Robinson Cano‘s contract has been a bit of a hot topic around these parts over the last six months or so, though it would be more accurate to say his next contract has been the hot topic. The Yankees will undoubtedly exercise their 2013 option and keep Cano around next season, but he’ll become a free agent after that. Given his production and his popularity, it’s easy to see how Robbie’s next deal could become quite unwieldy, especially with all this talk about the 2014 budget.
Last summer I spit-balled the idea of a six-year contract worth $120M, covering the 2012 through 2017 seasons. The Joey Votto contract appeared to change the landscape, at least in terms of non-free agent players getting paid like free agents. The Rangers did us and the Yankees a solid yesterday, agreeing an extension with Ian Kinsler that finally gives us a reasonable guideline for Cano’s next deal. The terms: five guaranteed years and $70M with a sixth-year club option ($5M buyout). That’s more than the Braves gave Dan Uggla (five years and $62M) at a similar point of his career and deservedly so.
It might not appear to be the case at first glance, but Cano and Kinsler are very similar players. Rather, they provide similar value while going about it in very different ways…
Cano is the high batting average guy who hits for good power and plays solid defense (depending on your choice of metrics). Kinsler hits for a lower average while hitting for more power, stealing more bases, and playing a similar level of defense. His massive home/road split and lengthy injury history — at least one DL trip in each of his first five seasons — are legitimate concerns Cano doesn’t share. Robbie’s actually hit better away from Yankee Stadium in his career and has played at least 159 games in each of the last five years. They were born five months apart, so age is a non-issue.
This isn’t about Cano vs. Kinsler, it’s about the market for elite second basemen. Kinsler’s deal is the largest ever for a player at the position in terms of average annual value at $14M per year, but that will change when the Yankees exercise Cano’s $15M option for next season. Therein lies the problem; Kinsler’s new contract represents a pay cut for Cano. With Scott Boras now calling the shots and the Dodgers’ new ownership group looming, you can be sure Robbie isn’t taking a pay cut barring something completely unforeseen.
If nothing else, this new contract between Kinsler and the Rangers brings us back to reality a bit. Cano’s next contract might be closer to $17-18M per year rather than $20-22M based on similar players, but all bets are off if Boras manages to take Robbie out onto the open market as a free agent after next season. I know the Yankees have their policy of not negotiating new contracts until the current one expires, but they already broke that policy once for Cano and they would be very wise to do it again if they have serious interest in retaining him long-term. For all we know, they might not. Letting Robinson walk after 2013 isn’t the craziest thing in the world.