- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- Robinson Cano finished in the top six in the American League MVP vote in each of his final four seasons as a Yankee. He won five Silver Sluggers as the best hitting second baseman in the AL. He earned two Gold Gloves.
In 2012, he was second in Wins Above Replacement in all of baseball. In 2013, he was sixth.
This would suggest he was one of the most irreplaceable players in the game. And one the Yankees rarely had to think about actually replacing, as he appeared in 159 or more games in each of his final seven seasons.
On Tuesday night, he will return to Yankee Stadium for the first time as a Seattle Mariner. A star player fleeing the Bronx for more money elsewhere is a rare occurrence in the Yankee Universe. It has ignited a vast array of opinions and emotions.
Most of all, Cano left behind an interesting pair of questions: What was his Yankees legacy? And will you boo him upon his Yankee Stadium return?
@AndrewMarchand cheer - he was a great player while here and helped win a championship. He made a business decision
— Matt Elias (@maelias33) April 28, 2014
The Captain’s view: Surrounded by reporters late on Sunday afternoon, Derek Jeter had a question.
"Who do you write for?" Jeter asked an unfamiliar face.
"The Star-Ledger," the reporter said.
Jeter then explained: "If the Post offered you twice as much, I'm sure you would be at the Post. You know what I'm saying? It is a business. Sometimes people lose sight of that. It is not too often that guys get an opportunity in any sport to play with one team their entire careers. It is a business. It is a business on both sides. It is not just the players' side; it is also the organization side. So as much as people would like to see guys stay with one particular team, it doesn't always happen."
The Yankees’ best contract offer to Cano was $175 million over seven years. He ultimately signed with the Mainers for 10 years and $240 million.
"I think he will get a good reaction," Jeter said. "One thing with Yankee fans, they remember guys' history. Especially guys who have won championships, they always seem to be remembered as heroes here in New York. That's what it seems like."
@AndrewMarchand baby A-Rod
— Jordan (@HeirJordan213) April 23, 2014
Running to first base: Cano did not always run hard to first base. When he made a play in the field, he would often throw the ball in a manner that seemed nonchalant, but he was almost always accurate.
During the 2008 season -- Cano’s worst in the majors -- Joe Girardi pulled him from a meaningless September game, saying you have to “play hard.” From then on, the Yankees publicly defended Cano until near the end.
GM Brian Cashman repeatedly said he never had a problem with Cano's effort going to first. Girardi would excuse Cano until the final day of the 2013 season, on the eve of free agency no less, when the manager, going against his policy of revealing private conversations, said he had spoken to Cano about not hustling.
The optics of Cano’s perceived lack of hustle were awful, but no one could actually point to a game where it cost the Yankees a win. While Dustin Pedroia’s all-out, dirty-uniform style is often presented as the antithesis of Cano's, Pedroia has averaged 141 games over the past seven seasons compared to Cano's 160.
"I often have said the one thing that was maybe overlooked was his toughness," Girardi has said. "You saw plenty of times where he would get hit by a pitch and wouldn't think he would play the next day and he would. That was Robbie."
@AndrewMarchand Lazy, egotistical money-grubber
— nick (@BrahNick) April 23, 2014
Early BP: Four or five hours before first pitch, hitting coach Kevin Long throws extra batting practice on many days during the season. Of all the stars on the Yankees, Cano was the only one regularly getting in extra swings.
He and Long perfected a special drill. In it, a protective screen was placed in front of home plate to help hone Cano's swing such that the balls he pulled would stay in fair territory.
"I have nothing but respect for how he played here," Long said. "He left a legacy here and deservedly so. He played his butt off."
Long made some noise in spring training, however, when he used the word "dog" to describe Cano's effort.
"If somebody told me I was a dog, I'd have to fix that," Long told the Daily News. "When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that's your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to."
Cano and Long talked shortly after. Long explained he was not trying to offend Cano. Cano forgave him, according to Long, saying the two should "move on."
Long has had a lot of successes as the Yankees hitting coach, such as reinventing Curtis Granderson in 2010 and helping lesser players like Lyle Overbay. But Cano’s talent was enhanced by the work he and Long did together.
"I'm hoping [the fans] appreciate what he did here and how he played," Long said.
@AndrewMarchand I will boo him! He was never a real Yankee!
— Neil Cramer (@nkcramer) April 28, 2014
His moment: Cano never had a singular, signature Yankees moment. He was part of the 2009 world championship, fielding the final out. But he hit .193 during the title run.
He never hit much in the playoffs. In 51 games, he sported a .222 average with eight homers and 33 RBIs. His OPS was .686. However, he wasn't without his hot streaks, maybe most memorably at the end of 2012 when he dominated September, treating the majors like Little League, including batting .615 over his last nine games.
He won a Home Run Derby and had some big hits, but none that really stuck out. Still, he is probably the greatest second baseman the franchise has ever had.
@AndrewMarchand Arguably their best 2B of all-time. Very close between him, Lazzeri, Gordon & Randolph. At his best, better than all of 'em.
— Pinstripe Alley (@pinstripealley) April 23, 2014
Not a Jordan: Cano was always a Scottie Pippen to Jeter's or Alex Rodriguez's Michael Jordan -- an excellent second banana but never the star of the Yankees. Now, united with Jay Z, he is the main man in Seattle. Including a Monday appearance on "The Tonight Show," he seems to have set himself up for much of what he always wanted, except for maybe the winning.
The season has begun basically how everyone predicted: Cano is hitting .301 with a homer and 11 RBIs, while the Mariners are fourth in the AL West at 10-14.
@AndrewMarchand Playing for SEA is punishment enough - Enjoy obscurity
— Joe Schmoe (@Joes_Eat) April 28, 2014
Unfinished business: There is no neat way to tie Cano's Yankee legacy together.
— Sean Cawley (@Cawley5) April 23, 2014
It is incomplete. Right now, the departure seems greater than what he accomplished in pinstripes. He was the Yankees' most productive player the past seven years, but the divorce has overshadowed the good times.
On Tuesday night, he will return where he accomplished so much and not enough. He is back for a class reunion and will find out how his exes truly feel about him.