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.

Yanks’ hardball stance with Cano could benefit all

(Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)
(Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

It’s easy to talk a big game, especially when dozens of reporters and columnists hang on your every word. The Yankees certainly took advantage of their captive audience early in the off-season, pronouncing interest in essentially every high-end free agent. But talk is cheap, especially concerning something as unpredictable as the free-agent market. The Yankees certainly had a way out of their heavy proclamations.

Just because you’re interested in free agents, doesn’t mean that you’ll sign them. While not all 29 other teams are in on every available player, there is typically a healthy level of competition for the best free agents. Each team has its own limits on dollars and years. The Yankees easily could have justified not signing any of the top free agents, by merely saying that each was an overpay they weren’t willing to make.

The Brian McCann signing indicates that the Yankees aren’t just full of hot air. They addressed their biggest need, and will now move on to fill the other weaknesses on their roster. As Mike noted yesterday, reports have emerged that the Yankees are talking aggressively with other free agents, and even have offers out to some of them. The winter of 2012-2013 this is not.

While the Yankees likely have genuine interest in signing each of the players with whom they’re engaged, at least part of the reason for their aggression has to do with their own free agent, Robinson Cano. As Joel Sherman notes, the Yankees “badly want to retain the second baseman,” and are attempting to move quickly on him. Cano, for his part, appears ready to wait out the market until he gets the offer he wants. But the Yankees’ tactics could change his tune.

Current reports have the Yankees’ offer to Cano at seven years at $165 million, which is about $1 million more per year than the Yankees paid Mark Teixeira five years ago. The offer runs one fewer year, but Cano is also two years older than Teixeira was at the time of signing. Sherman notes that the Yankees “perhaps have some wiggle room upward…[b]ut not much.” What that means, exactly, in terms of perhaps a $175 contract for seven years, or a replica of Teixeira’s $180 million for eight years, is anyone’s guess. Regardless of where the Yankees will go, they have the best, and only, offer currently available to Cano.

By aggressively pursuing other free agents, the Yankees are implicitly signaling to Cano that they will not wait around for him, and that their dollars will be spent whether or not he signs. That’s bad news for Cano and his agents. Losing the leverage of the Yankees will hurt their bargaining positions with the 29 other teams, many of which won’t even place a bid for Cano’s services. What are his chances of getting an offer even close to the Yankees’ current one with his home team out of the bidding?

It only takes one team, for sure, as Prince Fielder learned two off-seasons ago. Yet the Tigers, who submitted the winning bid very late in the off-season, just paid $30 million to be rid of Fielder and the remainder of his contract. In fact, a number of other free agent contracts recently handed out might serve as a warning to teams that value long-term financial flexibility. The cases of Fielder, Albert Pujols, Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez could have teams gun shy about deals of even eight years. What are the chances that Detroit jumps back into the long-term free agent pool the very same winter they traded the previous guy?

The Yankees, as reports indicate, wish to meet with Cano this week to, as Jon Heyman puts it, “figure out whether there’s something to talk about.” If there’s not, it appears the Yankees will pursue the remaining players on their list without regard to Cano. That situation could prove costly. Imagine a scenario where the Yankees spend $200 million this off-season. Now imagine Cano signing in January for less than the $165 million the Yankees have currently on the table. Without them in the race, that could certainly happen. It wouldn’t be an impressive debut effort from Jay Z, and you can be sure the media, nationwide, will hammer home that point.

Alternatively, imagine Cano agreeing to a seven- or eight-year deal between $175 and $180 million. It will be a far cry from his $300 million request, but it will also come from the home team. Cano and his agents can actually spin this in a way that makes Cano seem like the good guy for taking “only” $180 million.

His intention all along was to stay in New York, and he was willing to back off a contract he felt he deserved in order to do so. He was moved by the retirement of Mariano Rivera and wants a similar sendoff for himself as a Yankee.

Cano gets paid more than any other free agent this off-season and last, and he could make more than any next off-season, depending on the market for Hanley Ramirez. He stays with the team where he is most visible and marketable, while coming off looking like the good guy. The Yankees get their man, at a not-too-inflated price. Everyone comes out ahead.

It’s tough to see exactly how this will play out. Both sides have talked big games, to the point that they’re approaching a game of chicken. We should get a good idea soon which one blinks.

Update: ESPN NY’s Andrew Marchand reports, well, basically what was just laid out here. There’s a time limit on the “best offer” that the Yankees can make. It’s not a take it or leave it ultimatum, but it’s essentially saying that if Cano doesn’t budge, the Yanks will move on with their priorities and won’t have enough money left to offer Cano the $160-plus-million they have on the table currently.

Feinsand: Yankees, Beltran have mutual interest; contract years an issue

Via Mark Feinsand: The Yankees prefer Carlos Beltran to more expensive outfield free agents like Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury, and he has let others know New York is his top choice. The mutual interest isn’t all that surprising. Beltran seeks a three-year contract, however, and the Yankees only want to give him a two-year deal. Feinsand says this isn’t a deal-breaker.

Beltran, 36, hit .296/.336/.491 (132 wRC+) with 24 homers in exactly 600 plate appearances for the Cardinals last season. On the surface, a true switch-hitting right fielder with power and patience is exactly what the Yankees need. He’s a perfect fit. That said, Beltran carries plenty of risk and it goes beyond his age. Everything you need to know is in the Scouting The Market post. A two-year deal in the $28-30M range seems perfectly reasonable to me, but I’d probably walk away before pushing the offer to three years.

Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees are staying in touch with second-tier free agents like Nate McLouth. Money is getting tight under the $189M luxury tax threshold (even if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended), so the team needs cheaper backup outfield plans just in case they spend big on pitching over the next few weeks.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 25th, 2013

2013 Season: 85-77 (637 RS, 671 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), didn’t qualify for playoffs

Top stories from last week:

  • The Yankees made their first major move of the offseason this weekend by agreeing to sign catcher Brian McCann to a five-year contract worth $85M. The deal includes a vesting option for a sixth year that could push the total value to $100M. McCann must still pass a physical before the contract is official. Needless to say, this is an enormous upgrade.
  • In addition to McCann, the Yankees agreed to re-sign Brendan Ryan to a one-year pact worth $1-2M and acquired infielder Dean Anna from the Padres in a minor swap. Anna, Slade Heathcott, Gary Sanchez, Bryan Mitchell, Shane Greene, and Jose Campos were all added to the 40-man roster and protected from the Rule 5 Draft. Corban Joseph was outrighted off the 40-man and accepted his assignment to Triple-A Scranton.
  • Targets Jhonny Peralta and David Freese signed with the Cardinals and were traded to the Angels, respectively, so they are no longer options for New York. The Yankees did indicate a willingness to offer Peralta a four-year pact in the $52M range before he hooked on with St. Louis. They weren’t in on Carlos Ruiz before he re-upped with the Phillies.
  • Among the players New York showed interest in last week are Matt Kemp, Joe Nathan, and Raul Ibanez. Curtis Granderson remains a “serious part” of the team’s offseason plans. The Yankees still have offers out even after signing McCann but they don’t have much interest in Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez.
  • Robinson Cano‘s camp called a meeting with the Mets’ brass, apparently in an effort to drum up some leverage. The Yankees have said they won’t wait around for Cano. The Dodgers and Marlins are not in the mix for Cano.
  • The appeal of Alex Rodriguez‘s record 211-game suspension concluded on Thursday, the day after he stormed out of the room and declared the proceedings a “farce.” A ruling may not come until January.
  • The Yankees reportedly plan to spend big on international free agents during next summer’s signing period.

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Weekend Open Thread

In case you missed it last week, I’m going to start using the Friday/weekend open threads as link dumps. Basically random interesting stuff I come across throughout the week that isn’t Yankees related and doesn’t wind up on RAB. This week’s collection of links is just okay, maybe a six out of ten. Wasn’t a great week for the internet. Lots of people are on vacation this time of year and plenty of others are already looking ahead to the long Thanksgiving weekend. I know I am. Anyway, enjoy.

  • David Laurila interviewed Michael Girsch, an assistant GM for the Cardinals. He spoke in detail about a bunch of stuff, including the team’s internal data-compiling/sharing systems, their draft philosophies, their hitting philosophies, biomechanics, all that and more. The Cardinals are the darling organization of baseball right now and pretty much everyone wants to copy them. This is a (small) look under the hood. Pretty interesting stuff.
  • In the wake of the Prince Fielder-for-Ian Kinsler trade, Grant Brisbee looked at the various awful contracts around baseball and tried to figure out which one will be moved next. He comes up with Josh Hamilton and I tend to agree since the current market has downgraded Andre Ethier’s contract from awful to merely pretty bad.
  • Zachary Levine (subs. req’d) compiled a list of baseball memes the internet beat to death in 2013. I don’t remember seeing too much of “Robinson Cano‘s 99 problems,” but the others were inescapable. I’m not sure I’ll ever stop making gritty jokes about the Diamondbacks though.
  • And finally, if you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you’ll love this. It’s Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul reading through the final scene of the series for the first time. It’s one giant spoiler, so don’t watch the video if you haven’t seen it yet. Pretty awesome.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Islanders and Nets are the only local teams playing tonight so ZZZzzzzzz. Talk about either game or anything else here. Have at it.

Saturday: Keep the open thread going right here. All three hockey locals plus the Knicks are playing. You folks know what to do, so do it.

Sunday: Only a few more hours left in the weekend, but at least Thanksgiving is coming up. Hands down my favorite holiday. The Broncos and Patriots are the Sunday Night Football Game and that’s it. The Nets already played and none of the other locals are in action. Talk about whatever. Go nuts.

Update: No traction in talks with Cano, Yankees have other offers out

3:56pm: According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are “currently engaged” in talks with Beltran, Drew, Kuroda, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and various unnamed mid-rotation starters. Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are not in the mix at the moment.

1:12pm: Via Buster Olney: The Yankees still have offers out to various free agents even after agreeing to sign Brian McCann last night. He says there is currently no traction in talks with Robinson Cano and the team doesn’t want to sit around and wait. I dig it. In addition to Cano, I’m guessing they have offers out to … Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Grant Balfour, and Hiroki Kuroda. Whaddya think?

Peralta off the board: free agent infielder going to St. Louis

3:50pm: Jon Heyman says the Yankees were one of several teams that indicated a willingness to give Peralta a four-year deal in the $52M range. The free agent told clubs he simply preferred St. Louis.

1:06pm: According to Jim Bowden, the Cardinals have agreed to sign free agent infielder Jhonny Peralta to a four-year contract worth more than $52M. That’s pretty pricey. The Yankees were said to have some interest in Peralta as they look to improve the left side of the infield, but I’m not surprised he took the everyday shortstop job elsewhere rather than bounce between shortstop and third base for New York. Either way, he’s a non-option now.