If… [Robinson] Cano is insistent on foregoing free agency, maybe the Yankees will get a deal done now instead of next winter, and perhaps they’ll get off (say) five-percent cheaper than they would have had Cano actually solicited outside offers… If that is the bottom line, it’s bad news for the Yankees. Cano is a very good player, albeit one who sometimes seems as if he’s just going through the motions, but he’s also a relatively slow player at the physically demanding position of second base. For the most part, second basemen do not descend from their peak in slow, gentle fashion—they fall off hard. Given Cano’s lack of speed, when he loses half a step, and that’s likely to happen somewhere in the next three or four years, it’s really going to tell.
As long as the Yankees were prepared to keep spending $200 million or more on players, they could survive contracts like [Alex] Rodriguez’s, but as the team’s current lineup suggests, if you’re going to draw the line on payroll but have huge blocks of it tied up in just a few players, your flexibility vanishes. The Yankees have seven players making $15 million or more this season, including Cano. In the absence of a fertile farm yielding above-average, minimum-salary players, you have no ability to cope with injuries, free-agent defections, or players aging out of their value. There is little to do but wait for the contracts to end and hope the farm system can cover the gaps.
The Yankees are in that position now. A second baseman in his thirties is that situation waiting to happen. Cano has been of great value to the Yankees. Albert Pujols was of great value to the Cardinals and Josh Hamilton was of great value to the Rangers, and yet both were willing to move on rather than get stuck with the players’ decline phases. The Yankees shouldn’t be any different in this regard. Being in New York doesn’t make them immune to the realities of player age and injury, and now that they’ve gotten budget-conscious, it doesn’t protect them from their own mistakes, either.
The irony of Cano being represented by [Scott] Boras was that, as much as they might have dreaded dealing with him, had he succeeded in getting Cano to test the market, he might have protected the Yankees from their own self-destructive impulses. Now that he’s gone and Cano has, presumably, more conciliatory representatives in Jay-Z and [Brodie] Van Wagenen, they’re in much deeper trouble.