Cano and Yankees an uneasy divorce

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
12:27
AM ET
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees are doing just fine, thank you, without Robinson Cano.

And whether he is completely happy with his decision or not, Cano is very happy in Seattle at least two days a month -- the days when the Mariners cut his biweekly checks that at the end of a decade will add up to $240 million.

[+] EnlargeJeter/Cano
Elsa/Getty ImagesDerek Jeter and Robinson Cano, now ex-teammates.
But boy, how much better off would the Yankees and Cano be if they were still together?

Cano and the Mariners beat the Yankees 6-3 Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. But at 15-11, the Yankees are still playing the second-best ball in the American League and still lead the AL East by two games. So no one can say that the loss of Cano has made the Yankees a bad team.

But neither has the addition of Cano made the Mariners a great team, nor is it likely to any time soon. They've got some good young players, but a heck of a long way to go before they can be considered a team to reckon with in the tough AL West. (I am pretty sure they will, however, finish ahead of the Houston Astros).

The 2014 Yankees are certainly a better team than the 2013 Yankees were, in just about every area.

With the notable exception of second base.

This is not a knock on Brian Roberts, who did not have a good game Tuesday, but a mere restating of the obvious: Replacing Cano with Roberts was a serious downgrade for the Yankees, even if they limited him to just one infield hit -- on a broken-bat liner Cano himself easily would have handled -- in five at-bats.

The plain truth is, the Yankees lineup would be a whole lot better with Cano in it, and vice versa.

Everyone seems to know it, including the sparse crowd that turned out at a cold, rainy Yankee Stadium for the express purpose of booing Cano in his first visit to the Bronx as an opposing player.

Manager Joe Girardi characterized the booing as evidence that Yankees fans did not want Cano to leave, and I couldn't agree more.

Frankly, there's no other rational reason for adults to begrudge a player for taking not just a little bit more money, but a whole bunch more -- $65 million, to be exact -- to do the same job he was doing here. Of course, we've all gotten used to the irrational thought processes of many fans, who believe for reasons which defy logic that athletes are obligated to do what's best for their employers rather than for themselves.

Certainly it would have been beneficial for the Yankees had Cano taken their seven-year, $175 million contract offer and spurned the extra three years and $65 million the Mariners were dangling. But it would have been a dumb move by Cano, and there's not one person who was in Yankee Stadium on Tuesday or sitting in front of their television sets who would have done differently.

Cano did what he thought was right for him. The Yankees did what they said was right for them. I can understand both sides of the argument. But honestly, if the Yankees' reason for not giving Cano what he wanted was to keep their payroll under $189 million, they failed dismally. They wound up blowing past their self-imposed salary cap anyway, but without Cano.

So now they have Roberts at second base, for as long as his oft-injured 36-year-old body holds out, hitting ninth in their batting order.

And Cano finds himself surrounded by kids in a lineup that offers him even less protection than last year's Yankees lineup did -- and, for 81 games, hitting in a park a lot less friendly than Yankee Stadium.

Right now it might not be making much of a difference, but if the Yankees make it to October this year, there will be times in a playoff game when you will wish it was Cano coming to the plate and not Roberts. (Yes, I know Cano's last playoff series was miserable and his career average in October, .222, is nearly 90 points below his regular-season average. Still, he would be a better option than most anyone in the Yankees' infield.)

That's why you have to wonder if, in spite of all the smiles at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday -- Derek Jeter even playfully stroked Cano's beard before the game -- there isn't at least a little bit of regret on both sides.

I get that no team wants to give a 31-year-old player a 10-year deal -- especially a team like the Yankees, which has been burned by those before and is in the process of being burned by a couple more as we speak. But for a win-now organization like the Yanks -- which prints money, incidentally -- those concerns are for another time. Cano still has a few good, and maybe even great, years left in him. And what ever happened to the Yankees' philosophy of fielding the game's best player, or close to it, at every position?

Cano certainly still qualifies as that.

Last year, with absolutely no one to protect him in the lineup and no legitimate reason for an opposing pitcher to give him anything to hit, Cano still managed to bat .314, hit 27 homers and knock in 107 runs.

This year he's hitting only .296, with 12 RBIs and twice as many stolen bases (two) as home runs (one). He says he is happy in Seattle, but it's not too off-base to suspect he misses not only the bright lights of New York, but the legitimate chance of going back to the playoffs and maybe even the World Series -- a prospect that seems a few years away, at least, in Seattle.

[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsCano celebrated with his new teammates after the game.
Cano got booed during all five of his at-bats. And while he didn't do anything spectacular at the plate, he drove in the Mariners' first run of the night with a groundout, actually created their fifth run with that infield hit Roberts couldn't handle and stole a base that allowed him to score on Cole Gillespie's seventh-inning single.

Afterward, Cano said he was happy to see his old teammates, and happy to beat them. He did not seem all that disappointed when a Mariners PR representative cut off his postgame interview barely two minutes into it, saying, "Robbie has to go somewhere."

Five minutes later, Cano was nowhere but sitting in the visiting manager's office, staring glumly into his cellphone.

It was impossible to read his thoughts, of course, but would it be too off-base to guess that maybe he was wondering why he was on this side of the building, and not the other side?

The Yankees, too, might have been wondering the same thing.

Back in December, as great a pair as they had been, a Yankees-Cano divorce seemed inevitable, and maybe even necessary.

Now, seeing them apart, it is fair to wonder whether it really needed to happen at all.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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BA LEADER
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OTHER LEADERS
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RBIJ. Ellsbury 67
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