Following a rough six months of baseball, the Yankees head into the off-season a few weeks earlier than they had hoped. There is a lot on the agenda this winter, and I mean a lot, and it appears as though hammering out a new contract for Joe Girardi is first on that list. After that, trying to re-sign Robinson Cano would be a priority. At the same time, though, there is a chance, albeit a pretty small one, that Cano could depart later this winter.
Not just in 2013, but even since 2009, Robinson Cano has been the Yankees' best player, and I don't think it's close. He leads the Yankees in every non-speed category while playing superb defense at a premium defensive position like second base. Just for fun, by using fWAR, let's take a look at the 10-best Yankees since 2009 to see how great Cano has been:
Obviously, it's not close: Robinson Cano has been, far and away, the best player on the Yankees, and someone, hopefully the Yankees, will pay him handsomely this winter. But if it's not the Yankees who pays him, however, the team would suffer a major blow. They're already handcuffed with Plan 189 set in place (yes, there have been grumblings that the team could toss the $189 million goal out the window, but I'm not believing anything until I see it), and the alternatives in the farm system and on the free agent market aren't pretty as well.
If Cano does walk, I suspect the Yankees will explore the free agent market to get a "replacement," instead of trying to use the David Adams' and Corban Joseph's of the world to fill the void. As for the free agent market, there aren't too many names that stand out. There's Omar Infante, who hit .318/.345/.450, 113 OPS+ in 476 PA's this year with the Tigers, but he hit to a 90 OPS+ in the 11 seasons before that. Kelly Johnson, who is playing left field this year for the Rays but has plenty of experience at second base, could be another option. He hit .235/.305/.410, 99 OPS+ in 407 PA's in the 2013 regular season which is just a couple of shades under his career 103 OPS+. The rest of the available free agent second baseman are mostly pretty bad and/or aren't true, everyday second baseman.
In regards to potentially signing someone like Infante or Johnson, it wouldn't be as bad to let Cano walk if they had someone else who is elite that plays a premium position like catcher, shortstop, or center field that is already in the organization to soften the blow just a bit. Unfortunately, the Yankees do not have this luxury, but, on the flip side, they could go out and improve the team's catching situation immensely by going out and signing Brian McCann with the saved Cano money. McCann is about as good as they come behind the plate; he's a career .277/.350/.461 hitter who plays pretty good defense behind the dish. There are some negatives with McCann, though, and, to go along with the positives, will surely be profiled in a post for a later time.
To freak out everyone who is reading this, here's what a potential Cano-less lineup would look like while using players who are guaranteed to be under contract in 2014:
CF. Brett Gardner
SS. Derek Jeter
1B. Mark Teixeira
LF. Alfonso Soriano
3B. Eduardo Nunez
RF. Ichiro Suzuki
DH. Vernon Wells
C. Austin Romine
2B. David Adams
That is one ugly lineup. Holy cow. Anyway, there are easy, small upgrades/position changes that could be made (ie: re-signing Mark Reynolds and Brendan Ryan; moving Jeter, who has a $9.5MM option that he will surely exercise, off of shortstop to DH, which might not end up happening, by the way; etc.) to go along with potentially signing McCann and Infante/Johnson to clean up that mess just a bit. However, there are a ton of variables involved in all of that, which would continue to make life difficult.
In short, please, Yankees, re-sign Robinson Cano. I know he asked for 10-years and over $300 million for his next contract, but no one is going to give him that; he was asking for the most money. Every free agent does this. I'm sure even he knew the Yankees wouldn't give him that. If you do re-sign him, and you should, you could have the first ever Dominican-born player to reach Monument Park. That's pretty huge and it should play into this entire thing. Also, when you compare him to Jeter, Robbie is on the Hall of Fame track. Just give him eight years and $200 million and call it good so you can avoid harsh criticism from the fan base as well as potentially more struggles on the field going forward.