Moving On Without Robinson Cano

It was pretty weird when Alex Rodriguez left the Mariners for the Rangers. It was weird when Jose Reyes left the Mets for the Marlins, and it was weird when Albert Pujols left the Cardinals for the Angels. There have been unexpected big-money moves in free agency before, but this one feels like it might be unprecedented, given who the Yankees are, and given who the Mariners are and have been. It makes total sense, of course — Robinson Cano couldn’t turn down ten guaranteed years — but the fact of the matter is that the Yankees lost a superstar to a team that’s been an also-ran, a team criticized for not opening up its wallet. This is not what people expected would happen, as little as a month ago.

This is a page of 2014 Steamer projections. You’ll find Cano seventh in projected WAR, between Troy Tulowitzki and David Wright. No matter how you look at it, Cano, right now, is among baseball’s very best position players. The Yankees don’t have him anymore. Look at the rest of that first page of projections and you’ll notice most of the top WAR guys are unavailable. They are, rightfully, under control and difficult to acquire. The Yankees need to figure out life after Robinson Cano, but despite the sequence of events, the team has already started. Really, he’s already been replaced.

That’s going to be the focus in New York, at least among fans and media types. Cano leaves a gaping hole — now Cano needs to be replaced, ideally by someone else who’s really good. It was cute when the Yankees signed Kelly Johnson as insurance, but Kelly Johnson isn’t an infield starter. He’s a potentially helpful reserve, and nothing much more on a team that isn’t the Marlins.

In a sense, the Yankees replaced Robinson Cano before they’d officially even lost him. They didn’t replace him with a second baseman, but, the Yankees reportedly refused to give Cano more than seven guaranteed years. They just the other day gave seven guaranteed expensive years to Jacoby Ellsbury, for a slightly lower total commitment than they were offering to Cano. Ellsbury’s a year younger, and the last three seasons, he and Cano have been of similar value. The only thing holding Ellsbury back is that he missed time with a shoulder injury after being fallen on, and by WAR/600 plate appearances, Ellsbury and Cano have been essentially equivalent. Cano, of course, has been more durable. Cano, of course, is more familiar, and he hits for more power. But Ellsbury does things that Cano doesn’t do so well, and he’s a star on his own right, and even if you like Cano more going forward, the difference can’t be huge. Not reasonably.

The Yankees have lost one star up the middle, and they’ve gained another star up the middle, at a different position. And, hell, as long as we’re here, we’ve got to acknowledge the Brian McCann acquisition, which is a massive upgrade over what the Yankees featured a year ago behind the plate. Combined, the Yankees got Ellsbury and McCann for two more guaranteed years than Cano is getting by himself, and McCann can do everything you want an upper-level catcher to do. He’s outstanding, and probably a bit underrated.

The sequence makes this feel gloomier, because the most recent thing that’s happened is that the Yankees have lost Cano to the Mariners. But imagine that that happened a few weeks ago. Imagine that the Yankees responded by quickly signing both Ellsbury and McCann. That would make the picture better, and it would be exactly the same as the current reality. The hardest work is already done.

But, all right, the Yankees were still in on Cano to the end, implying that there’s still room in the budget and money they intended to give to a star. There is work left to be done, and the Yankees do need to maximize their remaining flexibility now that Cano is off the market. To make sense of the situation, forget about Cano’s name. Forget about trying to get over the loss of a superstar. In the short term, Cano projects to be worth about five or six wins. The Yankees can make that up, without making a decade-long commitment.

A convenient thing about these Yankees is that they’re easily upgradeable. They need a second baseman, now, and the guy to whom they’ve been linked most often is Omar Infante. That’s far from automatic, but the Yankees would be the most likely destination, and just last year Infante was one of the better second basemen in baseball. He projects for a little over two wins, but the last two seasons he’s been worth 3.4 WAR/600 plate appearances. While he’s not Cano, he’s a real starter, which the Yankees don’t currently have. They could land Infante for a modest commitment.

The situation at third base is kind of up in the air, what with the Alex Rodriguez mystery, but without Rodriguez, it’s a hole. The Yankees have been tied to Chase Headley in the past, but that’s never come close to materializing. Interestingly, Juan Uribe is a free agent. He’s 34 years old, and in 2011, he was bad. In 2012, he was bad. In 2013, by our numbers, he was worth 5.1 WAR in 132 games. Of course, Uribe isn’t that good, and word is he’s been looking for a three-year deal, but he’s adequate, and he’s not going to get a three-year deal. If the Yankees feel like they won’t have Rodriguez next season, Uribe would make them better at the the hot corner, even if he wouldn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows.

