Robinson Cano and the Impending Reality of a New-Look Yankees Team

Jim Rogash

The Yankees' desire to keep their payroll under the luxury tax limit may mean losing their best player next season. As fans, we aren't really used to losing a superstar because of money, but that may be the new reality of our favorite team operating on a budget.

Before this past season or so, I would have told you that I thought there was no way the Yankees would let Robinson Cano walk away in free agency, regardless of what it would cost to retain him. Hiring Scott Boras tends to mean only one thing, and that is that you expect to take your talents to the highest bidder, but I didn't think that mattered too much with Cano and the Yankees. I assumed Hank and Hal Steinbrenner would find some money hidden under a mattress somewhere to ensure that one of the game's best didn't walk away from the team with only a draft pick to show for it. That was all before the magical number of $189 million came into play, and suddenly I'm not so sure that he'll be kept no matter what.

When I first got into baseball around age five (as much as a kid that age can be), no one ruined my naïve belief that my favorite players would always be Yankees. I couldn't understand baseball as a business first and foremost at the time, so it never occurred to me that money, contract lengths, and agents could stand in the way of seeing Derek Jeter or Andy Pettitte always being on our side. Pettitte leaving for the Houston Astros was probably the first time it really dawned on me that the players you love aren't necessarily yours forever. That sometimes the pursuit of money trumps the good feelings we get when pulling for a group of guys that comprise our favorite team.

We've all been fortunate enough to watch the entire careers of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in pinstripes, but the limitations of payroll and the tremendous success of Robinson Cano may prevent the same from happening with one of my favorite players. Letting Cano go next season may very well be in the best interest of the Yankees in the long term. Not handcuffing themselves with another contract that exceeds $200 million for six or seven (or more) years for a player over 30 while still paying for the unfortunate contract given to Alex Rodriguez would almost certainly be the less foolish option for their future success, but Cano is the best second baseman in baseball, and one of the best players in the game in general. Replacing him in the short term would be impossible.

I root for the Yankees first and the individual players second, so I can't see myself falling into the disenchanted Yankee fan role that we've read about here a few times recently. The Yankees are still as entertaining to me as they always have been, and I've been fortunate that they've been immensely successful for the entirety of my fandom. I have never been ashamed of their business philosophy of going out to get the best where needed. It seems as though that philosophy is changing, at least a little, for at least the very immediate future. The Yankees were never in on Zack Greinke or serious bidders for Josh Hamilton, the two best free agent prizes on the market this year. Intense Yankee interest in those names in the past would have been a foregone conclusion, but not this year. Cano will obviously be a bit of a different case, being their own homegrown superstar, but to what extent will the Yankees be willing to give in to Scott Boras' demands? At what point do they decide that walking away is better for their success than retaining the player most poised to become the face of the franchise once Jeter and Rivera hang them up in the coming years?

Coping with a ten year deal with the knowledge that the Yankees could just spend more to make up for the last few years being disappointing may not be a reality anymore. The new CBA's payroll penalties are so severe that even the Yankees don't feel like they can withstand losing the amount of money it would take to maintain such a high payroll. Hopefully that will mean that they will lean on the farm system, letting prospects make it as Yankees instead of trade pieces. If that is true, a part of me will be very happy. I love prospects and live for getting to see them get their big chance probably too much. But if it all means that the insane contracts teams have handed out recently will take away the best prospect-turned-superstar we've had the pleasure of watching since Jeter, a big part of me will also be sad; both for the loss of Cano and what it may mean for future homegrown stars on this team if the same budget is applied to them. Baseball is very much a business, but my fandom is emotional. Those two things rarely mix well.

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