I never wanted Robinson Cano to leave. I said as much on Dec. 7, 2013 when his signing a 10-year deal with the Mariners became real. Coming off an 85-win postseason-less year, the Yankees let the best player on the team, in his prime, leave for money. Just money. The one thing that is supposed to separate the Yankees from every other team.
Cano left the Yankees after a .314/.383/.516 season in which he hit 27 home runs and 107 RBIs when his protection varied between Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki and Lyle Overbay. He left for a 10-year, $240 million offer the Yankees were never going to give him, left the New York City life for the Seattle life and left behind Yankee Stadium for Safeco Field. But what he really left was a big gaping hole at second base and in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup.
Despite missing 14 games total over the previous seven seasons, being a career .309 hitter with four consecutive Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves and finishing in the Top 6 in MVP voting in the last four years, the Yankees decided to lowball their homegrown star with a $175 million offer while gladly overpaying Jacoby Ellsbury with $153 million. So instead of Cano continuing to hit third for the Yankees for the next decade, the Yankees turned a Top 5 hitter in the game, the best all-around second baseman in baseball and a Hall of Fame candidate into Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran.
Since Cano’s departure, second base has been played by Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna, Kelly Johnson, Stephen Drew and Gregorio Petit, a revolving door of reclamation projects and career bench players that have all failed and failed miserably. Roberts was designated for assignment after half a season; Ryan has been hurt and an offensive disaster; Solarte was traded for Brandon McCarthy; Anna may or may not be in baseball anymore (just kidding, he’s playing Triple-A for the Cardinals); Johnson was traded to the Red Sox in a garbage for garbage deal for Drew; Drew hit .150 for the Yankees last year and hasn’t seen .200 this year and hasn’t seen .190 since April 27; Petit was about as good as a 30-year-old with 62 career games entering this season could be. The Yankees remain too scared to permanently put Drew on the bench or move Drew to short and put Didi Gregorius on the bench and let either Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder become the full-time second baseman. This is due to stubbornness and also being worried that Drew might find his .253 career average stroke one of these days even if there’s a better chance of finding a section of seats between the bases at the Stadium completely filled.
The Yankees needed and still need Robinson Cano and Robinson Cano needed and still needs the Yankees. Unfortunately, both were too stupid to recognize this with the Yankees worried about pinching their pennies for their superstar and Cano worried about getting every last penny he could in free agency. Financially, both are better off in their current state, with the Yankees continuning to up the price of everything at the Stadium even without Cano at second and Cano making $24 million per year last year, this year and for the next eight years. But from an on-the-field product perspective and from a wins perspective, which is what every decision should be based upon, the Yankees are without their homegrown talent who was born to hit in the Bronx and their homegrown star is struggling for a second year to find his power stroke for a once-again underachieving team which is closer to last place than first place in the AL West.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would all go back to the beginning of the 2013 season and never let Cano hit free agency. They would never offer him a disrespectful $175 million, while gladly opening up the bank and handing a blank check to Jacoby Ellsbury based off one of his six-plus seasons in the league. Cano would be a Yankee right now, would have been one last year, and would continue to be one for the remainder of his career. Brett Gardner and either Martin Prado or Chase Headley could hit in front of him, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira behind him and either Stephen Drew or Didi Gregorius wouldn’t be on the team. (Just writing it out brought a smile to my face.)
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in one where the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman have made a series of bad decisions based off finances and incorrect talent and scouting evaluations. As a result, we’re left with a Yankees team that is currently first place in a division that will likely be won by a team with a mid-80s win total. It’s not a great Yankees team and compared to other teams in recent years, it’s not even that good, but it’s good enough to win the AL East in a down year, something that AL East hasn’t experienced in forever.
Maybe one day Cano will be back in the Bronx the way Alfonso Soriano made his way back when the Cubs no longer wanted to pay him and the Yankees need a power presence. There will come a day when the Mariners no longer want to pay Cano and with him hitting .246/.290/.337 with two home runs and 16 RBIs, they probably don’t want to pay him now. Maybe that day will come soon when the Mariners need salary relief and the Yankees can do what they should have done all along and pay Cano for the rest of his career.
This week, Cano said, “I would never regret my decision,” but he must and the Yankees must regret theirs. They needed each other and still do. Cano must miss hitting at the Stadium for half the season and the Yankees must miss having the best second baseman in baseball in the middle of their infield and the middle of their lineup. I know I still miss him.