Robinson Cano leads the 2013 New York Yankees in nearly every relevant offensive category. Were it not for Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and the lingering anti-Yankee bias in the media, he’d be firmly in the American League MVP conversation.
At age 30 the second baseman has posted a career .308/.355/.504 line with 203 home runs. You’d think he’d be the franchise cornerstone moving forward, considering how many of the Yankees other key players are already way past their 30th birthday.
Not so fast. In an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, team president Randy Levine said keeping Cano in pinstripes isn’t an automatic in the offseason:
"“Hopefully he’s a Yankee. Nobody is a re-sign at all costs, but we want him back and we feel good about negotiating something with him. But nobody is a re-sign at any cost.”"
There are a couple forces at work here. For one, Cano isn’t even among the Top 10 highest-paid second baseman this season. Now represented by Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, he is going to want to get P-A-I-D. He’ll want a $20+ million per year deal, worth well over $100 million in total compensation.
Where this could be a problem is that, as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Tuesday night, the Yankees plan to get under baseball’s luxury tax threshold in 2014. New York has a payroll around $236 million this season, meaning they pay a penalty of $29.1 million.
"The Yankees are adamant that their payroll will plummet, and are hopeful of reducing it below the $189 million luxury tax figure beginning in 2014. If the Yankees fall below the $189 million threshold, they will not only be saving the $29 million in penalties, but it will also provide them the opportunity to spend lavishly in the future."
Trying to drop below the $189 million threshold and re-sign Cano might not exactly be impossible. The Yankees have about $86 million committed in 2014 to Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Ichiro and assuming he doesn’t retire, Derek Jeter. They have a lot of free agents and arbitration eligible guys. Adding Cano back for something in the range of $20-25 million per year won’t totally handcuff the Yankees, but also won’t leave them with a lot of wiggle room to add veteran free agents. Also working in the Yankees favor, their arbitration eligible guys like David Robertson, Brett Gardner, Boone Logan, etc., while quality Major Leaguers, aren’t going to get contracts that break the bank.
The strongest reason why Cano likely remains in pinstripes is that there’s nobody else out there looking to invest over $20 million in a second baseman. The highest-paid players at the position now are Ian Kinsler ($15 million); Dustin Pedroia ($13.75 million) and Chase Utley ($13.5 million).
Maybe the Dodgers throw caution to the wind and decide they’ll be the one team content to pay the luxury tax and make a run at Cano, although they’ve got a pending issue trying to keep Clayton Kershaw in SoCal. The Angels won’t want another $20+ million player, considering their bad luck with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. It leaves only a total surprise team, say the Blue Jays, throwing ungodly money at Cano in a move nobody sees coming.
Scanning through the 30 MLB rosters the only other place with even a hint of a possibility for Cano would be Detroit, assuming the Tigers fall short again in the World Series and aging owner Mike Illitch throws his last remaining chips into the center of the table, going all-in one more time.
Add it all up and it means Cano is going to have to work hard if he wants to leverage the Yankees for every last cent in his new deal. The amount of years in the deal will be a major sticking point since it’s unlikely the team will want him locked for more than five years.
Expect Cano back in the Bronx, albeit after a very contentious negotiation.