This weekend the Nationals made headlines when they signed Ryan Zimmerman to a six-year, $100 million extension. That contract will keep him in Washington through 2019, with a club option for the 2020 season. In the meantime, Zimmerman will continue to play out his previous contract, which pays him $12 million this year and $14 million in 2013. The obvious question, from the Yankees angle: Can this be a barometer for a Robinson Cano extension?
While the Yankees have made public their policy of not negotiating new a contract before the old one expires, they don’t follow it to a t. If the situation is right, they’ll consider extending any player. Since Cano is probably their best hitter, chances are they’d hear him out if he wanted to explore an extension beyond the 2013 season. If he’s willing to take Zimmerman’s terms, the Yankees just might have a match.
There are plenty of similarities between Zimmerman and Cano. Both, for instance, have more than six but fewer than seven years of service time. Both play infield positions that aren’t particularly deep with quality hitters. Both are highly regarded around the league, both for offense and defense. They also both signed extensions early in their careers: Cano when he was about to become a Super Two, Zimmerman as he was about to hit his first year of arbitration.
Yet there are a number of differences between the two players. Zimmerman is two years younger than Cano, which might seem to play in his favor for contract negotiations. His six-year extension will cover his age-29 through age-34 seasons; a similar extension for Cano would cover his age-30 through age-35 seasons, assuming they rip up the last year of the old deal and replace it with the new one.
On the other side of the ledger, Cano has produced better offensive numbers than Zimmerman. Since Zimmerman’s full-season debut in 2006 he out-wOBA’d Cano only once, and that was Cano’s poor 2008 season — and even then it wasn’t by much. Cano has hit for more power, especially in recent years; his ISO has risen while Zimmerman’s has fallen. There’s also a matter of staying on the field. Cano hasn’t gone on the DL since 2006, and has missed very little time with day-to-day ailments (according to Baseball Prospectus, just two days since ’06). Zimmerman, on the other hand, has a much longer injury list. He missed 58 games just last year with an abdomen injury, after missing 19 games in 2010 with thigh problems (and an intercostal strain that ended his season a little early). In 2008 he missed 48 games to the DL, which he increased to over 50 with day-to-day stuff.
Unfortunately, the performance and injury information wipes out any advantage Zimmerman’s age afforded him in this comparison. While he does receive high praise from baseball writers, and from other players, he simply is not as good a player as Cano. If the Yankees were going to explore extension possibilities with Cano they’ll surely turn to Zimmerman’s deal as a comparable, but Cano’s agent, Scott Boras, will likely have none of that. Cano’s durability and performance will put him in line for a much bigger extension.
Still, we can use Zimmerman’s deal as a base. If the Yankees do want to extend Cano after this season, rather than waiting for him to hit free agency, it’s probably going to cost them in the range of seven years and $140 million. That accounts for Cano’s superior production, his durability, and his agent. The Yankees could well pass on the deal then, getting their last bargain year out of Cano before dealing with him as a free agent. But if he has another good year then, what happens? The answer to that question is just one reason why we might see this come up again following the 2012 season.