The Yankees aren't used to losing players in free agency. Over the past fifteen years or so, Andy Pettitte and Robinson Cano are just about the only big names who've left the Bronx by their own design, though they did so for very different reasons. Things were actually fairly cordial with Pettitte. He took less money to leave, not more, and three years later, he was back. Does anyone outside of Houston even remember the time he spent there?
With Cano, things are going...differently. It's not often the big bad Yankees get outbid for a player, much less their own player. For some time now they've been ever-so-daintily planting seeds to explain why they did the right thing in not matching their former second baseman's ten-year, $240 million offer from Seattle. In doing so, they've taken a page straight out of the Red Sox playbook. You know those guys...every departing player, it turns out, was actually a detriment who was holding them back all along. From Wade Boggs to Roger Clemens, Nomar Garciaparra to Johnny Damon to Manny Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis - former Sox have gone from loved to loathed in Boston with the flick of a pen and with the organization's subtle nudging. Somehow Jacoby Ellsbury's avoided the burn so far, but we all know what's coming.
In the Cano saga, the latest little salvo came from hitting coach Kevin Long who had a few things to say to reporters this weekend about Robbie's well-documented "lack of hustle." As Jason Cohen told us on Tuesday, Long said:
"If somebody told me I was a dog I'd have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that's your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to...We all talked to him, I'm pretty sure Jeter talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80%, no one's going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn't come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception.
He just wouldn't make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren't going to make sense. He might say his legs didn't feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.''
This isn't a new complaint. Interestingly, it became a much larger issue, at least on YES broadcasts, in Cano's walk year when Yankee brass began to come to grips with the real possibility of losing him. It's a tiresome narrative. Over the past seven seasons, Cano has showed up for and played in 1,120 of a possible 1,134 games, the second most in the majors over that span, while many of his teammates have crumbled around him. He doesn't take "personal days" when tough lefties are on the hill. He doesn't leave games with big leads or deficits. He was known for getting to the park early, taking as much batting practice as anyone and constantly fine-tuning the tools that make him one of the very best hitters in the sport. All of that is hustling - much more than making a show of running hard to first is, anyway.
Robinson Cano doesn't run out grounders. So what? Why should any of us care? How many times did he actually cost himself a hit? Turn a double into a single? You could probably count them all on one hand. Maybe he truly believes saving his energy for when it matters is what keeps him among the healthiest players in the majors. Maybe he gets frustrated when he hits a ball poorly and doesn't feel like charring down the line. Maybe he thinks sprinting to first on an obvious out just looks silly. Regardless, if you're making a list of important things about Cano's game, his refusal to bust it out of the box should sit far down the list somewhere around his iffy choices in at-bat music and his weird off-season beardage.
Still, it's what the Yankees want you to remember. Never mind that their best player over the past four seasons - their best second baseman since Tony Lazzeri - will now play elsewhere. Forget that since 2010, Cano is second in the major leagues in fWAR and ninth in wRC+. They want you to think of him as that lazy good-for-nothing who chased a few million bucks clear across the country - that selfish bum who didn't care about legacy or tradition or being a "true Yankee." Maybe it'll bring a smile to Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine's faces when Cano gets booed mercilessly on April 29th when the Mariners come to town - and he will, because Yankee fans, just like their brethren in New England will take that bait hook, line and sinker. But none of that changes anything. Cano is a phenomenal player and it'll be some time before he's adequately replaced.
To be fair, Long had plenty of complimentary things to add about Cano, too:
"He overcame so much while he was here. As a young kid there were holes everywhere. There were holes in his swing, in his makeup, in his body composition. This kid grew and grew and grew. All the other stuff ... he'd take plays off in the field, he'd give away at-bats in RBI situations. He made a lot of personal decisions to get over the hump in those areas. People don't know how hard he worked, how many times he was the one asking me to do extra work in the cage.''
He was answering questions from reporters. He didn't run out onto the field in Tampa screaming "have I got some dirt for you!" But he had to know which portion of his comments the press would focus on, and he also had some idea of what his bosses would probably like to hear.
The thing is, there's no reason for it to be like this. The Yankees don't need to make up reasons why they let Cano walk because the actual reason was a pretty decent one. They weren't wrong for not matching the Mariners' bid of too much money for too many years just like Cano wasn't wrong for taking an extra $65 million and running with it.
Let's look back fondly on the nine great seasons Robbie had in pinstripes instead of picking at his very few warts because we're mad he's no longer here. Let's give him a standing ovation on the 29th - let's let him know we appreciate what he accomplished as a Yankee - that we miss him - that we're grown up enough to realize that baseball's a business and that sometimes things don't work out the way we want them to.