This weekend’s events have yet to register with me. Robinson Cano is not a member of the New York Yankees. When Cano first signed with Roc Nation and Jay Z, I figured that this was a way of saying that he wanted to stay in New York. I guess I was wrong, as he now supposedly made remarks about not liking Joe Girardi batting him second. Cano’s reasoning was that he wouldn’t get as many RBI opportunities in the two hole, and thus his free agent value would fall.
It’s also been rumored that Cano has felt the team underappreciated him, which likely comes from their relatively low contract offer. But branding-wise, he was never the guy in New York, where Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez always found a way to hog the spotlight. Fans were also unsympathetic towards his weaknesses, and often criticized him for a lack of hustle.
In fact, you could see why Cano would feel unliked by the organization from the very beginning. The Yankees shopped him often over his early career. Of course, they had good reason. Cano wasn’t really an elite prospect, and it wasn't until later that he developed at the major league level. Yet, Cano was better than Jeter and Rodriguez for a majority of the last five seasons. Unlike the rest of their stars, Cano was durable, a player you can rely on to right your lineup for the entire year.
After looking at the Yankees future payroll obligations via Baseball-Reference, Excel/Tableau wizard Jason Rosenberg made this graphic depicting the team’s payroll moving forward. [Note, these mainly represent real salaries and not AAV. This graphic also excludes bonuses and some low-end estimates for the kids down at the bottom of the chart. Also, given the lack of visibility in new deals to McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran, the AAV was used.]
It looks as if the Yankees have a ton of money coming off the books within the next three years. Next year Derek Jeter, Ichiro, Brett Gardner, and David Roberston are all free agents. I don’t see all of them coming back, maybe two of them at most. Then Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and possibly CC Sabathia’s contracts are off the books in 2017. (Sabathia has a $25 million vesting option with a $5 million buyout.) In 2018, Sabathia will most definitely be a free agent, as will Alex Rodriguez.
The Yankees could have signed Cano to a contract similar to the one he signed with the Mariners. They only have four players signed through 2017 and only two through 2018 at the moment. However, management wasn’t ready to hand over another 10 year deal similar to what they did with Rodriguez.
Overall, I have no problem with how things were handled by both sides. It’s hard to fault the Yankees because they stuck to their plan and didn’t repeat the mistake of the Rodriguez contract. And it's hard to blame Cano for taking an offer worth $65 million more.
Now the Yankees are forced to move in another direction, a direction that has gotten them Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran. It’s likely a strategy that could also involve Masahiro Tanaka, assuming he is posted. If not, they’ll explore other options. The decision to not give into Cano has given the Yankees financial flexibility. And even outside of this offseason, the team now has the opportunity at obtaining many good players that may hit the free agent market within the next three years.
Next year the Yankees may find a Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez replacement in Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, and/or Chase Headley. They may also set their sites on Clayton Kershaw if the Dodgers do not extend him during the season. In 2016 players like Ian Desmond, Jason Heyward, and Yoenis Cespedes stick out. Then the top free agents of 2017 could be Giancarlo Stanton and Stephen Strasburg.
I’m not a fan of doing this and would normally never condone it, but there are reasons to dream about the future free agent markets. The Yankees lineup could look like this by 2017.
As for the team in 2014, the Yankees lack familiarity. Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner are the only two homegrown players in the Yankees lineup. If you consider the fact that Jeter may not be himself this year and Gardner may be traded, then this team is really going to be different. Last season, the fans had little connection with the team because of injuries. This year, the fans lack a connection with the team because it’s mostly made up of free agents.
When Boston went on their own free agent run last season, a core of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Jacoby Ellsbury remained. The Yankees don't have this strong core any longer, so it will be hard to judge how good this team can be next season. It’s going to be interesting to watch who rises up as The Guy on this Yankees team.