We don’t write too frequently about Robinson Cano. Our four sparse posts about the Yankees’ young second baseman are chock full of some of our better analysis, but we’ve also written just four posts about such Yankee luminaries as Jose Molina and Edwar Ramirez. It’s not about the numbers.
We don’t write much about Robinson Cano because there’s not much to say. For the better part of three seasons, this kid — and yes, I’m calling someone a few months older than me a “kid” — has hit the tar out of the baseball. At the tender age of 25, Cano has 1728 Major League plate appearances and a career offensive line of .314/.346/.489. The Yankees have a middle infielder who, at 25, has a career OPS of .835 and a career OPS+ of 117.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that players like Robinson Cano do not grow on trees. If you look, historically, at how second basemen who have played more than 300 games at their position before their age 25 season have fared, you will find that a grand total of five of them had a higher career OPS+ than Robinson Cano. Four of them are in the Hall of Fame — Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan, Tony Lazzeri and Rod Carew — while Larry Doyle, the other one, is a bubble candidate for Cooperstown.
Furthermore, just to drive home the point, Cano’s 509 career hits rank him 89th overall among all players up through their age 24 seasons since the Expansion Era began. Derek Jeter, 588 hits through age 24, is 51st on this list. Not too shabby.
Now, as we know, these age comparisons aren’t predictive. They serve to tell us simply what a player has done in an historical context and not what he will do for the next five, ten or even fifteen seasons. That said, Robinson Cano is in some pretty elite company right now.
So when faced an arbitration situation with their young stud, what do the Yankees do? Well, as I see it, they seem to have lowballed Cano. The Yankees, who will be paying Jason Giambi well over $20 million in 2008, offered Cano $3.2 million. The second baseman is seeking $4.55 million, a seemingly modest total for the player Rob Neyer just ranked as his most desirable second baseman.
The Yankees, as they’ve shown over the years, are loathe to give out multi-year contracts to players during their arbitration years. For a team that spends money so freely, they are rather conservative with their players when they don’t have to spend the dough. Instead, the Yankees seem more keen on waiting to make sure these players justify their annual investments. As Derek Jeter and his contract history shows, the Yankees are happy to reward their own when free agency nears but not a moment sooner.
Earlier this winter, when Cano’s name popped up in the Santana trade rumors, I was vehemently against that idea while others reading were in favor of it. Based on what I see from Cano and what I see others of his ilk have accomplished in their careers, the Yanks could have the next Hall of Fame second baseman on their hands. Of course, they could also have the next 27-year-old burnout; just ask Carlos Baerga about that one.
For right now though, if the Yanks are going to play the one-year contract game with Cano, they should be willing to go beyond $3.2 million as an initial figure. Why lowball a kid with a bright future and potentially ruin a relationship over what amounts to small beans for the $200-million team? That doesn’t sound like smart baseball to me.