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The Yankees made a mistake letting Robinson Cano walk

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It’s not very often the Yankees let a future Hall of Famer walk away in his prime. They did this time, and it was a mistake.

88th MLB All-Star Game
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Yes, I know exactly how this is going to go and what people are going to say. “10 years, $240 million! Don’t want to see that ugly contract at the end of it!” Okay fine, I don’t know exactly how they’re going to say it, but that’s the message they’ll deliver. Robinson Cano was great, but after being burned by the back nine of long contracts, Yankee fans didn’t want to see anymore long, big money contracts.

That’s understandable. Sometimes exceptions need to be made, however, and this was one. It’s now halfway through the fourth year of the mega deal he signed with the Mariners. Now whenever one’s favorite team lets a star walk away, the hope is that the star doesn’t live up to his contract and the favorite team is in the right. With Cano? The Yankees are in the wrong.

The All-Star game happened this past Tuesday and it was looking like it might just end in a tie. Then this happened:

That sweet swing. Oh, how I miss it. As Greg Kirkland puts it, that is Cano’s “THIS GAME IS EASY” swing. I digress. That home run reminded me of something: how much I miss Cano in pinstripes.

Cano was a legitimate superstar in his prime when the Yankees let him walk. No matter how much Michael Kay and company wanted to paint him as “lazy,” he was as reliable a player as they come. From 2007 until 2013, his last with the Yankees, Cano played in at least 159 games per year while hitting .307/.358/.508 with 175 home runs.

As Matt Provenzano said a few weeks ago:

By any metric you want to use, Cano was the greatest second baseman in the history of the Yankees. He didn’t last his whole career in New York, but suffice it to say the Yankees’ second base leaderboard is impressive, and Cano tops it in wRC+, slugging percentage, and he’s third in hits and second in runs batted in. He will go into Cooperstown with a Yankees hat.

This trend has continued in Seattle where he hasn’t played less than 156 games thus far. That also includes an “ugly” 2015 season where he fought and played through a stomach parasite. Sure his hitting wasn’t great, yet he still managed to hit .287/.334/.446, which isn’t exactly bad, especially considering the circumstances.

In 2016 he bounced right back to his All-Star/MVP form. This year has been no different, even though he hit the disabled list for the first time since 2006 (!). Even a stomach parasite in 2015 couldn’t keep him from playing. Please tell me again how he’s “lazy.”

Yet that’s exactly how he was described by many in the media, the supposed “voice” of the New York Yankees, and many fans. Why? Approximately “four singles a season.” Who cares about four singles?

It’s certainly not reason enough to let Cano walk. I really wouldn’t hold it against the Yankees if they at least even tried to negotiate with Cano. They just offered him seven years, $175 million and basically said “take it or leave it.”

Yes, I also know $175 million is a lot of money. I also know about his potential to earn endorsement money and all the perks that come from playing in New York. The fact of the matter, though, is that the Mariners offered him $65 million more. That’s A LOT of money to walk away from. Cano isn’t a “trader,” he’s human.

The discount his camp offered the Yankees before signing wasn’t much, but at that point it was too late anyway. The Yankees decided they didn’t want to negotiate. If they had, maybe it doesn’t get as far as the Mariners’ offer and the two sides are able to work something out. The fact is that the Yankees didn’t even try, and because of that they let a future Hall of Famer get away.

It’s made worse by the fact that the Yankees reacted to Cano leaving by turning and signing Jacoby Ellsbury to an absurd seven-year, $153 million deal. They also spent money on Brian McCann and Masahiro Tanaka, though those deals made sense. In retrospect, Gary Sanchez’s emergence makes the McCann deal questionable, but at the time it made sense. Ellsbury never made sense.

I’d rather have six years of prime Cano with four years of mediocre to bad Cano than seven years of whatever adjective one can use to describe Ellsbury. Cano is on another level.

A few days ago, Joel Sherman of the New York Post looked into “just how historically great” Cano is as a player. According to Sherman, Cano is adding to an already impressive resume:

Cano’s 10th-inning homer off Wade Davis provided a 2-1 triumph and further credentials to Cano’s Hall of Fame candidacy and his argument for moving up the all-time second base list. At this point, I think the only second basemen clearly ahead of Cano are Rogers Hornsby, Nap Lajoie and Joe Morgan.

That’s quite some company. Obviously it’s still in the first half of the contract, it may look ugly eventually, but that’s what these contracts are. Pay for the prime years and just hope you get enough value to make the latter half worth it. 2009 doesn’t happen without Alex Rodriguez’s ugly contract.

Second base might eventually be occupied by Gleyber Torres. He could turn out to be the real deal, but the Yankees already had the real deal. They let him walk away. Just watching him hit that home run in the All-Star game brought all of that back. As Sherman said in his column,

But wouldn’t it be intriguing right now to see, say, a daily Yankees 2-3-4 of Judge, Cano and Sanchez?

I guess we’ll just have to imagine what could have been.

*Season statistics provided courtesy of Baseball Reference.