Mystique, aura and Robinson Cano

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

A big part of being a Yankee fan is buying, hook, line and sinker, into the concept of mystique and aura, so mocked by Curt Schilling during the 2001 World Series. We expect dramatic victories, World Series titles and every player to thank the good Lord for making him a Yankee. We expect the Yanks to pay what it takes to retain their players, and we expect those players to embrace their time with the Yankees and stay in the Bronx to earn their spots in Monument Park and, for some, a plaque in Cooperstown. So what happens when they leave?

When Robinson Cano jetted for Seattle, of all places, it was more than a little bit of a shock to fans of the Bombers. Here was a player in his prime with multiple All-Star appearances, 1649 hits, 204 home runs, and a .309/.355/.504 slash line, all at the ripe old age of 31. The Yanks offered him seven years and were willing to pay him $25 million a year with an annual salary higher than everyone but A-Rod‘s. But it wasn’t enough, and now Robbie is Seattle’s, and Seattle’s problems are Robbie’s.

As the reactions from Robbie’s departures have come in, we’ve heard about disputes with Joe Girardi over lineup philosophy, and now, CC Sabathia has joined the fray with comments that stick to the heart of the Yankee legend. In comments to this weekend, CC spoke about the power of the pinstripes. “Just a player like that, putting on the pinstripes, and being able to play your whole career in New York means something – to me, obviously. It didn’t mean that much to him,” CC said. “It’s a difficult choice being a free agent. And he made a tough choice. I know he’s happy with his decision, and his family’s happy. So that’s good.”

Over the years, plenty of Yankee legends have had the opportunity to leave, and most didn’t. They earned their dollars because George Steinbrenner was willing to pay and because they wanted to stay. Derek Jeter hasn’t put himself into a bidding war, and Jorge Posada stuck around. Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, to differing degrees, both nearly left the Bronx but backed away from Boston at the last minute. Andy Pettitte left only to return while Reggie Jackson left never to return. Some players have walked away to avoid donning another uniform when their tenures were over, by their choice or the Yanks’, but I can’t think of someone else who walked away mid-career for another team who outbid the Yanks.

For Robbie, the choice was purely dominated by dollars, and I won’t begrudge him that. While the Yanks were willing to give him more per year, they didn’t want to give a middle infielder entering his age 31 season a ten-year commitment. Cano, meanwhile, figured that the guaranteed money today — the $65 million difference — is something he wouldn’t make up at the end of the seven-year deal the Yanks offered him. He didn’t want to gamble against his own age-related decline, and in today’s world where baseball teams are flush with cash, that’s certainly his prerogative and a fine choice.

But where it hurts is with that mystique and aura. It’s something fans buy into far more deeply than many players do, and it’s a stark reminder of the business of the game when a fan favorite and pinstripe native leaves. Maybe Cano didn’t think the Yanks during his career would ever be more than Derek’s team. Maybe Cano saw ten years of executive office upheaval, various team-building approaches and just one World Series win and simply decided there was nothing particularly compelling keeping him around that didn’t have a lofty price tag. Maybe we all overrate mystique and aura anyway. It hooks the fans, but what does it mean to the players anyway?

Without Robbie, Yankee life will go on. Brian Cashman says he’s disappointed, but he’s not $65 million worth of disappointed. The post-Robbie era will feature a Yankee team with a new look and a new approach. For nine years, Cano was the next great Yankee bound for Monument Park, and now he’s just another guy on the hapless Mariners. It may not feel good now, but it’s all part of the game, mystique, aura and free agency.

What Went Right: Robinson Cano, #KabakHat

On a cold day in February, I made a bet that I thought would be a sure thing. In a fit of Twitter arrogance, I threatened to eat my hat if Robinson Cano reached 80 walks. His previous career high had been 61.

How could things go wrong, I thought. The Yanks didn’t have a great lineup entering the season, but they seemed to be able to offer up Cano enough protection that he wouldn’t blow past his 2012 walk total. And the things went south in a hurry. Derek Jeter wasn’t ready to return really at all this year while Curtis Granderson suffered two freak accidents. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner were total busts, and Cano was left holding the Yanks’ offense on his shoulders.

For a few months, things looked dicey. As Robbie emerged as the only real slugger in the Yanks’ lineup, his walk totals rose precipitously. After walking only 18 times in April and May combined, Robbie drew 18 free passes in June, and this four-walk affair at the hands of Joe Maddon and the Rays seemed to represent my nadir. Would I be able to eat an inedible item made of sponge and wire?

