How much for Robinson Cano?

Earlier this week Randy Levine of the Yankees Front Office indicated a willingness to part ways with Robinson Cano should he seek too much money in free agency. Strategically, I don't know why he would say this, unless early negotiations with Cano's representatives were not going well. Over the past four years Cano has only been the best Yankee and one of the best players in baseball. The Yankees should be willing to walk away from Robbie if the money doesn't make sense for the organization, but they shouldn't say that publicly.

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Yankees beat Rays 3-2 in extra innings, avoid sweep in Tampa

The Yankees are probably going to have to win about twenty more games this year if they want to make a run for a Wild Card spot. That's a tall order for any team, particularly one that has struggled to score runs as much as the Bombers have this year. Dropping the first two games of a three game set in Tampa this weekend didn't help the cause. Fortunately the Yankees managed to turn things around in the final game of the series.

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Robinson Cano is swinging a hot bat again

A few years ago I wrote a post about Robinson Cano arguing that he would never win a batting title because every season he's good for a month long slump that pretty much kills his numbers and he has to build them back after the slump comes. In the comments section of the post a Cano fan argued that the single month was the deviation, that eventually Cano would perform to his true talent level for an entire season, and win the MVP, or a similar accolade. I'll say the same thing now that I said then. The month long slump is part of Cano's game.

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Cano Locks Right Back In

June was a pretty mediocre month for Robinson Cano by his standards (.275/.395/.418, .345 wOBA).  The elevated BB rate was nice, but the low average and lack of power were crippling in the middle of the batting order when almost everybody else around him was regressing at the speed of sound.  And Robbie started to hear about it from the fans.  The calls for the Yankees to not re-sign him, foolish as they may be, became greater and the whispers about trading him at the deadline grew louder. Cano has predictably turned things around quickly in the last handful of days.  He's 12-21 in his last 5 games with 4 HR, 8 RBI, 8 R, 1 BB, and not a single strikeout.  The switch has been flipped and he's locked in again.  But what was the real cause of his June swoon?  The guys in the ESPN broadcast booth on Sunday night, John Kruk in particular, were convinced that Robbie was struggling due to him expanding his strike zone and trying to do too much with everybody else around him slumping.  This made little sense to me considering Robbie's BB rate in June was as high as we've ever seen it as 15.8% in 114 PA, and including intentional walks he was given 23 free passes.  You just don't walk that much as a notorious free swinger if you're expanding your strike zone, and the pitch plots from last month agree:

Cano Swing Plot June 2013

Cano Swing Plot 2013 To Date

As you can see, Cano's swing plot from June up top almost mirrors that of his season-long swing plot.  The highest concentration is on fastballs middle of the zone and up, with a noticeable dividing line between where the fastball and offspeed swings happen, and he's still willing to reach out and try to protect the outside corner.  There's some bad swings way low out of the strike zone - nothing new for Robbie - and you could say that there were a few more at low sliders in June, but nothing that qualifies at expanding the zone.

Robbie's plate discipline and swing approach don't appear to have differentiated from one month to the next this season, regardless of how well he hit.  Whatever he was missing in his game last month has been found and he's back to tearing the cover off the ball, at a critical time for the team heading into the All Star Break no less.  The lesson, as always, is have faith in Robbie Cano.  And don't listen to anything John Kruk says.

(Plots courtesy of Texas Leaguers)

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Defending Robbie Cano

Cano vs TOR

Pretend it's the start of the 2013-2014 offseason.  The top free agent available is a lefty hitter in his prime who hits for both plus average and plus power and owns a .307/.351/.503 batting line in 9 career seasons.  He plays an up-the-middle defensive position that the Yankees would desperately need to fill and plays it at a plus level.  He's almost universally regarded as the best player at his position, one of the top 10 players in all of baseball, and has been a perennial All Star, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and MVP candidate for the last 5 seasons.  Oh, and he also fired his agent earlier in the season, the one known for squeezing every last drop he can out of the free agent market, to replace him with a rapper whose ties to New York couldn't be tighter if he was a sidewalk in Times Square.

If you haven't figured it out, that's the situation coming up in about 5 months with Robinson Cano.  And if he played for any other team on the planet, Yankee fans would be pushing each other out of the way to talk about how the Yankees need to go after him this offseason.  I bet I already know what they'd be saying about his flaws to justify why the Yankees should go after him.  His streakiness?  "K-Long would work with him to smooth out his swing and tailor it to Yankee Stadium.  He could hit 40 home runs with that short porch!!"  His tendency to be over-aggressive at the plate?  "Being around guys like Teix and Gardner would help him develop more patience.  It's the Yankee Way."  His perceived lack of hustle on some plays?  "Oh he wouldn't be doing that anymore around guys like Jeter.  Wearing the pinstripes makes you a different player because of all the tradition and ..." blah, blah, blah.

