New York Yankees president Randy Levine said the club wants to re-sign impending free agent Robinson Cano (duh) but that "nobody is a re-sign at any cost." Much is being made of that statement, but it's really the obvious thing to say, right? The Yankees are simply stating they have a dollar amount they won't cross; in other words, they don't want to get sucked into an Albert Pujols-type contract. What we don't know is what that line is: $150 million? $180 million? $200 million?
One thing I like to do is to compare a player to similar players. In Cano's case, it's a pretty short list. We haven't seen many second basemen with his power and other abilities. Here are the best comparisons from recent decades, how those players performed from ages 28 to 30 (Cano is in his age-30 season) and how they fared from 31 to 35. We're using WAR and offensive WAR (oWAR) from Baseball-Reference.com.
Robinson Cano, ages 28-30: 20.7 WAR (18.5 oWAR)
Strengths: Hitting, power, durability, defense
Weaknesses: Grounds into a few too many double plays?
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of Cano's game is that he's out there every day. He's missed one game this year and just 14 over the past seven seasons. Remarkable durability.
Chase Utley, ages 28-30: 25.0 WAR (18.8 oWAR)
Strengths: Hitting, power, defense, on-base ability
Utley was every bit the hitter Cano was at this age -- Utley had a 139 OPS+ to Cano's 141. Utley's overall value is much higher due to his defensive metrics, which helped make Utley the second-most valuable player in baseball over these three seasons behind Pujols. While Utley did miss 30 games in 2007, his injury history was pretty solid at this point: 160, 159 and 156 games played in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
Utley, ages 31-34: 16.0 WAR (12.4 oWAR)
Utley hasn't reached his age-35 season yet, so that overall WAR will go up a bit. Of course, since turning 31, he's battled injuries every season and has averaged just 104 games per year (with a few more remaining in 2013). Basically, a warning that even durable players can break down after 30.
Jeff Kent, ages 28-30: 11.0 WAR (9.7 oWAR)
Strengths: Power, hitting, strong arm, RBI guy
Weaknesses: Washing trucks
Kent had a breakout season with the Giants in 1997 at age 29 after coming over from Cleveland for Matt Williams. He knocked in 121 runs in 1997 and 128 in 1998, the first two of what would be eight 100-RBI seasons in nine years.
Kent, ages 31-35: 25.6 WAR (25.9 oWAR)
Kent would have a peak season in 2000 at age 32, winning the NL MVP Award. Kent would remain a solid player through age 37, and a good hitter through his retirement at 40, although his range in the field had obviously deteriorated by then.
Roberto Alomar, ages 28-30: 12.5 WAR (11.9 oWAR)
Strengths: Hitting for average, speed, defensive reputation
Weaknesses: Defensive metrics
These were his Baltimore years, 1996 to 1998. He hit .328 in '96 and .333 in '97, although he played just 112 games. After a down year in 1998, he signed as a free agent with Cleveland.
Alomar, ages 31-35: 20.7 WAR (22.3 oWAR)
Alomar had maybe his best season with the Indians in 1999, finishing third in the MVP vote, and another big year in 2001, finishing fourth in the MVP vote. His decline began with the Mets in 2002, his age-34 season and he was done by 36. A warning that even great players don't always remain great past their early 30s.
Craig Biggio, ages 28-30: 16.4 WAR (17.1 oWAR)
Strengths: Hitting for average, speed, durability, power, getting hit by pitches
This covers 1994 to 1996, so Biggio loses some value due to the shortened seasons of '94 and '95. At his best, Biggio didn't quite have Cano's power, but had more speed and better on-base skills (four times he had an OBP over .400, which Cano has never done).
Biggio, ages 31-35: 25.5 WAR (25.3 oWAR)
Biggio lasted forever, although his last great season came at 33. From 34 to 37 he averaged 1.9 WAR per season. This could highlight the dangers of a seven- or eight-year contract. The first four years may work out great, but what about the back end?
Ryne Sandberg, ages 28-30: 17.8 WAR (16.7 oWAR)
Strengths: Power, speed, defense, durability
Weaknesses: Didn't walk a whole lot
Sandberg led the NL with 40 home runs at age 30 in 1990 and ranked third among NL position players in WAR.
Sandberg, 31-36: 22.2 WAR (18.2 oWAR)
Sandberg didn't play in his age-35 season (he retired and then returned), so we're counting his age-36 year. He remained a great player at 31 and 32 -- finishing second in the NL in WAR both years among position players (behind Barry Bonds). In 1993, Sandberg broke his hand in spring training and missed time early that season. He hit over .300 but without the same power and was never the same player again.
Joe Morgan, ages 28-30: 27.2 WAR (24.5 oWAR)
Morgan was probably the best player in baseball over those years, putting up great numbers at a time when a lot of middle infielders couldn't hit.
Morgan, ages 31-35: 30.8 WAR (32.0 oWAR)
Morgan took his game to a new level in 1975 and 1976, when he was 31 and 32, earning 11.0 WAR and 9.6 WAR and winning the MVP Award both seasons. He wasn't as good after that, although he retained excellent on-base skills, and averaged 3.2 WAR from ages 33 to 37.
* * * *
What can we take from this? It's mostly a positive list, I think. Obviously, the longer the contract, the more risk for the Yankees. Cano will finish 2013 at about 7.0 WAR. From ages 31 to 35, our group averaged 23.3 WAR, or 4.9 per season. It gets a little dicey after that. Assuming it would take a seven-year contract to sign Cano, his future could look something like this:
Age 31: 7.0 WAR
Age 32: 6.0 WAR
Age 33: 5.0 WAR
Age 34: 5.0 WAR
Age 35: 4.0 WAR
Age 36: 3.0 WAR
Age 37: 2.5 WAR
That's giving him 27.0 WAR over the next five seasons plus some decent value at 36-37. At about $6.5 million per win on the free-agent market, you're looking at a seven-year, $211 million deal.
Is that above or below Randy Levine's line?