Jan
19

Giving Cano what he wants

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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.

Categories : Analysis
  • bill kolb

    Spot on. He’s been the top offensive second baseman and one of the two or three top defensive second basemen in the AL for two years. And if he ever put two good halves together (no early season power outage), he’d be an MVP candidate.

  • http://www.pinstripealley.com jscape2000

    I always hear people say “arbitration will sour the relationship”. Do we have any kind of statistic that shows how often a player who went to arbitration once or twice went somewhere else their first FA season? Or something that shows how many arbitration players eventual signed longer deal (3+ years) with their original team?

  • marc

    arent we talking about the same team that low balled jeter during arby and refused to hand out what now seems like meager extensions to their hall of fame closer and borderline hall of fame catcher and because of that had to pay through the roof to keep them? and you cant use giambi as an example because we paid him 13 mill when he was playing like a 20 mill a year player

  • Rich

    I think the Yankees would be smart to give Cano a multi-year contract. It would be a more sensible use of their resources than giving, for example, aging players like Rivera and Posada an additional year on their contracts. (I don’t view Giambi’s salary as a relevant precedent given that it was signed under a prior CBA.) But given the nature of the arbitration process, and the Yankees willingness to ultimately overpay their players when necessary, I have no problem with the Yankees’ offer. In their defense, a Yankee official points out in today’s Daily News that:

    Cano’s submitted figure also is slightly higher than the amount earned by Minnesota’s Justin Morneau last year ($4.5 million) following his MVP season in 2006.

    The Yankees’ offer is almost certainly an opening bid in the negotiating process. I think it’s likely that the Yankees and Cano will reach a compromise before the arbitrator hands down a decision.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      That’s a false analogy, and it reveals how the Yanks are going to persue their case against Cano. Morneau asked for $4.5 million after making $385K. Cano is asking for $4.55 million after making $490K. He’s actually asking for a lower raise than Morneau.

      • steve (different one)

        right, but even though i think the voting was terrible, Morneau WAS the reigning MVP.

        you and i understand the relative value of a plus defensive 2Bman who hits like Cano vs. a 1Bman who hits like Morneau, but that’s not really how the arbitration process works. that shiny new MVP award means Morneau is going to be worth more to an arbiter.

        the Yankees aren’t really “low balling” Cano, they are just playing the game. the offers are “blind”, right? so the “game” is that the Yankees are trying to submit an offer just high enough to win the case, while Cano is trying to ask for an amount just low enough to win the case.

        neither number really reflects the “value” of the player or how the Yankees “feel” about Cano.

        in this case, i think the Yankees guessed a little too low, and they will probably LOSE the hearing. they will probably realize that and settle before a hearing somewhere in the middle.

        • steve (different one)

          just for the record, i am a big Cano fan, and i liked this post. i also agree that the yankees should begin working towards a long term deal with Cano (i would wait another year with Wang).

          my only point was that the arbitration process is a little silly, but i don’t think there is much evidence that the “bad feelings” created by an arbitration hearing have far reaching effects.

          if the yankees offer Cano tens of millions of dollars to sign a 5-6 year dealnext offseason, he’s going to sign it, no matter what happens this winter.

  • adam

    as teddy kgb says, “give that man his money.”

    • Old Ranger

      “give that man his money.”

      I object!(Aways wanted to say that).
      After the payroll drops(next year), I believe the Yanks will look into giving these two guys a longer deal. It would be a change in the way the Yanks handle things, but maybe they are ready to do more changes than they would’ve in the past. Let’s hope so.

  • RollingWave

    What’s even more ridiculasly impressive about that list is that the following guys ranked lower than Cano on that list

    Roberto Alomar
    Ryan Sandberg
    Paul Molitor

    While Carew was only a shade higher than Cano.

    So yes, in essence, other than Joe Morgan . Cano has essentially right on par / out done ALL the modern HOF 2Bs .. HOLY SHIT.

    The only really bad case near the top is Carlos Bearga . I’m a bit too young for that but can someone remind me why he fell off so fast? he was still pretty darn good in his age 25/26 season but after than just simply fell off the face of the earth… injury?

  • dan

    I don’t see him getting pissed off at $3.2M, if it gets to that point. In the same locker room, Jeter had the same issue, although he came out on top in the case. It wouldn’t be the first time a team went to a hearing with a player.

  • Realist

    This is only the beginning of what will be a long term contract offer probably after next season.

    Robbie has improved his defense dramaticly(sp?) and has been developing more power….now if he cuts down on the strikeouts , watch out! I have felt that he will be a batting champion someday especially if he cuts down on the Ks and gets a full season in the 3rd slot…behind Jetes and in front of ARod ;-)

    • dan

      He’s already well above average in strikeouts– the ML average is about 19% and he was 1t 13.8% and 12.8% career. He’s gonna be an MVP candidate this year.

  • Realist

    Wow , thanks Dan! I knew he had improved the last two seasons but not like that? There is no reason he shouldn’t bat 3rd this year then.

    Looks like a fine top 5 of the order:

    Damon
    Jeter
    Cano
    ARod
    Abreu

  • Andrew

    Abreu should be batting behind Posada and Matsui. But Cano is not a number 3 hitter just yet, he doesn’t see enough pitches like Abreu does.

  • Realist

    If Posada duplicates last year then I agree but without time at DH I am not so sure it is possible?

    I agree about your point regarding Abreu , so why would he bat behind Posada and Matsui? If he isn’t 3rd he should be 5th (or vice versa)…in your scenario he would bat 7th?

    I am not trying to argue , just trying to understand your logic :-)

  • Rob

    I’m still looking for Cano to put power and patience together.

    2005 – a little power, no patience (.297 .320 .458)
    2006 – more power, no patience (.342 .365 .525)
    2007 – more patience less power (.306 .353 .488)

    If he finally puts those together he’ll be an MVP candidate.

    • steve (different one)

      Rob, the difference in his SLG% between 2006 and 2007 is all from his BA.

      his isoP stayed exactly the same. he is starting to put it all together.

      he is going to rake this season.

      • RollingWave

        Yeah, he improved a lot of his weakness this year, but it’s hard to tell because he average came back to normal level.

        a. he walked significantly more while only struck out a tad more
        b. he FINALLY learned how to hit in YS
        c. he hit equally well against both righty and lefty
        d. he dramatically improved hitting with guys on.

        i think i’m going to book Cano in 08 (assume he stays healthy) to

        a. hit over 100 RBI
        b. hit over 25 HR
        c. still hit over .300
        d. improve his walk rate even more
        e. move up the order.

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  • Valentine

    In evaluating Cano’s arbitration case, you have to compare him to OTHER players with three years of service time. Jason Giambi is irrelevant to the discussion, as are Ben Broussard and Chase Utley.

    For comparison, data from Cot’s Contracts:
    Joe Mauer (2007) asked $4.5M/countered $3.3M
    Matt Holliday (2007) signed $4.4M
    Garrett Atkins (2008) asked $4.65M/countered $4.125M
    Brad Hawpe (2008) asked $4.35M/countered $3.575M
    Brandon Phillips (2008) asked $4.2M/countered $2.7M

    A couple cases where guys got more than that (Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau). Many coming in at lower figures (Kevin Youkilis). Is Robinson Cano truly out of place on this list above?

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  • finite24

    You guys are missing how the point of how arbitration cases are decided. Cano should be compared to similar players, ie. other second baseman at his age with three years of service time.