Sunday, August 25, 2013
Where Robinson Cano could go
By Buster Olney
Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano's 4.8 WAR is among the best in baseball.
LOS ANGELES -- If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, then as of this morning, there are 33 games left in the career of Mariano Rivera.
But everybody saw that coming. There may also be only 33 games remaining in Robinson Cano's tenure with the Yankees if he leaves as a free agent when the season is over. He is their best player and they need him, and yet in recent years, teams have held the line with their own superstars -- for instance, the Cardinals with Albert Pujols and the Rangers with Josh Hamilton -- and those choices have been quickly vindicated.
The Yankees have their own experience in deciding whether to invest in a long-term star (Alex Rodriguez), and that hasn't turned out so well.
Cano is represented by Jay-Z and CAA, and the expectation among executives is that they will be looking to plant a flag with their contract -- something in the A-Rod/Pujols neighborhood.
But a big question that has come up among some rival officials is this: What teams will compete against the Yankees to sign him to create that leverage?
The Cubs may not have as much money as casual fans expect, because they have renovation projects to pay for, including their own farm system. Cano would help Chicago improve in 2014 and 2015, but the team really isn't in a position to compete in the next couple of years because of other roster issues.
The Dodgers have doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in player acquisition costs and salary, but their primary focus this winter will be on re-signing Clayton Kershaw to what is expected to be the largest contract ever given to any pitcher. So for the first time, the bottomless pit of money may not be so bottomless for the Dodgers, and sources say the team has no current plans to pursue Cano.
Angels owner Arte Moreno might have grown tired of investing in big-money position players, with the two big albatross contracts of Pujols and Hamilton, and in any event, they desperately need pitching.
Seattle is always a wild card, as it demonstrated in its pursuit of Hamilton. But would the Mariners actually outbid the Yankees? Would Jay-Z want to plant a signature star in Seattle? And would Cano want to go?
There are, of course, a number of teams that wouldn't have a shot at Cano because of their budget constraints: Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Minnesota, Kansas City, San Diego, Colorado, Cleveland, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Miami and Arizona.
Baltimore's payroll was at about $95 million in 2013, and Cano might chew up 25 to 30 percent of that going forward, making him an extremely unlikely target for the O's. The White Sox spent the summer stripping down their payroll. St. Louis already has good infielders, and Cano -- like Pujols -- would blow up their payroll management. The Reds have Brandon Phillips. The Blue Jays were aggressive in 2013, and it's been a disaster, so it's hard to imagine them extending themselves with a massive deal.
The Astros have plenty of money to spend -- after all, Cano will likely make more than their entire team in 2014 -- but they have a second baseman and (like the Cubs) the timing might not be right.
The Mets spent a ton of money on David Wright last fall, and while their payroll is expected to grow, the signing of Cano would explode way beyond their recent budgetary lines. As interesting as that possible storyline is -- Cano jumps from the Yankees to the Mets, with Jay-Z keeping him in New York -- it's hard to see how it could actually happen.
The Giants have at least two spots in their rotation that need filling, so pitching figures to be their priority.
All of this means that the field of teams bidding on Cano could be ... well, Jay-Z might want to call it exclusive. I'll say limited:
Owner Mike Ilitch is aggressive and wants to win a championship, and while the team's priority must soon be about signing Miguel Cabrera to his next contract, Ilitch has shown he's willing to expand his budget.
The Nationals have been baseball's biggest disappointment, and so changes might be in order. But the construct of their roster isn't easily altered. Their outfielders are Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Denard Span, and that may not change for next year.
The Nationals have one of baseball's richest ownership groups, and Cano could represent one of the very few ways the team can turn the page on the mess of 2013 and markedly improve the club for 2014. Cano could play second base, Rendon could shift back to third, with Zimmerman sliding to first base -- if the Nationals went down that road.
To repeat: This type of move would require a hyper-aggressive decision by ownership to compete with the Yankees, as it tried to do for Mark Teixeira.
As noted, they have Utley. But keep in mind that in the fall of 2007, when the Yankees weren't sure whether they would be able to re-sign Rodriguez, they had a discussion then about whether there would be a day when Cano would move to third base. He has the strong arm required to play the position, for sure. Or, if Cano signed, maybe the choice would be for Utley to shift to third.
The Phillies, like the Nationals, might be looking for a way to change the conversation about the future, to provide some hope for their fan base -- especially at a time when the team is embarking on negotiations for a new television contract.
It's possible the Giants will finish last this season, and given the lackluster pitching market, San Francisco could decide to go for a big-money player who could be an offense/defense upgrade. My guess is that they won't go down this road ... but they have the wherewithal to do so, if they choose, and if they're willing to build around a player who turns 31 on Oct. 22.
Cano is a five-time All-Star, and has finished in the top six in the All-Star voting three times. But his free agency has a chance to play out more like that of Hamilton than with Rodriguez in 2000, because he may not have a high volume of suitors. He is just too expensive for almost all teams.
Around the league
• Paco Rodriguez is just one part of what has developed into an outstanding bullpen for the Dodgers, and while the left-hander doesn't really throw very hard -- his average fastball velocity is a tick below 90 mph -- hitters just don't seem to pick up the ball against him. There is nobody else in baseball with a delivery like his: When he draws his arm back, there is a slight hesitation, with the ball behind his head, which seems to throw off the timing of hitters. And, as teammate A.J. Ellis says, Rodriguez's slider is like Sergio Romo's slider in that it just keeps sliding.
We'll have more on the Dodgers' bullpen in Monday's column.
• The Phillies and Diamondbacks played a long, long time on Saturday night -- 18 innings in the longest game of the season in terms of time at 7 hours, 6 minutes (the game ended at 2:12 a.m. ET). Casper Wells played the first 17 innings in right field for the Phillies before coming on in relief in the 18th and giving up five runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Left fielder John McDonald came in and gave up two more hits before getting the final out of the inning. McDonald was the 11th pitcher of the game for the Phillies, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's the first time in the modern era (since 1900) that a team used 11 pitchers in a game before Sept. 1.
1. From Elias: Bronson Arroyo did to the Brewers on Saturday what he did to the Padres, Cubs and Diamondbacks in his last three starts: he earned a victory, struck out at least six batters and walked none. Only one other pitcher in the modern era (since 1900) had won four consecutive starts, with no walks and at least six strikeouts in each game. Pat Jarvis of the Braves won four games like that in September 1966, the Braves' first season in Atlanta.
• From Elias: Yu Darvish lifted his average of strikeouts per nine innings above 12; he now has 225 strikeouts in 168 innings this season. No pitcher has finished a season of 20 or more starts with an average of 12 or more strikeouts per nine innings since Randy Johnson averaged 13.4 in 2001. (The Big Unit's average stands as the highest in major league history in a season of 20 or more starts.)