By Marc Normandin
Robinson Cano is excellent at baseball. He's the most productive second baseman in the game at the plate, and he's earned the pair of Gold Gloves he's won as well, as he's one of the top defenders at the keystone. This doesn't necessarily mean he's worth the more than $300 million he asked for in-season -- and supposedly again now that the offseason is upon us -- but he's worth buckets of money just the same.
The 10-year, $310 million demand was a dream, and was never supposed to happen: It was an announcement to teams not to bother unless they were willing to talk significant digits, and a way to start from a ridiculously high bargaining position to work down to something that, while dwelling in a lower space, still makes Cano the richest second baseman in the game with room to spare. Here's the problem, though: Who is going to offer him even that more realistic contract?
Robinson Cano is a man with more talents than suitors. The Yankees would love to have him back, as they failed to make the playoffs even with their top player around in 2013 -- life won't get easier with Cano playing for another team. The Mets, who had dinner with Cano's agents (yes, including Jay-Z), have come out and said they can't envision adding another nine figure contract on the roster, when they already have David Wright locked up for the next seven seasons at $127 million. If a $100 million deal isn't going to work for them, $200 million or wherever Cano ends up certainly isn't happening. The Tigers had interest in Cano, and have a tendency to throw large sums of money at their problems in order to win while Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and Co. are a thing. They've just plucked Ian Kinsler from the Rangers, though, meaning second base is no longer a need.
That could open a space in Texas -- the Rangers have been linked to Cano a few times this offseason already -- but with Elvis Andrus entrenched at shortstop, it's more likely the Rangers stick Jurickson Profar in Kinsler's place. Plus, they did just absorb all but $30 million of Prince Fielder's contract by swapping out Kinsler, so while Texas has money to spend, they might not want to tie it up in Cano.
The Red Sox signed Dustin Pedroia to an eight-year, $110 million extension this summer -- more on that later -- so they have no need for Cano. Dodgers owner Magic Johnson got himself in a little trouble for saying, before the season ended, Los Angeles would have nothing to do with Cano, as they had other uses for their dump trucks full of money.
Notice a trend here? Anyone with money, or who should have money, is otherwise occupied, and has no interest in Cano. Or, at least, not the kind of interest that will get the Yankees to sit up and pay attention. New York is already on the record, courtesy of Randy Levine, as saying the Yankees won't deal with Cano until he has more "realistic" contract demands to discuss. You can't blame them, either, because if the market is the Yankees, he doesn't have nearly as much negotiating power as he might have in a year where more clubs are intrigued by the possibility of signing him.
He'll still be rich when he signs, of course, but just how rich is the question. The current contract leader at Cano's position is Pedroia, and while the two have had very similar value over the years, Pedroia's deal is admittedly team-friendly -- it keeps him in Boston through 2021, but the average annual value on the contract is $13.75 million, or $1.25 million less than Cano made in 2013 before reaching free agency. By announcing he was looking for more than $300 million, Cano's ideal contract leans just a wee bit Cano-friendly. No one else is close to Pedroia, as Kinsler's extension, started in 2013, is for five years at $75 million. Chase Utley's previous deal and current add up to $112 million guaranteed over nine years, which is close, but it's not a fair comparison, and Utley is also much older than Cano or Pedroia, anyway. That's about it for high-end second basemen under lengthy extensions, though, because it's just not a position teams like to invest in once players are older than 30, except for the most extreme, talented cases.
Cano will make more than Pedroia. Likely, Cano will make heaps more than Pedroia, coming close to, if not outright, doubling his total take home. If things hold, the Yankees are going to sign the checks. They want to be under $189 million in 2014, in order to finish under the luxury tax, therefore resetting the penalty levels and saving them money in the long run. They also need to be competitive, though, especially after failing to make the playoffs in 2013, so they are unlikely to let Cano go elsewhere in order to achieve their fiscal goal.
Think of it this way: The Yankees are paying Derek Jeter $12 million on purpose in 2014, after he missed most of his age-39 season recovering from an ankle fracture injury that limited him to 17 games and the ugliest numbers of his career. He'll be 40 years old next season, and remember, he wasn't exactly a defensive presence at shortstop before the fracture. They're doing this because he's Derek Jeter, and if it ends up being his last season, they want him around -- and, more important, the fans around -- to see it. There is no way they're going to let Cano walk over a few million, not after missing the playoffs, not on a team with this many lineup questions, not when they're paying Vernon Wells legitimate United States currency.
There is unlikely to be a surprise Angels-esque suitor for Cano that drives up the bidding and pushes it out of a range the Yankees are comfortable with. The Angels themselves are currently worrying about Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, a lack of pitching and prospects and whether or not there will be enough in the coffers for Mike Trout when that needs to happen. We already accounted for the Dodgers, Red Sox, Tigers and likely the Rangers. The Mets wish they had the money to lure Cano to the other New York club, but it's not happening. The Giants could do something crazy, but they don't want to give up a draft pick. The Mariners are more focused on free-agent outfielders, and should be, considering their inexpensive and potentially talented middle infield. The Phillies have Utley, the Orioles are trying to shed payroll, the Blue Jays are too close to tapped out for Cano... just who is going to bid on him in a way that keeps him from returning to the Yankees?
All it takes is one team, one eager owner, to do just that. With the kind of money Cano is looking for, though, and the lack of realistic options on the market, the Yankees might be that one team. It won't be for $300 million, and it might not even be for 10 years if New York has its way, but it's still going to be a record for the position. That's something, especially when the Yankees are going to have other holes to fill and needs to attend to.
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Marc Normandin writes and edits for Over the Monster, a Boston Red Sox blog, and also contributes to Baseball Nation. He's one of many behind the e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great," and has written for Baseball Prospectus, ESPN and others. You can follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin.