Yankees face major dilemma: To sign Robinson Cano, or not?

Friday September 27th, 2013

The Yankees may not want to give Cano just the sixth contract worth at least $200 million in baseball history.
Chuck Solomon/SI

The Alex Rodriguez contract continues to haunt the Yankees. Not only is the 10-year deal he signed in 2007 a bad value and an embarrassment ($30 million in a "marketing agreement" to cash in on "milestone" home runs), but it also is being thrown back at them as a measuring stick by Robinson Cano. If the Yankees forked over $300 million (including the "marketing agreement") to Rodriguez, why can't Cano use that as a starting point for negotiations? Cano, who turns 31 next month, is a year younger than Rodriguez when New York gave him the contract -- without competition from other teams -- and Cano has played five more seasons with the Yankees than Rodriguez had at the time.

Cano's problem, though, is that the Yankees know the Rodriguez contract was a bad deal and they want to dismiss it as an anomaly, not use it as a barometer. Rodriguez also was the more accomplished player.

Next on the Yankee yardstick is the eight-year, $180 million New York gave Mark Teixeira in 2008. Can Cano get that kind of length and money? Teixeira was two years younger and more productive (.919 OPS to .860 OPS).

It turns out that there is a better comp in New York, but it comes from Flushing. Ten months ago the Mets signed David Wright to an eight-year, $138 million extension. Wright and Cano were born two months apart. Their career statistics also are very similar:


As Cano used Rodriguez as a starting point, the Yankees used Wright, leaving an opening chasm of $162 million. Hey, negotiations are supposed to begin at the extremes. The Yankees know they must pay Cano more money than Wright; Cano plays the middle infield (though aging patterns for middle infielders through their mid-30s are scary bad), Cano will gain the bargaining power of free agency, and he is not easily replaced by a franchise that does not allow rebuilding years.

Ultimately, Cano's value will be determined by a team other than the Yankees, be it the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals or Rangers or a team nobody sees coming, such as the Mets or Marlins. Cano needs to engage another club in the bidding to reach the $200 million neighborhood, a space occupied previously only by Rodriguez (twice), Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder.

SHEEHAN: The case for Cano as baseball's first $30 Million Man

If Cano doesn't return, the Yankees' 2014 team would be without any star player in his prime. New York never loses one of its own players that it wants to keep, unless you consider a complementary player such as Russell Martin last year. Will the Yankees really hold such a line with Cano? The contract Cano gets may quickly become overvalued in its own right, but the cost of not signing him may be even greater.

2. Keepers of the Code

What passes as acceptable baseball etiquette evolves, but one constant is the keepers of those boundaries: the players themselves. What Carlos Gomez did in Atlanta on Wednesday night was unprofessional and outrageously disgraceful. We know this because a) Gomez reached new lows in the "look-at-me" pimping of a home run not by celebrating his homer but by meaning to offend the other team and b) of the way the Braves reacted. Don't try to spin this as a "get-off-my-lawn" moment. Freddie Freeman, the Atlanta first baseman who immediately yelled at Gomez, is four years younger than the 27-year-old Gomez. Rounding third, Gomez was so locked in to his own agenda that he blew off his third base coach.

This was not about the Braves. This was about Gomez, period. And shame on his manager, Ron Roenicke, for not understanding that. Roenicke was wrong to lay some blame on the Braves after the game. Freeman, Brian McCann and Reed Johnson met outrageousness with an appropriate level of response. It is part of the code of the game.

Watch: Gomez vs. McCann

McCann's brilliant and unprecedented blocking of home plate on a home run took me back to 1990 and the police work of another catcher, the White Sox' Carlton Fisk. After Deion Sanders, then playing for the Yankees, failed to run out an infield pop-up in the third inning at Yankee Stadium, Fisk yelled at him, "Run the [expletive] ball out, you [expletive]!" Sanders said, "What?" Fisk repeated, "Run the ball out!"

The next time Sanders came to the plate, Fisk made sure to make eye contact with him. Sanders mumbled something. "What?" Fisk said. Sanders replied, "The days of slavery are over." Said Fisk, "I don't care whether you are black or blue or pink or red. If you don't start playing this game right, I'm going to kick your butt right here." The benches soon emptied.

To his credit, Gomez after the game recognized his actions were unequivocally wrong. Golfers call penalties on themselves and the suits in football always are rewriting what's legal and what's not. The Braves took care of policing baseball the way it always has been done: by the players on the field.

3. Baltimore limps to the wire

The Orioles' turnaround from a 29-9 record in one-run games to 17-31 was, as noted here before the season, rather predictable. The flip in luck in close games, a starting rotation that lacks enough strikeout stuff and the failure of closer Jim Johnson all contributed to Baltimore missing the postseason.

That said, on Aug. 12 the Orioles were just a game and a half out of the wild card. But since then they are 18-24, posting the worst record in the league this side of doormats Seattle, Houston and Minnesota. What happened? Baltimore ran out of gas. It was a tired team down the stretch that no longer had the offensive firepower to make up for ordinary pitching.

The Orioles are the only team in baseball with five players who have played 150 games and the only team with seven players with at least 143 games. With the exception of J.J. Hardy (.309), the Baltimore regulars wilted in September: Matt Wieters (.269, 2 HR), Nick Markakis (.239, 1 HR), Nate McLouth (.229, 3 HR), Adam Jones (.228, 5 HR), Chris Davis (.208, 5 HR), and Manny Machado (.194, 2 HR). Improving the team's depth should be an offseason priority.

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