Why The Yankees Should Not Extend Robinson Cano

The Yankees seem to be quietly negotiating with Robinson Cano for a long term contract extension. This is a mistake. I'm not against a Cano extension per se, but I am against a Cano extension, which let's say will cost something like 8 years / $200 million, before the end of the 2013 season. I don't doubt that Cano will hit very well this season, be an MVP candidate, and project to be a strong player for at least the medium term. However, the Yankees do not have sufficient information yet to determine whether or not they can afford to sign him to that kind of mega deal. They need two very key sets of information: First, how do Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez play in 2013? And second, how does the Yankee farm system collectively perform?

The former is important because it will reveal a lot about how the Yankees can expect their assets to perform over the next few years. Under the best case scenario, Teixeira returns to 5+ WAR, very-good-for-a-first-baseman form, CC Sabathia is himself, and Alex Rodriguez proves he can be a productive player post surgery. In this case, resigning Cano makes sense. The Yankee roster is in good health, and won't need many high-priced additions other than Cano in order to compete. And should Cano's career take a quick turn for the worst, they won't immediately have four zombie contracts, just one.

But under the worst case scenario? Teixeira continues to slide into mediocrity, Sabathia's arm continues to show its career workload, and the Yankees fail to get out from under Alex Rodriguez's contract in the middle of a truly terrible performance. All of the sudden, the Yankees' $189 million salary cap starts looking more like $100 million, plus three albatross contracts, without a ton of hope on the roster. At that point, the Yankees need to start thinking about a medium-term strategy that looks a lot more like a rebuilding mid-market club than a traditional Yankee offseason. Cano's contract becomes a deadly risk, where the Yankees are one injury to their star 2nd baseman away from a majority-zombie payroll.

Just as important will be progress on the farm system. If things go well in 2013--meaning Gary Sanchez and two of the outfield crop continue to be great prospects and move up the ranks, Adams and/or Joseph start looking like a Cano backup plan and there is some pitching good news from Hensley, Campos, Ramirez, and Montgomery--the Yankees will have a lot of 2014 options. They can plan a roster with or without Cano based on this extra information. Michael Pineda is also in this category.

Again, I'd argue that good news here makes it easier to sign Cano to a huge contract. If you are more confident that the Yankees can count on the farm for 2-3 lineup spots and a pitcher or two, plus Michael Pineda, they know that they will need fewer dollars allocated to sign mid-level free agents to fill the roster out. They'll have a fairly robust roster even while concentrating their payroll in fewer and fewer players. If there is more bad news on the farm, you start having to spread the free agent dollars out to more positions, instead of spending it all on Cano.

And let's be honest: is there any real benefit to locking Cano up early? He is unlikely to give the Yankees much, if any, discount. If anything, Brian Cashman has shown that he tends to get screwed when negotiating against his own stars and no other team. I can't imagine that even an MVP-caliber repeat of 2012 would change his asking much. The smart decision is to wait and see, and then possibly make an offer to Cano in November, or let him walk.

The Run Prevention Puzzle

For the purposes of this article, we'll need to agree on something. It's not exactly controversial, but asking for agreement on anything baseball related is probably asking a bit too much. This something s the old truism that "a penny saved is a penny earned," but with a baseball twist: a run prevented is a run scored. Indeed, half of the game is dedicated to preventing runs from crossing the plate. Despite our troubles with accurately quantifying the defensive skill and impact of individual players, we all know that those things are tremendously important on both the individual and team levels. Run prevention is a task shared by a team's pitching staff and its defensive player. An imbalance in one of these areas can lead to a lot of runs. But, of course, this is baseball; you can hardly have anything wholly complete or perfect. Having a roster that allows you to excel in just one of those areas can be a defensive blessing. Let's take a look at the Yankee and see where their run prevention strength lies.

The Yankee outfield has the potential to be one of the best in baseball. Brett Gardner is a brilliant left fielder and Ichiro Suzuki, despite advanced age, is still solid in the other outfield corner. The defensive metrics hate Curtis Granderson, but I think they overstate things just a bit; he's not a complete lost cause out there. I can't help but wonder, though, if the team would be better served by swapping Gardner and Granderson. Giving Granderson less ground to over may help to mask his occasional poor reads and could take advantage of Brett Gardner's great range. With that alignment, the Yankees would be well set in one part of the field. Even without it, two out of three spots isn't too bad. But can we say that about the infield? Unless we're being generous, probably not.

Starting with the positives, the right side of the infield is just fine; Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano are among the finest fielders at their positions. The left side of the infield, though, is not nearly as solid. Kevin Youkilis, despite his skill across the diamond, is probably an average third baseman at the absolute best. It's much more likely that he winds up well below that. Additionally, though he's not as bad at third as some make him out to be, Alex Rodriguez isn't going to be mistaken for Adrian Beltre any time soon. For better or worse, Derek Jeter is a reliable fielder. He'll more than likely convert the balls he gets to into outs. The (well documented and well publicized) problem is that Jeter doesn't get to as many grounders as we'd like. Catching defense may be an issue, too. Francisco Cervelli's throwing arm is errant and he's nto exactly a brick wall behind the plate. And regardless of his reputation, I wasn't horribly impressed with Crhis Stewart's defense, so I'm not entirely optimistic about the Yankee catching situation (is anyone?).

