11/6/2013 11:56 P.M. ET
Cano megadeal would defy recent history
Second baseman's talent, Yanks' deep pockets yet to rule out 10-year agreement
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
This is the time of year in which we engage in one of the most popular activities in American society -- spending someone else's money.
So often, in the case of baseball free agency, the money has been that of the New York Yankees. They have had a lot of it. They have not been reluctant to spend it.
It has been a perfect marriage in that sense: their money with our desire to suggest, speculate and opine which players will be purchased and for how many millions.
That brings us naturally to the subject of Robinson Cano, star second baseman, the biggest name in the free-agent class of 2013-14 and, as of Wednesday, the winner of his fourth straight Silver Slugger Award.
Cano's retention seems like a must for the Bronx Bombers. He's been powerful. He's been productive. He's been durable. He's been consistent. There is no serious debate upon these topics.
Moreover, given a Yankees roster upon which age and injury took a pronounced toll in 2013, there is probably no overstating Cano's leverage in this situation. His timing for free agency is impeccable. As an impact player for the current Yanks, Cano seems irreplaceable.
And free agency is no longer the world's largest shopping mall. With revenue and prosperity now spread somewhat more equitably throughout baseball, small-market franchises are able to retain at least some of their most valued players, thus making the free-agent pool a shallower proposition.
All of that is on one side of the ledger, and it is Cano's side. He has the track record, the leverage and the timing for a huge payday. The Yankees may be attempting to keep their 2014 payroll under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, but an immense deal for Cano seemingly cannot be avoided.
So you can understand Cano's agent making his opening position a 10-year deal for a record $310 million. You can understand it, but that does not mean you cannot argue the other side of the question.
The history of free-agent megadeals not only says no; it screams no. It does not accept in silence something like eight years for $220 million, either, but when a deal of that magnitude seems like a compromise, we all understand that the contemporary baseball is particularly robust.
This is not something we can measure in metrics that would take us back five or six decades. The overwhelmingly lavish and long-term contract is a relatively new phenomenon. The sample size may be small, but it demands that you not give a 10-year contract to a player already in his 30s. (Cano turned 31 in October. He got a nice birthday gift, too, a $33,000 watch from his agent, Jay Z, although that's a different column.)
The Yankees already have one of those 10-year deals on the books. That would be the one with Alex Rodriguez, for $275 million. How's that working?
OK, maybe there are some aspects of the A-Rod story that are unique to the individual involved. But the Yanks have to be hoping that at least one year of Rodriguez's contested suspension for violating baseball's drug policy stands. That would save them $26 million on a salary that could reach more than $30 million if some relatively reachable incentives were reached.
Perhaps a more representative situation would be Albert Pujols' 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels. There was some gnashing of teeth in St. Louis when Pujols left the Cardinals after the 2011 season for this windfall. The next two seasons, the Redbirds finished one victory away from the World Series, and then in this year's World Series. The Halos, conversely, finished third in their division twice.
Pujols slumped badly at the start of the 2012 season. In 2013, Pujols was recovering from offseason knee surgery early and was subsequently and significantly hampered by plantar fasciitis, which limited him to 99 games. It is possible to believe he could return to production nearer his career norms next year. But that kind of thing could not be reasonably projected over the life of Pujols' contract.
This example argues and argues vehemently against anything resembling a 10-year contract for any 31-year-old -- even a 31-year-old with Cano's productivity. Cano remains fortunate he is dealing with the Yankees, who may be having a bout of frugality but retain exceptional resources.
But the Yankees have their limits, including the ones imposed by common sense.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.