Though the Robinson Cano free agency saga hasn’t quite started yet, the New York Yankees have already gotten a teaser of what’s to come with a 10-year, $300 million opening bid request coming from the second baseman’s camp. No team is going to meet those figures, of course, but it’s also probably fair to say that the ball is largely in the free agent’s court as it’s generally agreed that the Bronx Bombers need him more than he needs the Yankees.
So when if the Yankees went once step ahead to skip all the drama and move on to the next phase of their franchise?
No, really. It’s not really just a dream scenario either — remember when the baseball world thought that St. Louis Cardinals needed to re-sign Albert Pujols, then balked and decided to move on … all the way to the World Series this year? Though the Yankees are by no means the All-Star factory that the Cardinals seem to be at the farm level, they too can call Cano’s bluff and posturing.
Besides, there may already be a ready-made replacement who is also headed for free agency over in the AL West: Omar Infante of the Detroit Tigers.
While both are currently 31-years old (a bit of a misnomer as Infante is 10 months older) and play the same position, it’s quite obvious that this is about where their similarities as MLB players end. Still, different doesn’t mean inadequate, and if the Yankees did decide to move on, they could actually set themselves up for sustained success down the line.
That’s going to sound a little crazy given that Cano is an all-world talent and arguably the second baseman in the game, having been worth at least 6.0 fWAR in three of the last four seasons. However, is the best in the game something that the Yankees absolutely need? Most Bombers fans would probably say so as he’s been such an integral part of the team’s success over the years, but the answer is perhaps a little more complicated.
After all, did the Yankees need Alex Rodriguez? How about Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira? Could the team survive the 2.9 fWAR difference between Cano (6.0) and his .899 OPS to Infante’s (3.1) .795?
Well … the thing is, they’ve already done it.
As it turns out, New York managed to survive just fine despite those four players being missing most of the season and being worth a paltry 1.3 fWAR vs. the 9.9 wins the were worth in 2012. Yes, they missed the playoffs, but considering that the team managed to stick around until the final month of the season even after letting 5.8 fWAR walk between Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, and a different picture starts to emerge here.
It’s risky, yes, but the pros to targeting Infante should do enough to mitigate the uncertainty. Not only would the Yankees not have to commit themselves to another albatross contract (they don’t need a reminder that paying a 31-year old until he’s in his 40s would be a mistake), but in taking a big step to change their identity, they can gain the financial freedom to fill in the other areas of need.
What does $200-plus million buy New York? Well, you’d think that they’d stand a better chance of filling out their outfield with potential FA targets like Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz. Not devoting the money to Cano could also mean that they may more freely pursue Brian McCann to fill a major need behind the plate. Who knows — maybe it would even set them up to get in on the Max Scherzer sweepstakes.
No, none of those pieces are likely going to do for the Yankees what Cano can, but when you’re talking about multiple pieces that end up costing less over fewer years as a collective, the team would be in better shape for it in the long run. Besides, it’s not like Infante is a non-quantity either. He might not be a superstar, but he’ll do the job just fine hitting lower in the order.
Change is no easy in a franchise where familiarity reigns, but through surviving 2013 when they had no business to, the Yankees should have learned a valuable lesson: the status quo, even when it’s Cano, may not be the best thing for the team.