Robinson Cano contract extension: Show him the money!

Elsa

Is 7 years, $150 million reasonable for Robinson Cano? History says yes.

The elephant in the room for the past year has been Robinson Cano's contract situation, and that elephant is getting larger with every passing day. Recently, it was reported that Cano and his new agent, Jay-Z, were looking for a ten-year, $275 million A-Rod-type deal, while the Yankees were more comfortable offering something similar to David Wright's eight-year, $138 million contract. Ideally, it will fall somewhere in between. We know Cano is one of the best second basemen of the last decade, but how does he stack up historically, and how do those players play after their age 30 seasons?

Assuming he gets an eight-year contract covering his age 31-38 seasons, how have second basemen in that age group done since integration in 1947? Out of 124 qualified second basemen, only eight of them, or 6.45%, even averaged 500 plate appearances (4000 total PA) over their age 31-38 seasons. Only 30 of the 124, or 24.2%, averaged 400 plate appearances (3200 total PA) over their age 31-38 seasons. Second basemen do not stay healthy historically. How healthy are second basemen in their age 31-40 seasons? Out of 127 qualified second basemen age 31-40, only four averaged 500 plate appearances per season for ten seasons (3.1%), and only ten averaged 400 plate appearances (7.9%).

Looking at fWAR, only five second basemen age 31-38 posted over 29 fWAR, and they are the who's who for second basemen since integration: Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, and Lou Whitaker. These are the same five that have more than 29 fWAR in their age 31-40 seasons, although only Morgan, Biggio, and Kent played past age 38. Those three combined for 10.8 fWAR over seven seasons, an average of 1.5 fWAR per season - not very impressive. We know Cano has played as well as those players before his thirties, but can he be as healthy as they were in his thirties?

The median fWAR for the 124 qualified second basemen age 31-38 is 5.8 - yuck! Let's assume he can be as healthy as the top quartile, and reach 3000 plate appearances. The median fWAR is Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, with 18.6 fWAR. If we assume $6 million per win for the contract, that would be $111.6 million over eight years. If we think he is getting an eight-year, $200 million contract, we would have to assume he would have 33.3 fWAR over the next eight years, which would place him fourth, behind Joe Morgan, Jackie Robinson, and Jeff Kent.

How does this math change for if he signs a ten-year deal? The median fWAR for the 127 qualified second basemen age 31-40 is 5.0 - even worse. Again, if we assume he will reach 3000 plate appearances in his age 31-40 seasons, the median of that group of second basemen is 16.0 fWAR. At $6 million per win for the contract, that would be $96 million over ten years. If we think he is getting a ten-year, $275 million contract, we would have to assume he creates at least 45.8 fWAR over the next ten years. That would be the second-highest fWAR of any second baseman age 31-40, trailing Joe Morgan by only one win.

Cano is currently in his age 30 season. Out of all second basemen since integration, he is ranked 13th in fWAR through age 29, his last full season. He is also ranked 13th through age 30, and will probably end the season 11th since integration, with an outside shot at breaking the top ten. Here are the second baseman who topped 30 fWAR by age 30 since 1947:

Name

PA

wRC+

Fld

BsR

fWAR

Joe Morgan

5939

134

-22.0

39.6

52.2

Rod Carew

5635

133

4.0

7.1

44.0

Bobby Grich

4769

129

75.0

-0.8

43.7

Roberto Alomar

6889

119

-13.0

29.9

43.6

Willie Randolph

5916

110

79.0

14.5

40.8

Ryne Sandberg

6060

115

22.0

23.2

39.7

Chase Utley

3813

132

73.9

30.6

39.3

Chuck Knoblauch

5994

115

37.0

24.6

39.3

Lou Whitaker

6078

110

63.0

-3.2

38.3

Pete Rose

6212

126

-25.0

-11.1

36.8

Gil McDougald

4527

117

66.0

-2.4

34.8

Paul Molitor

5145

119

10.0

24.1

33.5

Robinson Cano

5431

124

-30.1

-2.2

33.4

Craig Biggio

5205

122

-38.0

13.7

32.6

Nellie Fox

6443

101

60.0

-6.9

31.7

Edgardo Alfonzo

5611

111

38.5

2.2

31.6

Dustin Pedroia

4164

119

51.4

5.0

31.3

Pedroia is a year younger, so if he can stay healthy, he will probably pass Cano by the end of his age 30 season. This list shows that Cano, through his age 30 season, is one of the elite post-integration second basemen. So it may be more instructive to look at this select group to try to predict how Cano will perform in the future. How did these 17 second basemen listed above, with 30+ fWAR through their age 30 season, do after their age 30 season?