Perhaps that was a lot of word to say something pretty simple: the Yankees probably won't be great on defense. They won't be miserable, either, though; hell, Gardner, Tex, and Cano alone can tip that balance. That doesn't mean, though, that the Yankees are lost from a run prevention standpoint. Luckily--well, purposely--the Yankees have a solid pitching staff. CC Sabathia is CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda is #HIROK. Andy Pettitte is Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes is a fine fourth starter. The fifth starter's spot may be a question mark, but four out of five ain't bad, and that's not even including the bullpen. Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte to an extent, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Joba Chamberlain all have the ability to ether get strikeouts, induce weak contact, or both. Those things obviously help defenses immensely, especially the former. Given their home park and their general defensive construction, it makes sense for the Yankees to employ high strikeout pitchers. They may not have all the pieces, but who does? The Yankees won't be the top defensive team in the league, but their pitching should help them complete the run prevention puzzle.

Sickels ranks farm system 14th in MLB

Yesterday, John Sickels of Minor League Ball ranked the Yankees' farm system 14th in Major League Baseball, up two spots from last year's ranking of 16. Sickels comment on the Yankees was as follows:

14) New York Yankees (16): Strengths: quartet of young hitters at the top, with Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Slade Heathcott all potential impact prospects, though all have some questions. Good depth in C+ types behind them. Weaknesses: impact pitching. I don't count Manny Banuelos as an automatic Tommy John recovery. Wildcard: Rafael DePaula, who could vault up lists quickly once he pitches against people his own age.

So they're not blowing the world away, but they're not falling behind, either. The construction of the farm system--at least the top thereof--shows us how quickly things can change in a farm system. Just a few years ago, we were excited about the "Killer B's," pitchers Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and Dellin Betances. Aside from Jesus Montero, the farm was lacking in high-end position players. Now, the top four prospects are all position players with considerable upside. Sickels, of course, went more in depth with each prospect back in December when he named the organization's top 20 prospects. Let's get back to what Sickels said about the Yankees' quartet: they're high end, but they each have some risk. Let's review it for each guy:

1. Gary Sanchez: The bat is legit, but are we going to see him behind the plate? In Jesus Montero, the Yankees have already shown that they're willing to deal a hard-hitting catcher if his skills behind the plate aren't up to snuff.

2. Slade Heathcott: Injuries, injuries, injuries. All the talent is there. All the desire is there (maybe too much?). But the health just isn't there. He's never had more than 351 PA in a professional season and even with an appearance in the Arizona Fall League this year, he finished the year with only 344 PA.

3/4: Tyler Austin and Mason Williams: These are definitely the most polished and least questionable of the two. However, both are so young and far away that any expectations of success are still unwarranted. Though more see it the other way, I'm more of a believer in Austin than I am in Williams. His approach at the plate is clearly advanced and his power/speed potential is certainly enticing. Williams may play the more premium position and is more athletic, but despite that, I'll take the bat every time.

As Yankee fans, we're not used to relying on prospects for anything more than trade bait for a few reasons. The team has long made a habit of signing high-priced, big name talent that blocks prospects from coming up. There has also been a tendency to trade prospects away to acquire that same talent. And frankly, the Yankees just didn't have a good minor league system for a long time. Now, with the expectation of a lowered budget, the Yankees will (finally?) be forced to give their own guys a shot. Many have long clamored for the Yankees to do that, and I surely understand that call. However, giving the young guys a shot simply for the sake of doing so would have been ill-advised and still will be in the future. The difference this time is that the Yankees finally seem to have a group that might be able to be relied upon, even if it's just one of them.

Countdown to Spring Training: 14

There are so many great players in Yankee history and so many great seasons by Yankee players that we sometimes overlook the player and/or the season. Maybe it's because he was more well known with other teams, maybe it's because he was on the Yankees before I was sentient, but sometimes I forget that Rickey Henderson was a Yankee. While his entire career was brilliant--and his time with the Yankees equally brilliant--1985 was the finest of those seasons. What does that have to do with 14? In 1985, Rickey Henderson racked up 9.8 bWAR, good for 14th all time on the Yankees' single season list (he's tied with Babe Ruth). That year, Henderson led the league (shocking, I know) with 80 steals (he was caught just ten times). He also led the league in runs with 146. He led the AL in bWAR (9.8); was fourth in BA (.314); fourth in OBP (.419); seventh in SLG (.516); third in OPS (.934); fourth in walks (99); and second in OPS+ (157). His OPS/OPS+ marks were the second highest in his career, trailing only 1990 (1.016/189). For good measure, he added 24 homers, the second most of his career (28 in 1990 and 1986).

Not surprisingly, Henderson made the All Star team that year and won a Silver Slugger. He did not, however, win MVP. He finished in third place behind George Brett of Kansas City. The winner was Henderson's teammate, Don Mattingly.

Rickey played just eight games in April, and didn't play well, but smacked the ball around for most of the rest of the season. He OPS'd .991 in May; 1.123 in June; and 1.059 in July. He "slowed down" in August and September, but still OBP'd .377 and .401 in those months. In '85, Henderson obviously terrorized everyone, but there were a few exceptions. The only teams that Henderson failed to put up an .800 or better OPS against were the Red Sox (.703); Angels (.715); and Brewers (.699).

Rickey Henderson was a special player and 1985 was definitely a special year for him.