And then there are the other holes. The Yankees are currently tied to Carlos Beltran, and Beltran could help as a DH/RF who’s better than Alfonso Soriano. Naturally, there’s the question of how much better, and Beltran doesn’t look so good at three years and $48 million, but the Yankees don’t project well at DH or in right field, according to Steamer, so that could be something to target. There’s also Shin-Soo Choo, who’s coming off a year of Uribe/Cano-type value. Choo has his own question marks, and what seems like a broad market, but whenever he signs, it’ll be for a fraction of the Cano commitment. In 2014, Choo should be worse than Cano, but not by a whole lot.

As far as the starting rotation is concerned, there’s word that Hiroki Kuroda might well be on the way back for a year. For an average annual value of about $15 million, the Yankees could probably have their pick of Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez. The new Japanese posting rules seem to make it less likely that Masahiro Tanaka will end up with the Yankees, since more teams will be involved and since more money will count against the payroll, but once that gets going the Yankees could easily end up looking like one of the favorites. It depends on how they position themselves, and on how patient they feel like being. Tanaka has it in him to be a front-of-the-rotation starter for several years, the kind of pitcher the Yankees lack.

Without Robinson Cano, the Yankees ought to be just fine, at least relative to what they’d be with him. They’ll miss him, but really, what they’ll miss is short-term Cano, and beyond the next few seasons he doesn’t project to be elite, or even significantly above-average. And in the short-term, they can make up for Cano by distributing that money in a few different places. It’s worth noting that, when the Mariners lost Alex Rodriguez, they improved. When the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols, they went to the NLCS. When the Mets lost Jose Reyes, they dropped all of three wins. When the Rangers lost Josh Hamilton, they dropped all of two wins. When the Indians lost Manny Ramirez, they gained a win and went to the playoffs. The history isn’t that losing a superstar is devastating. It’s that it’s survivable, and the Yankees have already made two major positive acquisitions.

Instead of Cano’s familiar value, the Yankees can go forward getting different but similar if not superior value. It’s a change, and that’s going to be weird at first, but different doesn’t automatically mean worse. Probably, in truth, this way the Yankees will be better off. That’ll be clearer when the shock goes away.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

105 Responses to “Moving On Without Robinson Cano”

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  1. Dustin Ackley says:

    Hey, why not trade for me?

    +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Jacoby Ellsbury says:

    You do realize that I’m missing at least half the season with a broken/torn/pulled ________.

    -7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. zkolodin says:

    If I’m the Yankees, I’d rather replace Ichiro in the outfield than KJ in the infield.

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  4. Fake Account says:

    Comment relevant to my username.

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  5. Preston says:

    The Yankees offensive players put up a pitiful 10 WAR last season. Even with 6 of it walking out the door there is plenty of room to upgrade. Heck, Brian McCann, Ellsbury and whoever they sign to play second could probably combine for around 10 WAR in 2013. Add in Gardner, a full season of Soriano and a hopefully healthy Teixeira and the Yankee offense is already better than a year ago even without Cano.

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  6. IfAckleyisanUpgradeYouAreHurting says:

    ^

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    • Mariner's Player Development says:

      Take a look at Ackley’s stats after his promotion and some of the changes in his approach, then get back to us.

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  7. Paul_jive says:

    Who hits in the middle of the Yanks lineup other than the rapidly declining Teixeira? There seem to be an abundance of either old sluggers (Tex, Soriano, V Wells) or leadoff types (Ellsbury, Gardner, and Ichiro). Wouldn’t adding Choo just add another leadoff type while doing nothing to solve the puzzle at 3B (sans ARod). I think we need to consider the Yankees’ moves outside of just WAR and also consider lineup construction.

    All in all, it seems odd to me that the Yankees would overpay Ellsbury (who’s a high variance player that has been less than a paragon of health) while not going the extra mile on Cano.

    Also lost in all this is that by the Mariners (one of the 10 worst teams last year) signing Cano, the Yankees get a 2nd rounder as compensation, right? So they give up their first rounder to the Red Sox for Ellsbury and get a 2nd rounder back for Cano. In this whole shuffle the Yankees take a draft pick hit, too.

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    • Tim says:

      Pretty sure the Yankees get a supplemental pick no matter who signed Cano. Compensation picks don’t directly change hands anymore.

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    • Ian R. says:

      Draft pick compensation doesn’t work that way anymore The Yankees lose their first round pick, yes, but it doesn’t go to the Red Sox – it’s just gone. With the Ellsbury signing, they’re effectively losing their second-round pick, because they already gave up their first-rounder to sign McCann. The Red Sox and Braves will get comp picks in one of the supplemental rounds, and the Yankees will do likewise because they lost Cano.

