For the first part of the offseason the Pinstriped Bible staff will be grading 35 of the Yankees' main contributors to the 2013 roster. Their entire season will be taken into account, even if part of it came at the minor league level. We continue this series with Robinson Cano.
2013 Statistics: 160 games, .314/.383/.516, 142 wRC+, 27 home runs, 7 stolen bases, .384 wOBA
2014 Contract Status: Free agent
Robinson Cano has been an ideal Yankee in his time in New York. He's produced at a high level that has resulted in him being the best second baseman in baseball while keeping his nose out of trouble off the field in one of the most difficult cities to do so under the brightest spotlight in sports. It is safe to say that the aging process of lineup cornerstones like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter has given way to making it Cano's offense and the people who hit around him for the most part. In 2013, that was particularly telling because there was no one hitting around him. He drew 65 walks, 16 of them intentionally.
After playing in at least 159 games every season since 2008, Cano has gotten a reputation for durability that his fellow top tier second basemen counterparts, Dustin Pedroia and Chase Utley, have not had. Combine his durability with his offensive prowess and slick defensive skills and you have a player who is going to be rewarded handsomely on the free agent market. The Yankees would likely enjoy being that team and likely need to be that team if they'd like to maintain competitiveness for the near future. Cano couldn't be replaced without a downgrade at the position, and a dramatic one at that. Still, his services will not come cheap and the Yankees have expressed their desire to avoid luxury tax penalties by having a payroll under the $189 million threshold.
Cano's 6.0 fWAR in 2013 makes him the seventh best by that metric in the American League this season. His 142 wRC+ ranks in at 8th in the AL, while his .384 wOBA is good enough for seventh best in the league. That is deserving of an A grade for any player, much less one that endured being the lone bright spot in that black hole of terrible lineup. For all the spare parts being switched and swapped out around him all season, Cano was a highly productive player on a team that, honestly, just wasn't very good. People have complaints, of course – he doesn't run hard enough to keep Michael Kay and others happy and he chases pitches that blind him with the dirt they kick up or by their extraordinarily small distance from his eyeballs. For all the complaints, the Cano who is labeled a lazy hacker is the best players that the Yankees have managed to produce in years and one of the best in baseball in general. Any team would feel fortunate to have him and we have been fortunate that he has been ours for his entire career so far.
Have we seen his sweet swing to the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium for the last time? It's hard to be sure. It seems like both sides are very interested in a reunion, for obvious reasons, but will Cano's price tag keep the Yankees from bringing him back? Players over 30 signed to long term deals have gotten the team into their current predicament. Maybe losing a star like Cano is the price of those bad deals in the past. Maybe Cano proves to be indispensable to their goal of fielding a championship-caliber team in 2014. The dollars and years will be a point of contention for both sides, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Cano manning second base on Opening Day 2014 in Houston. Would it be surprising to see him leave for greener pastures and a huge paycheck? No, not at all.
It's scary to think about where the 2013 Yankees might have been without Cano's bat in the lineup for 160 games. They failed to make the postseason, though the fault was certainly not his, but things would have been a lot bleaker without his production. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera and the unlikely future of Derek Jeter, the era of Yankees we've watched for years is very much changing. Cano returning could provide a comforting piece of normalcy to a team that will likely look very different than we are used to next season, but without him, the picture is even bleaker still.