched him decline over the years and then return almost nothing towards the end of his contract. Now, the Yankees are faced with a major decision.
Cano will be 31 when he becomes a free agent. Age is not kind to middle infielders and they tend to fall off quickly, sometimes without warning. Carlos Baerga and Roberto Alomar are prime examples. Of course, there are those who buck the trend, like Craig Biggio, who had several good seasons into his late 30s. Biggio, however, is the exception and not even close to the rule.
Alomar, for example, was basically done after his age 33 season when he hit .336/.415/.541 with 20 homers, 100 RBIs, 12 triples, 34 doubles and 113 runs scored. The next season, he was traded from the Cleveland Indians to the New York Mets, where he posted a .266/.331/.376 slash line with 11 homers and 53 RBIs, saw his triples fall to four and his doubles fall to 24. By 2004, his age 36 season, Alomar was done and retired at the end of the year.
Baerga had an even quicker drop-off and saw his last really productive season at age 26. Baerga, like Biggio, can be considered an exception to the rule. He fizzled early just as Biggio fizzled late. Ryne Sandberg, however, is another good example. Like Alomar and Cano he was the best second baseman of his era. Sandberg led the league with 40 home runs in 1990, his age 30 season. The next two years he hit just 52 combined, which are still solid numbers, especially for a second baseman. However, in 1993, his age 33 season, he hit just nine home runs in 117 games. He still hit .309/.359/.412, but by 1994 he saw that decline to .238/.312/.390 with only five home runs in the strike-shortened season.
Sandberg did bounce back in 1996, his age 36 season, and hit 25 home runs and drove in 92 runs, but hit just .244/.316/.444. Sandberg was done after his age 37 season, 1997.
The Yankees can’t afford to invest large sums of money into Cano despite him being the best second baseman in the game right now and possibly the best player on the Yankees. Cano figures to get $20 million or more on the open market and he is represented by Scott Boras so you know he intends to get every penny he feels he is owed.
The Yankees would be wise to Cano walk and test the free agent market. Let him see if there is another team willing to give him the money he wants. Given the way the market has played out the last few years, I think Cano will find the pickings very slim. Teams have been a little reluctant to hand out huge contracts and surrender a high draft pick in the process as well. Of course, there is always a team out there like the Los Angeles Dodgers or Los Angeles Angels who might overpay for two to four years of productive baseball.
The Yankees would be wise to see what the market is for Cano before offering him a long-term contract. They might just find themselves saving tens of millions of dollars if they go that route. If another team outbids them for Cano, then so be it. The Yankees can’t afford to be giving an aging middle infielder $20 million with so many holes that could possibly be opening up. Letting Cano walk won’t be popular with Yankees fans, but it might be necessary if they hope to avoid the pitfalls of another albatross of a contract. One thing is certain: the Yankees can’t afford to bid against themselves as they basically did with Alex Rodriguez.