From May 24 through July 28 — a span of 59 games — Cano drew 39 free passes, ten of which were intentional. That’s a pace of over 100 in a 162-game season, and the hat seemed doomed. Even accounting for his slow start, Cano was on pace to draw 81 walks, and I figured all was lost. But then Alfonso Soriano arrived and Alex Rodriguez returned. It was all wine and roses from there.

From July 29 through the end of the season, Cano returned to his free-swinging ways. He drew just 13 walks while still hitting a robust .346/.391/.528. The intentional walk well fell dry as well since he now had protection in the lineup. Opposing mangers IBB’d Robbie just twice over the final two months of the season.

And so the hat was saved. Despite sweating out a tough summer, despite a short-lived Tumblr with hat recipes and an RAB Countdown, the hat has survived the winter. Robbie ended the year with 65 walks — a new career high but a far cry from the 80 he needed to achieve for us to see what happens when man eats toxic sponge. I’d say that’s a season that went very, very right.

(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)
(REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Outside of the walks, though, Cano’s season was a bright spot. He hit .314/.383/.516 with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. He played a spectacular second base and seemed to be a leader in the clubhouse when the top veterans were injured. After hitting 21 dingers prior to the All Star Break, he launched only six more longballs all year but still hit .331/.379/.494. He appeared on his fifth All Star game and placed fifth in the AL MVP voting.

What comes next though is more important than what he did. We’ve followed the saga of Robbie very closely. He’s a premier offensive player who can man his position with the best of them. He’s Jay-Z’s first client and star in New York City. He’s also turned 31 a little over a month ago and wants a long-term commitment with lots of dollar signs attached. The Yanks can’t afford to let him go but may not want to pay. Yet for all the public posturing, they need Robinson Cano. I won’t say I’ll eat my hat if he doesn’t sign with the Yanks; I’ve learned my lesson there. But I’d be very, very surprised if the team’s best player in 2013 isn’t wearing his Yankee pinstripes come April.

Newsday: WFAN to host 2014 Yanks’ radio games

In a move surely designed to annoy tri-state area Mets fans, the Yankees and CBS are close to a deal that move the team’s radio broadcasts for 2014 and beyond onto WFAN, Newsday reports. The Yankees and CBS have had a relationship since 2002 when games shifted from 770 AM to 880. The move, still not yet official, would put the Yanks on the strong 660 AM station as well as on CBS’ new FM origination of the FAN on 101.9 and, according to the Daily News, could be worth as much as $15-$20 million a year for the next ten years.

According to the reports, though, we may not yet have the chance to hear John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman coming to us on the crystal clear FM dial. According to Newsday, Sterling’s return is all but guaranteed, but Waldman’s future remains hazy. Neil Best notes that “if the team gives its blessing, they will continue the on-air partnership that began in 2005.” Despite Waldman’s shortcomings, she’s been a long-time Yankee booster, and I can’t imagine the club is quite ready to dump her.

Nothing though has been finalized, and Lonn Trost said as much to Newsday. “Right now we’re in negotiations and everything is confidential,” the Yanks’ COO said. “Part of the agreement we’re drafting has a confidentiality agreement. I can’t even get into it. I am close with some entity for next year.” The Mets could end up on ESPN Radio or the Clear Channel-owned WOR, an early bidder for the Yanks’ rights.

Imagining the Yankees as deadline sellers

For the past two decades, the Yankees have not been trade deadline sellers. They have been perennially competitive, often missing just a piece or two to seal a playoff berth, and selling has long gone against the Steinbrenner ethos mandating winning now and winning at any cost. But what if the Yanks decide to sell? What if it makes more sense for 2014 and beyond to face the stark reality of 2013?

As the trade deadline nears, the Yankees find themselves in a complicated position. Their loss last night to the Red Sox dropped them to an even .500 since May 1, and they’re 21-23 since June 1 with a run differential of -20. They’re seven games behind Boston and 5.5 in back of Tampa Bay, but because of the second Wild Card, they’re just 3.5 games behind a chance to compete in an exciting but incredibly stressful play-in game. They’re just tantalizingly close to want to buy but not really good enough to compete, and to make matters worse, their offensive hopes are resting on the bats (and legs) of two guys closer to 40 than 35.

