The 2013-2014 offseason promises to be an interesting one for the New York Yankees and their fans. First, there is the question of whether or not Plan 189 is a real thing. If it is, the team will be limited in what type of contracts they can take on. However, if the sight of the Boston Red Sox taking home the championship drives the Steinbrenner boys to insanity, the team's 2014 payroll could soar in the the $250 million range. In either scenario, Robinson Cano is the primary target.
Cano is by far the best free agent available, in a deep but not top heavy free agent class. Given this, he will be able to command a premium, and from all reports he is starting negotiations at ten years and $300 million. That is an absolutely crazy number for pretty much any player not named Mike Trout. I wrote about how similar second basemen have performed after their age-30 seasons in order to determine a fair-value contract based on him producing like the average elite second baseman did after age 30. I came up with a baseline contact of seven years and $142 million, with a maximum valued contract of 10 years and $222 million. That ten year contract could be pushed up to pass Joey Votto's fourth-largest contract of all time of $225 million, and put him behind only Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. The Fangraphs contract crowd-sourcing project estimates that Cano will receive an 8 year, $196 million contract.
But what if the Yankees decide they don't want to tie up that many years or that much money into Cano? That might be reasonable, given how they are currently being burned by the A-Rod contract. Or perhaps another team jumps in and gives Cano much more than the Yankees are willing to, pushing him up to his desired $300 million? In either event, the Yankees would be left without their best player from 2013, and with a large hole at second base. There are really no viable candidates on the farm system to fill that hole, as David Adams and Corban Joseph are marginal prospects at best. And there aren't really any top-notch second basemen available via trade.
If Cano does not return, who would be available on the free agent market? There are ten second basemen who are free agents this offseason and have played second base over the past three seasons. Below, you can see a chart of all ten with their three year (2011-2013) totals and their 2013 fWAR.
|Name||G||PA||HR||R||RBI||SB||BB%||K%||AVG||OBP||SLG||wRC+||BsR||Off||Def||fWAR||rWAR||2013 fWAR||2013 rWAR|
The number one replacement available on the free agent market is Omar Infante, who spent 2013 with the Detroit Tigers. Infante has become a solid player over the past four seasons, accumulating 10.2 fWAR and 10.7 rWAR, to go along with .295/.327/.415 batting line that equals a 100 OPS+. He doesn't walk a lot, but he also doesn't strike out a lot. He is the second-best defensive second basemen among the free agents over the past three years, being worth over two wins with the glove during that time period.
He has been about half to a third as valuable of a player as Cano over the past three years. He had the best year of his career in 2013 as a 31-year old, putting up a .318/.345/.450 line with ten home runs and five stolen bases, good for a 113 OPS+, 117 wRC+, 3.1 fWAR, and 2.4 rWAR.
Fangraphs' contract crowd-sourcing project sees him getting a three-year, $27.5 million contract, although he probably will get at least one more season. I could see him getting a four-year, $40 million contract as the back-up plan for those looking to sign Cano.
The second-best second baseman available is Mark Ellis, who officially became a free agent earlier this week, when the Dodgers declined his $5.75 million contract. They did this not because he wasn't worth the contract, but rather because they just signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to play second base for them next season.
Ellis has had some problems staying healthy during his career, but has continued to be productive when on the field, averaging 1.8 fWAR per season over the past three years. Ellis has very little value in his bat, but he makes up for it with one of the best gloves at second base, and the best defensive numbers of any of the free agent second basemen available. He had a .270/.323/.351 batting line in 2013, with a 92 OPS+ and wRC+, a 1.8 fWAR and a 3.0 rWAR. Ellis is estimated to receive a two-year, $11 million contract according the Fangraphs contract crowd-sourcing project. This seems reasonable, given that he is going to be 38 next season with health concerns and a limited offensive profile.
The third-best second base free agent is Nick Punto, he of the famous 2012 Dodgers-Red Sox Punto trade. Punto is usually seen as a prototypical utility guy, but has the surprising ability to be an average major league second basemen, according to WAR. This is due to solid defense and decent hitting (for a second baseman) on his part. Punto hit .255/.328/.327 in 2013, with an 87 OPS+, 90 wRC+, 2.2 rWAR, and 1.9 fWAR. However, he is not a full-time player, and has only averaged 245 plate appearances per season since 2010. He fits much better as someone signed to be a back-up or utility guy than someone expected to be a full-time player.
The only other one even worth looking into is Kelly Johnson, who spent 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Johnson has had an up and down career with no real consistency in when and how he produces value as a major league player. He bounced back from 2012 that was below his career average in 2013. This past season, he hit .235/.305/.410, with a 99 OPS+, 101 wRC+, 1.3 rWAR, and 1.2 fWAR. He is also the only one of the four free agent second basemen reviewed here that has been below-average with the glove over the past three years.
Given the alternatives, I think that it is even more important for the Yankees to re-sign Robinson Cano. He is leaps and bounds better than any of the free agent alternatives. If the Yankees decided to not re-sign Cano, they could focus on Infante plus one of the other top free agents with the money that would have been spent on Cano - possibly Brian McCann? Or they could take a page out of the 2013 Red Sox playbook and sign more mid-level free agents to spread the risk of each signing and the potential total reward. However, if I were betting, I'd put money on Cano returning to the Yankees for a nine-year, $226 million contract.
What do you think? If the Yankees don't re-sign Cano, should they replace him with an in-house candidate? Should they sign one of the free agent second basemen (which one)? Or is there a second baseman you think would be a potential target? Let us know in the comments what choice you would make.