- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- The sight of mending stars Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson working out Saturday at Yankee Stadium was supposed to be a reminder that help could be on the way soon for the Yankees. But it was just as easy to see it as a blast of reality. Especially when a New York Post reporter kiddingly asked Jeter -- who turns 39 on Wednesday -- whether he was back in town to play in Sunday's Old-Timers' Day game. Then the Yankees' lineup went up on the clubhouse wall.
The nostalgia for both players is nice. But it was hard to look at the low-wattage names the Yankees rolled out against Tampa Bay on Saturday and avoid thinking the longer the Yankees get a taste of having to get by like this, the better it looks to give Robinson Cano the long-term contract he wants.
Ladling out too many contracts like the one Cano is going to command after this season explains how the Yanks ended up with so many threadbare lineups and Band-Aid pickups in the first place this season. The organization has decided to hit the pause button on letting the payroll skyrocket any more. And yet the temptation to do exactly that becomes greater -- not less -- the more you project things forward.
Granderson isn't likely to be re-signed here. Jeter can't play forever -- although he'll try. But neither Jeter nor Alex Rodriguez is likely to spend his late-career years carrying the Yankees like they could before. And Mark Teixeira isn't expecting to, either. He's already told us so. In an extraordinarily frank interview he gave to The Wall Street Journal earlier this season, Teixeira made some admissions that could apply to a lot of the Yankees -- including starter CC Sabathia, who was on the mound Saturday for their 7-5 come-from-behind win.
Teixeira said: "To think that I'm going to get remarkably better, as I get older and breaking down a little bit more, it's not going to happen. Maybe I'm slowing down a tick. Eventually you start, I don't want to say declining, but it gets harder and harder to put up 30 [homers] and 100 [RBIs]. ... I'd love to get back to the player that I've always been. But if I hit .250, .260, instead of .280, so be it."
So there's all that in play. And soon.
Then there was the lineup the Yankees ran out Saturday around Cano: two minor league call-ups (David Adams and Zoilo Almonte), three journeymen (Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner and Jayson Nix), an aging-out outfielder who's a short-timer here (Ichiro Suzuki) and a veteran catcher who has never hit anywhere (Chris Stewart). Even the game's hero, Vernon Wells, who hit a bases-clearing double in the seventh to rally the Yanks, had an asterisk attached to him: He'd been struggling badly before manager Joe Girardi sent him up to pinch hit. So did Sabathia's W: Wells saved him from taking a loss for the sixth-inning grand slam he gave up to Wil Myers, who was hitting .190 going into the day.
It's impossible to believe so many names on the Yanks' roster will be allowed to stay this lackluster going forward. That's true. But if those names are just replaced by aging-out versions of A-Rod, Jeter and Teixeira -- with no Cano -- would their production be guaranteed to be much better? Would the Yanks' record be much better than the 41-33 it is now?
It will be fascinating to see which competing concern or dynamics eventually guide the Yanks' decision.
Because there's anecdotal and sabermetrics evidence to suggest it wouldn't be cataclysmic to let Cano walk.
ESPN The Magazine's Sam Miller recently wrote a fascinating story about the "resource curse" that persuasively broke down how young talent -- not spending big money -- wins in today's game.
And look: St. Louis has done just fine since letting superstar slugger Albert Pujols walk. The Rangers have rolled on without Josh Hamilton. The Tigers gave Justin Verlander "Sabathia" money. And good luck to them.
But all those clubs had younger stars or better position players in the minor league pipeline than the Yanks.
Are the Yankees built to even think about not paying Cano, let alone pull the trigger and radically change the money-is-no-object approach to business in the past?
When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman appeared the other day to announce Kevin Youkilis had to have back surgery Thursday, he was asked later in the hallway outside the news conference room whether the prolonged absences of so many of the Yanks' older players have made him rethink certain philosophies of how to build a team going forward. (As in: "I'll never assemble THIS many older players again." Or: "Lock me in a closet if I even mouth the words 'eight-year deal' ever again.")
Cashman shrugged and said, "Nah, not really."
He always has sound reasons for everything he does. Signing Youkilis despite his history of back problems just reflected the "scarcity" of options at that position. Taking a flier on Wells? The Angels are paying part of his contract, remember? Squeezing another season out of 41-year-old Andy Pettitte? At least there's pitching depth in the Yanks' system.
Cashman also doesn't rule out a more substantive move or two as next month's trade deadline gets closer.
But even with all that in play, what to do about Cano is the conundrum that doesn't go away. And it will stay that way after Jeter and Granderson and the Yanks' other big names get back.
It seems like a no-brainer to sign Cano. But is it?
The Yanks' lineups on the wall lately sure make you feel that way.
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