Name

PA

wRC+

Fld

BsR

Post-30 fWAR

Post-30 Rank

Years

Joe Morgan

5390

136

-25

39.5

46.8

1

10

Rod Carew*

4915

130

12

-5.8

28.4

9

Bobby Grich

3451

128

8

-9.4

25.7

7

7

Roberto Alomar

3511

115

-3.3

14.2

20.2

14

6

Willie Randolph

3545

109

35

1.8

21.5

9

7

Ryne Sandberg

3222

114

38

0.7

20.6

11

6

Chase Utley

1533

119

30.5

12.7

13.8

26

4

Chuck Knoblauch*

1393

83

-11

7.3

0.3

3

Lou Whitaker

3889

129

14

0.4

29.6

5

8

Pete Rose*

9664

117

-31

-2.6

43.3

15

Gil McDougald*

868

95

23

-2.1

4.8

2

Paul Molitor*

7022

124

-3

22.5

34.3

11

Robinson Cano

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

Craig Biggio

7299

110

-32.3

18.6

32.6

4

11

Nellie Fox

3906

89

52

-4.3

13.5

28

7

Edgardo Alfonzo*

497

61

-8

-1.3

-1.6

2

Dustin Pedroia

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

Cano and Pedroia are still active, as is Chase Utley, who still ranks 26th in post-30 second base fWAR since integration. Out of the 14 that have retired, six of them, or 43%, ended up moving off of second base. The average post-30 fWAR created by the 14 retired second basemen is 22.9, with a median of 23.6 fWAR. They averaged 7.4 additional years played, with a median of seven years. I want to take this moment to point out how great Joe Morgan was - he is first in both pre-31 and post-30 fWAR for second baseman since integration. Of the eight that remained at second base after their age-30 season, they all ranked in the top 28 for second basemen in post-30 fWAR. Only four of the 14 non-active second basemen listed lasted at least ten years, and only six lasted at least eight years, three of whom moved away from second base.

There is a lot of risk with this contract. Three of the 14 retired elite post-integration second basemen could be categorized as post-30 busts - Knoblauch (who most of us had to live through), McDougald (another Yankee), and Alfonso. That is a 21% bust rate for players who were elite second basemen going into their thirties. Personally, I think eight years for a second baseman is too long, and ten years even more so. The longest contract ever for a second baseman is seven years for Chase Utley, whose recent poor health probably doesn't help Cano's desire for a long-term contract. The highest AAV ever for a second baseman is $15 million for Ian Kinsler. At $17.25 million per year, matching the David Wright contract, Cano would beat the AAV record for second basemen; at $27.5 million, he would shatter it.

If we would expect him to be as productive as the elite second basemen are after their age-30 season, he should receive a seven-year, $141.6 million contract, with the expectation of playing seven years and creating 23.6 fWAR. That is pretty close to David Wright's eight-year, $138 million contract, but with one less year, boosting the AAV over $20 million. If the Yankees decide to sign him to an A-Rod type of contract, they would be betting that he will join Joe Morgan as the best post-age-30 second baseman since integration. That is a pretty high-risk, low-reward bet.

If he wants to beat both the AAV and the contract length records for second basemen, an 8 year $160 million would do the trick. If he wants anything above a $25 million AAV, the team should not go beyond six years. However, this analysis does not take into account less tangible factors, like ticket sales, fan goodwill, advertising dollars, milestone chases, face of the franchise value, and where the team is on the win-curve (hint - always in the playoff hunt). The question is, how much are these, and other, factors worth?

If I were Brian Cashman, I would offer a seven-year, $150 million contract, with three option years structured as follows: a $10 million buyout, a $17 million player option, and a $24 million team option for each option year. This would give the total potential value of the contract $222 million over 10 years, similar to the 10/$225 contract Joey Votto signed, with a minimum of seven years, $160 million. This total is more than what the historical performance of elite second basemen would dictate, but takes into account the importance of a career Yankee like Cano, a player with an elite bat at a key defensive position playing for a team that is in perpetual contention. But it also builds in some protections in the event that Cano does not remain productive through his thirties.

So, what do you think? If you were Brian Cashman, what type of offer would you extend to Cano? Vote on the options below, and discuss in the comments.

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