Of the many holes in the Yankees lineup, none is bigger than second base. And of the Yankees many offseason targets, none is more problematic than Robinson Cano.
He is the market’s most expensive free agent, yet the Yankees are trying to cut payroll. He would fit the Yankees’ greatest positional needs, but the team can hardly make him a singular focus. He’s the second baseman the Yankees want, the hitter they need, and the guy they might have to let go.
Re-sign him or replace him, neither is going to be easy, and either could define the franchise for the next decade.
Bill Madden wrote in today’s Daily News that the market for Cano seems nonexistent at the moment. Teams are either scared of his asking price or prioritizing other targets. Maybe that will spur Cano to re-sign quickly, but more likely it will encourage him to wait. At some point, that market has to correct itself. If teams are currently afraid of his asking price, they’re going to eventually become encouraged by the fact he’s still on the market. Other plans will fall through and Cano will be there, one of the game’s best hitters perfectly available.
How often does the offseason’s top free agent sign in the middle of November? Does that ever happen? Doesn’t it always take time?
Problem is, the Yankees don’t have the luxury of time. They have too many holes to fill, too many decisions to make. Cano is a natural fit — middle infielder, middle-of-the-order hitter; two massive Yankees needs — but if he’s not going to re-sign, it will require such a change of direction that the Yankees will need significant time to put all of the crumbling pieces into place.
Right now, the Yankees lineup is built around Cano. Mark Teixeira and Alfonso Soriano are power hitters, but they aren’t necessarily No. 3 hitters. Alex Rodriguez isn’t that kind of hitter any more, and even he might not be available next season. The free agent market doesn’t offer any third basemen or shortstops who can come close to replacing Cano’s production, leaving right field and catcher as the only positions where the Yankees can begin making up ground, but if Cano takes his time, the market’s best alternatives could come off the board before the Yankees realize they have to move on to Plan B.
So why not acknowledge there’s no time to wait, move on preemptively, and spend the Cano money elsewhere? Because Cano fits too well.
Yes, he’s going to cost a fortune, but that’s the cost of doing business in the free agent pool. Cano has put himself in a position to cash in, and the Yankees have not put themselves in a position to easily move on. Cano presents an opportunity put a star player in a position that’s usually a weakness (how many MVP-types play second base?). It’s also a position where the Yankees have absolutely no one in the minor league system who looks like a future all-star. Rob Refsnyder is probably the system’s best minor league second baseman, and even his best-case scenario seems to be geared toward becoming a solid on-base guy, not game-changer. The Yankees have promising catchers and outfielders — even some good young pitchers — but second base is thin. It’s always thin.
For the Yankees, second base is the position with a greatest downgrade potential. It’s a position of little or no organizational strength. It’s a position with an obvious solution that presents its own unique challenges and difficulties.
Second base has been a strength for the Yankees, and now it’s a problem for the Yankees. Both because of Robinson Cano.
Associated Press photos