MLB free agency officially begins on Tuesday, as players will have the right to begin negotiating with all 30 teams and financial figures can start to be officially exchanged. And when it does begin, no free agent will ask for bigger numbers than Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. He is undisputedly the best player on the market this winter, and early reports have suggested that he's looking for a monstrous contract, maybe even aiming to become baseball's first $300 million player.
With any deal for a player of Cano's stature, we're essentially guaranteed a minimum of seven years, and recent trends suggest that elite position players -- Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder most notably -- have enough leverage to demand eight-, nine- or even 10-year contracts. Joey Votto got a 10-year deal from the Reds when he was two years from free agency, effectively making that a 12-year commitment, and he didn't even have the leverage of other teams bidding up his price. However, those three players all play first base, and their value comes almost entirely from their hitting skills.
Cano is a second baseman, and while he's an amazing hitter relative to other second basemen, his offense wouldn't be as impressive at a less demanding position. A significant part of Cano's value comes from the fact that he can play an up-the-middle position, and teams have historically not paid the same price for defensive value as they have for offensive value. Especially when it comes to signing a player into his late 30s -- Cano just turned 31, so even an eight-year deal would take him through his age-38 season -- teams have historically been skeptical about betting on up-the-middle players sustaining their value, at least relative to the bets they are willing to make on players who derive their value from standing at the plate and hitting the ball really far.
So, how big a contract could Cano command in the open market, and how legitimate are the concerns about up-the-middle players breaking down?