I know I'd be sitting here writing posts about some of that stuff, especially the working with K-Long bit.  And I guarantee a lot of you out there would be saying and doing it too.  You'd all want the Yankees to sign Cano, at some price for some number of years, and you know you would.  So why is it that Robbie Cano has gone on a 3-week slump and suddenly become the new Alex Rodriguez?

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Has anyone else noticed that Robinson Cano is struggling?

It all started so perfectly for Robinson Cano. Robbie, as every reader of this site is well aware, is a free-agent this year. After the performance he's put on pretty much since 2009 Cano is well positioned to be the next MLB Superstar to receive a massive contract, something north of $150 million. Through the end of April that large contract seemed guaranteed. Robbie managed a .413 wOBA and 161 wRC+ in the first month of the season. That kind of performance, over the course of the full 162 games, is how a player like Cano gets paid big money. But then something funny happened on the way to the nine figure payday. Robbie hit a wall. In May is wOBA was just .337 and so far in June its been .242. That's outright bad.

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Kuroda, Cano and Wells combine to beat Royals 4-2

The Yankees swept the Royals today, winning 4-2 on Mother's Day. The real star of the game was Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda didn't strike a lot of batters out, fanning just one, but he only walked one as well, limiting the Royals to six hits over 7.2 innings. With that kind of control, you don't need a lot of strike outs. Kuroda was efficient as well, throwing just 98 pitches. He got into some trouble in the eighth inning, and even got into a verbal spat with the home plate umpire, but none of that was enough to undo a solid performance.

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Cano Holding His Own Against Left-Handed Pitching

Cano HR vs Buehrle (Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod.  Stats have not been updated to reflect last night's game)

In a situation where he was going to be more important than ever, Robinson Cano has done everything the Yankees have needed him to do so far this season.  He's hitting .316/.374/.612 (.417 wOBA) in 107 plate appearances, with a team-leading 7 HR, 17 R scored, 17 RBI, and 1.3 fWAR.  He hasn't made an error in the field, he hasn't missed a game or even an at-bat due to injury, sickness, or whatever, and he's looked every bit worth the 9-figure salary he's sure to get at some point.  There are plenty of other kudos to hand out to other players on the team for the job they've done, but it's more than fair to say that without Cano this team would not be off to the 15-9 start it is.

Before the season, I dissected Cano's poor 2012 performance against left-handed pitching, a statistical anomaly never seen before and a potential cause for concern about Cano's expected offensive productivity moving forward.  He hasn't completely put the issue to bed, but Cano has done enough early on to at least make me believe he's putting last year's issues in the rearview.

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Stronger than expected

It would be an understatement to say that the Yankees started the season flat. But all it took was a couple games in Cleveland for the Bombers to start exceeding expectations. Five wins and five losses is far from a hot start, but it leaves the Yankees just one game behind the Red Sox for the AL East lead, and it is precisely the kind of performance the Yankees need to remain in the hunt until Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter return. Most of the focus has fallen on Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, new Yankees who have gotten off to unsustainable hot starts to help keep the team competitive, but the best two players on the team have been old hands: Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia. Cano started the season right where he left things off in the playoffs. He was ice cold. Since the opening round versus Boston, however, Robbie has caught fire. He's put together as strong a 10 games as any in his career, posting a .434 wOBA. If there has been any weakness to Robbie's game throughout his career it has been his risk to start slowly in the cold months. So far it looks like Cano is getting off to a hot start, and the Yankees will be the beneficiaries.

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What is Robinson Cano really worth?

This is the most important season of Robinson Cano's career. He's established himself as one of the game's premier players. Now, he's about to enter free-agency for the first time. He's even gone out and hired Jay-Z to be his agent. Everything about what Cano is doing indicates that he wants to make a big splash. The numbers being tossed around are as large as $200 million. Setting speculation aside for one moment, what would constitute fair value for Cano? If the Yankees were in a position to construct a deal that figured to compensate Cano fairly over the next several season, what would that contract look like? Make no mistake, Robbie is a great player and the best hitter on the Yankees right now (his abysmal start to 2013 aside). The numbers back it up. According to Fangraphs, Cano is the 7th most valuable player in all of baseball since 2009, having accumulated 23.3 fWAR in that time. He's just two wins behind Miguel Cabrera, the best player in all of baseball since 2009, according to fWAR. As a result, Robbie will get his due.

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