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    • Andrew J says:

      They lose their 1st rounder for Ellsbury, lose their compensation pick they would get for cano for signing McCann, and gain one compensation pick for losing Granderson. All in all they lose one 1st round pick and gain a pick right after the first round (which they lose if they sign another QO guy, like Santana or Beltran)

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      • C says:

        My understanding is that they wouldn’t get a compensatory pick for losing Cano because the Mariners’ draft pick is protected. Do I not understand the rule?

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        • psualum says:

          you do not

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        • Andrew J says:

          they still get a compensatory pick. The fact that the mariners pick is protected just means that the mariners lose a 2nd rounder instead of a 1st rounder. Now that the Yankees are signing beltran, they lose that compensation pick anyways.

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        • C says:

          Thanks Andrew, for the productive response unlike psualum who added 0 value to the conversation.

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  8. Gauss says:

    And when the Mariners lost Alex Rodriguez, the next year they gained 25 wins. And when he left the Rangers they gained 18 wins.

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  9. Dees says:

    Just a quick note that Steamer has Evan Gattis as a four-win player next year, which is, like, wow.

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  10. AK7007 says:

    With the Cano move, I expected you to be fired by now Jeff:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/not/raising-the-dave-cameron-threat-level/

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  11. Cappy says:

    Salty & Grandy signed for a total of 7yrs/$81m combined; McCann and Ellsbury for a total of 12yrs/$238m. Could have used those 5yrs/$157m difference and paid Cano over half his salary.

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  12. Alfie Soriano says:

    Not the biggest stretch, put a platoon of Soriano/K.Johnson at 2B. I suspect Suzuki or Gardner will go in a package deal for a #2 type starter.

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  13. I don't care what anyone says:

    As compensation for the loss of Cano, the Yankees will reportedly refuse the 2014 amateur draft pick and instead require that the Mariners keep Jesus Montero on the 25-man roster for the full length of Cano’s contract.

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    • steve christiano says:

      My Yankee point of view (50 year fan) No doubt Cano is one of the best natural hitters, great swings of this generation. I never liked him in the clutch, I liked Tino, Bernie, Brochus, Paulie, Soreano (remember the 2001 playoffs vs the A’s, game winning home run against the 116 game winning Mariners, go ahead home run against Schilling in game 7) Last year I perfered Soreano than Cano in the clutch, 0-2 count on Cano he would swing at the 4th pitch in the dirt it seems all the time. Pedroia, Elsbury, Ortiz would kill us after an 0-2 count. beltran, elsbury and even mccann are better clutch hitters. we are better off with the new group.

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  14. Kevin M says:

    According to this very website’s calculations, Robinson Cano is the second best player in the Majors over the past 4 seasons, trailing only Miguel Cabrera. Are you still going to try and convince us that Cano and Ellsbury are “essentially equivalent”? Bullshit.

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    • Yes, Cano was much better than Ellsbury in 2010, when Ellsbury got hurt and played 18 games.

      +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • John says:

        Jeff, here’s the thing about Ellsbury and Cano, though. Ellsbury’s 2011 season was incredible and if he can come anywhere near doing that again, I agree with the premise of your article. But the range of possible outcomes for Ellsbury’s production is so large. For at least the next few seasons, it fair to say Cano will be right around a 6-win player.

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  15. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    man… what happened to the comments section on this site?

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    • A Good Sense of Humor says:

      Actually, I enjoyed many of the more humorous comments above.

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    • Bill says:

      Mention the Yankees and the IQ of the commentators drops significantly. No, I have no data backing this up.

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      • Billy says:

        Is that because the Yankees fans are dumb, or because the Yankees attract a lot of haters, and haters are dumb? Maybe a bit of both, but I almost suspect the second one is the bigger factor.

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  16. dl80 says:

    I’m wondering, is there any way the Yankees are now suddenly hoping ARod is not suspended?

    I mean, beyond the drama and hoopla, and without knowing how it would affect their ability to stay under the luxury tax, I’m thinking that the 1 – 1.5 WAR he would provide at 3b (according to projections that expect him to play essentially a full season) would be quite useful to the Yankees.

    I guess it is possible that whatever money they save on ARod would go to other players, but who is left for 3b? Or do they sign Beltran/Infante/assorted pitchers and just punt 3b?

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    • pft says:

      Sure, 27.5 million for 1.5 WAR is what you want. Whats that, 18 million per WAR? Arod probably gives you 3 WAR, but even thats expensive.

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    • Jay29 says:

      You’ve got a good point there. At some point the market dries up and if you have the budget for it, paying $30M for 2 WAR is better than paying $400,000 for -1 WAR. I think they’ll probably wait it out as long as possible before committing much more to the 2014 payroll (read: hold off on signing any FA SPs, if possible, until the A-Rod suspension is upheld).

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      • Baltar says:

        Paying $10M per WAR difference is definitely not better. The Yankees are praying that Rodriguez is suspended.