Meanwhile, the market right now decidedly favors sellers. There is a dearth of top-tier, race-changing talent available, and the promise of a qualifying offer allows those with bargaining chips to extract maximum value. If the Yankees were to become sellers, they have plenty of bargaining chips. So as an exercise in curiosity, let’s pretend the Yankees become sellers. They won’t trade all of these players listed, and they may only trade the one with the least amount of value. But maybe the team should consider selling and restocking. With the cards they’re holding, the spoils could be great.

1. Hiroki Kuroda
With CC’s struggles, Kuroda has emerged as the clear-cut Yankee ace and just a sheer pleasure to watch pitch. He’s giving up less than a home run per 9 IP and has a 2.65 ERA in the AL East. He’s signed to a one-year contract worth $15 million and would be a hot commodity on the market. He also has a no-trade clause that he has used in the past, notably to block a trade to the Yankees in 2011. In a sellers market, Kuroda could likely fetch a top-30 prospect and a top-100 prospect and maybe another fringy player.

2. Robinson Cano
Much like trading Kuroda would represent a pitching white flag, trading Cano would mean the end of any Yankee offense. I don’t believe the team will trade, and in fact, I strongly suspect Cano will sign a long-term deal to stay with the Yankees. Yet, he’s a second baseman playing superb defense with a .919 OPS. He also won’t take any qualifying offer. For 60 games of Cano, the returns would likely be at least what Kuroda could command. Trade one, and the future prospects are looking good. Trade two, and you can reload in a week.

3. David Robertson
Robertson is a great “sell” piece if the Yanks go down that route. He’s been a stand-out reliever for years and earns $3 million a year. He has a season of team control left and could likely close for a contender in need of a steady 9th inning presence. A Mike Adams trade under similar circumstances netted two B level prospects, and the relief market is unclear right now. A desperate team would part with more.

4. Phil Hughes
For Yankee fans, Hughes is a symbol of frustration. Heralded as the next big thing, he’s emerged more as a 4/5 type rather than 1/2 type many projected. Still, some of that stems from a combination of his pitching approach and home ballpark. Outside of Yankee Stadium, he’s got a 3.38 ERA, and the home run rate drops precipitously from nearly 2 per 9 IP to around 1.1 per 9 IP. He’s a change-of-scenery guy who could net a B grade prospect or even a B+ type if the market continues to tighten.

5. Joba Chamberlain
Once upon a time, Joba would have been untouchable. The third ranked prospect in all of baseball, Joba arrived like a revelation and then faltered. We could point fingers for hours, but it’s clear he needs to move on. Whether the Yanks are sellers or not, I’d be surprised if Joba is here on August 1. He didn’t get the ball before Adam Warren in the 11th inning last night, but if you squint, you can see velocity and a good strike out rate. Any returns will be nominal, and the Yanks’ best chances at getting anything back probably involve a package of Hughes and Joba. Save the big three, indeed.

So what do you do? The Yankees have Mariano’s farewell tour to complete, tickets to sell and ratings to realize. They want to get under a dollar threshold for 2014, and if they hope to accomplish this unlikely goal, they need cost-controlled young talent. It may makes sense to face the facts of a doomed season with too many obstacles and injuries to overcome to sell. But they’re still the Yankees, and the Yankees don’t sell.

DotF: An A-Bomb from A-Rod

With Mike covering the All Star Game and related festivities for CBS this week, I’ll be your host for Down on the Farm tonight. We start off with video of A-Rod‘s A-Bomb, courtesy of Josh Norris. Larry Granillo of the Tater Trot Tracker timed A-Rod’s first trip around the bases since last September at 26 seconds so clearly Al is taking it a bit slow. He also had a single. Come back soon, right-handed power hitter.

The rest of these will be a bit abbreviated. Feel free to highlight any performances I may have missed in the comments.

Triple A Scranton is off until Thursday for the AAA All Star Game. Thomas Neal and Chris Bootcheck both made the team, and Dave Miley will be managing the squad.

Double A Trenton (6-5 win over Reading)

  • 3B Alex Rodriguez: 2-4, HR, 2 RBI. – He had some chances in the field too and emerged unscathed. Mike had more on him earlier.
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-5, 2 K
  • SP Nik Turley: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.
  • RP Danny Burawa: 1 IP, a bunch of zeroes
  • RP Tommy Kahle: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

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