Last Winter, Robinson Cano was caught up in a whirlwind of a free agent market.
As a career Yankee, Cano had accomplished everything he could ever dream of. He was a perennial All-Star, a World Series champion, the Yankees’ second basemen, and the belle of the ball in free agency at 31-years-old. He was the best player at his position, arguably one of the best players in baseball, and his contract would set the 2014 market.
Coming with all of those accolades was the presumption that the uber rich New York Yankees would spend to keep him around. This was especially true with Derek Jeter’s retirement coming soon; Cano seemed to be the obvious choice to take over as the face of the Yankees. Career Yankee, never in trouble, good looks, and a sweet swing – he was destined for this.
Cano’s demands were steep, and for good reason, he was betting on himself. He wanted a mega deal. He wanted to be paid like one of the best players in the game and the face of the game’s most storied franchise.
It was rumored that we was seeking a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of $250M. However, because the Yankees were stinging from Alex Rodriguez’s deal and the baseball world was watching the negative PR coming out of the Angels’ camp in regards to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton’s large deals; it appeared to make the Yankees hesitant to give it to him. They offered as much as $175M, but wouldn’t budge for more years or money and Cano wasn’t satisfied.
The rest is history, the Mariners swooped in and stole Cano from underneath the Yankees’ nose with a 10 year, $240M deal. Cano packed up and moved to Seattle to become part of a rebuilding project and everyone in New York and around the country, fans and media alike, kicked him while he was walking out the door.
Yankees’ hitting coach Kevin Long famously got the last word with his statements in an interview: “But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense…”
Blogosphere comments ripped him up and down for choosing to play for a perennial loser Seattle Mariners team: “I can’t wait to see him jog to first base for a game ending double play and the Mariners lose he’s also not someone who’s going to sell tickets he’s not Jeter or Mariano or even Arod when he was in his prime those are the type of players people want to see. Good luck losing in Seattle you lazy bum!!”
In all of this vitriol and anger, however, the Yankees organization and fans seemed to forget a couple of things:
- Robinson Cano is very good
- Robinson Cano is a marketable player
- Robinson Cano is better than Brian Roberts
While Robinson Cano was helping his new, progressing Mariners team, compete for the playoffs. The Yankees were struggling to keep up.
Ultimately, Cano compiled a 6.7 WAR in his first season and the Mariners missed the playoffs by one game with an 87-75 record. With Cano, the Mariners had improved from 71-91 the year prior to nearly making the playoffs. One man really can make a huge difference.
Meanwhile, the Yankees could have severely used his help in making their own playoff run as they went 84-78 while Brian Roberts and Martin Prado combined for a 3.6 WAR. The difference between these two teams being almost precisely one Cano.
While all of this was going on, the shouts heard from the angry crowd that kept kicking at Robinson Cano began dying away. I think everyone began to realize what type of difference Robinson Cano did make to that team. The Yankees no longer had the middle of the order punch that they once had. They no longer had a man who hit 25+ homeruns five years in a row. They no longer had the slickest fielding and one of the most consistent and healthy second baseman manning the right side of their infield – Cano had played in 1,277 of his last 1,296 games – and, with Jeter on his retirement tour, they would soon no longer have a face.
Fact: The New York Yankees no longer have a face.
In 2015, when you think of the New York Yankees, who are you going to relate with? Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia? My thought is that you likely don’t care about any of them. Teixeira’s injury prone, Rodriguez is a cheater, Ellsbury’s a Red Sox, and CC’s on the decline. Robinson Cano is the one player that could have transcended the Derek Jeter era and the Yankees chose to end that relationship.
Per Fortune’s 50 Richest Athletes list, only one MLB player made more in 2014 than Robinson Cano’s $3M in endorsements.
The below is the list of endorsement money made by those top 50 players:
- Derek Jeter – $8.5M
- Robinson Cano – $3M
- Albert Pujols – $2.5M
- Joe Mauer – $1.3M
- Ryan Howard – $1.1M
- CC Sabathia – $1.0M
*No other player on this list had more than $1M. Other members of the list include: Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, etc. Mike Trout & Bryce Harper are not on the list and I cannot find any information on their endorsements
Robinson Cano, despite what the Yankee fan I quoted above states, is a household name. People know who Robinson Cano is and who he plays for. As far as baseball marketing goes, with Jeter now done, he may be the most marketable player in all of baseball.
This appears to pose a problem for the Yankees. The team appears to have less direction than it used to. It’s no longer the force it once was as the team has stepped aside and let the Dodgers become more Yankee than the Yankees. In fact, the Dodgers might even be better at it – they have a top notch minor league system to feed the big league club.
This is where Robinson Cano should finally step up and say “I told you so. I told you I was worth it.” However, since you know he won’t – it would hurt his brand – I’ll do it for him.
To the Yankees and the Yankee fans: Letting Robinson Cano go was a really bad choice. You let go of the best second baseman in the game. You let go of your past. You let go of your identity. Robinson Cano really did tell you so.