Half-full, half-empty: Robinson Cano

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
9:43
AM ET
Robinson Cano is clearly the best free agent available. The question: Will there be another team bidding against the Yankees? The Dodgers already signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero, and their next big contract is likely to be an extension for Clayton Kershaw. The Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia and the Phillies are locked into Chase Utley. The Tigers have an opening at second base, but if they do decide to hand out another eight-figure contract, it's more likely to go to Max Scherzer than Cano.

Who does that leave? One dark horse team: the Rangers. Yes, they're already overcrowded in the middle infield with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, but they could sign the 31-year-old second baseman to add a needed left-handed bat, and then trade Kinsler and Profar to fill other holes. Texas has the money. With Nolan Ryan out of the picture, perhaps new controlling owner Ray Davis is looking to make a big splash.

Let's look at Cano from a half-full and half-empty perspective.

Half-full

I wrote about Cano's free agency back in September, comparing him to other great second basemen of recent vintage and how they fared from ages 31 to 35. Of course, a deal for Cano is likely longer than five years, but most of his value will come in those first five seasons.

From ages 28 to 30, Cano accumulated 20.7 WAR, nearly seven per season. Along with Prince Fielder, he's the most durable player in the game, having missed just 14 games over the past seven seasons. He has a nice all-around game, built around the ability to hit for average and power with above-average defense at second base. He doesn't strike out at an excessive rate. Cano has the attributes of a player who should age well, and his bat is strong enough that you can move him to third base or first base down the road if his range declines. It makes him less risky on a long-term deal than an injury-prone player such as Josh Hamilton, or a first baseman such as Fielder or Albert Pujols.

As for the other second basemen, they had a mixed bag of productivity, but the big positives to look at in this situation are Joe Morgan, who won back-to-back MVP Awards at 31 and 32, and Jeff Kent, a player more similar to Cano than Morgan, who had a strong run into his late 30s and won an MVP Award at 32.

Ignoring position, a very similar hitter to Cano is Matt Holliday. From 28 to 30, Cano hit .309/.371/.533, for an OPS+ of 142, while averaging 56 walks and 94 strikeouts per 162 games. From the same ages, Holliday hit .315/.397/.529, an OPS+ of 142, and averaged 77 walks and 108 strikeouts. (For Holliday, that span included one season in Colorado, one in Oakland/St. Louis and his first post-free-agent season with the Cardinals.)

From 31 to 33, Holliday has hit .297/.385/.503. Cano is a more valuable player than Holliday -- he plays a premium defensive position and plays it well -- but Holliday gives you a good idea that Cano should keep putting up big numbers as a hitter. A second baseman who can hit around .300 with 25 or so home runs for the next five years? Plus whatever he does after that? That's a $175 million package a team won't regret.

Half-empty

The half-empty approach is pretty easy: Roberto Alomar. His all-around game may have been even better than Cano's because his repertoire included speed. We all remember what happened to Alomar: He was still an MVP candidate at 33, hitting .336 with 20 home runs for Cleveland. At 34, he hit .266 with 11 home runs. At 35, he hit .258 with five home runs. At 36, he was done.

Do you want to spend $175 million for a guy who may only give you three great seasons?

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Durability is also no guarantee of future success. Look at Pujols. He was only a year older than Cano when he hit free agency and had been a very durable player with the Cardinals. Since joining the Angels? Not so much. Or Cal Ripken. He won his second MVP Award at age 30. He remained durable, but from 31 to 35, he averaged 3.9 WAR per season -- good, certainly, but not great. Or Ryne Sandberg, another second baseman. From 28 to 30, he averaged nearly six WAR per season. He was great at 31 and 32. Like Cano, he played 155-plus games every year. But at 33, the injuries set in and he was never as productive again.

No matter how good the résumé looks, signing any player in his 30s to a huge, long-term contract is unlikely to pay dividends on the back end. Cano may be terrific for a couple seasons and that's it. Just ask the Angels how that Pujols deal is working out.



David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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