There are those nights this season when it appears that New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano is unlikely to return to the team next year — the nights when he does not hustle to first base, chases pitches out of the strike zone, and fails to come through when needed.
On those nights, people think: Cano will be 31 in October, his most productive years are behind him, and after the debacle of the Alex Rodriguez contract and the upcoming debacles of C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira‘s contracts, the last thing the team should do is anchor themselves down with another long-term contract.
Then there are nights like Monday night at Target Field, when Cano is the only Yankees player who knows what he’s doing at the plate, and you quiver in fear at the thought of their lineup without his name in it. Those nights make you believe the Steinbrenner’s should open up their seemingly limitless checkbook for another decade of Cano.
He single-handedly kept his team in the game against the Minnesota Twins for seven innings Monday night. He hit a 442-foot bomb off the back wall in the first to give the Yankees an early lead and then tied the game with an opposite field shot in the third. That was enough until the Twins literally threw the game away in the eighth and ninth innings and gave the Yankees a much-needed 10-4 win to snap a season-high six-game losing streak.
Cano is in the zone now. After hitting only .257 in May and slugging only three home runs in June, he is on the kind of tear that seduces baseball fans into believing he could be the best hitter in the game.
Over the his last four games, Cano has been unconscious: 10-for-17 (.588) with three home runs, five RBIs, and seven runs scored. That the Yankees have lost three of those four is a testament to the sad state of their lineup. Since the beginning of the season, it is Cano alone providing the punch on most nights.
The thought of the Yankees’ lineup without him next year, even if Teixeira, A-Rod, and Derek Jeter come back healthy and are somewhat productive players, is a frightening one.
On Monday night, the cleanup hitter was Vernon Wells, who started nicely but has not hit a home run since May 15. The no. 5 hitter was Travis Hafner, who is hitting .223. And David Adams, the current third baseman, is now hitting .178 after an 0-for-5 night at the plate. That definitely does not paint a nice picture.
Robinson Cano is the Yankees offense right now, and he probably will continue to be assuming the team has the sense to bring him back next year.
They have been burned by long-term deals in the past and they will be burned again, as does every team that commits large amounts of money and years to a free agent. Just look most recently at the Los Angeles Angels and the enormous contracts they handed out to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
The nature of the game is that by the time a player commands the kind of money Cano is likely to attract next season, which is most likely by his late-20s or early-30s, he is being paid for things he has already done, not what he will do.
The truth is, though, that Cano is the only legitimate star on the Yankees right now, and there aren’t too many like him out there on the open market. He is here right now, and there is hardly any reason to envision him in another uniform.