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        • ValueArb says:

          They are praying for suspension to make their one year window on the luxury tax, not to win more games.

          They win more games with A-Rod at 3b. They don’t get to spend the savings in any meaningful manner to help the 2013 team unless the arbitrator rules a month ago. By the time he does rule and suspend A-Rod for the CBA mandated 50 games, it will be January and they’ll be praying he returns in shape ready to help them.

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  17. Mr. Obvious says:

    Alfie has a really interesting point. Isn’t it possible that the replacement for the Yankees most recent star second baseman is their last star second baseman?

    At his advanced age I don’t know if Soriano can do it, but it’s a fascinating idea, even if unrealistic.

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  18. KJ says:

    No mention of Corban Joseph? Not going to blow you away but he’s had 2 decent seasons on low BABIP. I guess the Yankees don’t have as much luxury to trot out AAAers like the Astros or Marlins do, though.

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  19. Alfie Soriano says:

    Gardner could be a nice chip to land a young number 2 starter with upside freeing up the corners for these platoons:
    vs righties – Soriano LF, Suzuki RF, KJohnson 2B
    vs lefties – V.Wells LF, Soriano 2B
    It keep the DH spot open for all of the old ailing veterans (90 % of roster).
    Just a fall back obviously, but I could buy Alphie might buy into it.

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    • pft says:

      Gardner is a free agent after this year and no way he lands a cost controlled #2 SP’er. Maybe a bullpen arm or an overpaid # 3 SP’er

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    • Damn my torpedo says:

      Two years ago you stated that Montero was 10x more valuable than Gardner and all you got for him was a torn labrum. Why are NY fans so braindead?

      I suspect Gardner will get a nice backup to Johnson at 2B. Be happy with that.

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      • eltorostrikesagain says:

        Gardner is a true centerfielder and capable leadoff hitter who plays outstanding defense and has been worth 6.0, 4.9, and 3.2 WAR his last 3 full seasons. Gardner for a backup? Look in the mirror to find someone brain dead.

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  20. rzt101 says:

    I know it is an insult to the captain since no hall of famer ever moved off their primary position—-Cal Ripken. But wouldn’t it make sense to move Jeter to 2B since Brendan Ryan is signed and is pretty good at SS. That way resources can be spend on pitching rather than going for Infante who is good, but isn’t going to be a difference maker. As it stands now, their rotation is not in good shape.

    Of course other factors need to be assessed. Such as how good will the jump throw look like from the 2B position. Would the camera angle get his good side?

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    • zkolodin says:

      But Brendan Ryan is such a bad hitter that you don’t want him starting. He’s valuable as a defensive replacement, and only occasional starter.

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      • John says:

        But the Captain still his good hands and makes all the plays on balls hit right at him. Isn’t that all you’re looking for from your shortstop?

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  21. pft says:

    Short term Cano would be making about 4 million per WAR, which is a bargain. Hard to replace those 6 WAR at that price. They should have went after cheaper options at CF and C (Granderson and Salty) and maybe they could have kept Cano.

    The latter years of Canos deal could have been subsidized by a farm system that is fixed and producing cost controlled talent (unlike today which is why Arods contract is a burden), not to mention salary inflation reducing the value to about 18 million AV in 2014 dollars.

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  22. bill neftleberg says:

    you guys got it wrong the yanks lose their 1st for signing McCann, a 2nd for signing Ellsbury, the get 2 compensation picks between round 1 and 2 for Cano and Granderson including the top compensation selection which Should be around #28 since Cano was the highest ranked free Agent, so the Yankees actually gain in the Draft

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  23. Matt says:

    I would love to see a full article on how teams do the year after losing a superstar. History could teach us a few lessons, I’m sure.

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  24. GilaMonster says:

    It was a smart move by the Yankees. The upgrades with Ellsbury and McCann have more than replaced the offensive lose of Cano. They can take the extra money an assure Kuroda gets paid, a infielder, and another starter without worrying about money.

    If Ellsbury can stay healthy, I’m not entirely convinced he couldn’t be close in value to Cano. At $90m less, I’ll take that gamble.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • hk says:

      Why compare the Ellsbury and Cano deals based on their total values as opposed to their AAV’s? Next year is 2014. The extra $87M is going to be paid to Cano in 2021-2023, which is the Mariners’ problem. From 2014-2020, the Yankees essentially chose Ellsbury over Cano for an annual savings of $2.1M.

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      • Max says:

        you mean the yankees chose ellsbury over cano for an average annual savings of 2.1 million and the right to not pay him 87 million over what is likely going to be 3 years of him as a part time DH/part time DL resident who gets at most nearly 1 win per season

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        • hk says:

          Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. The Yankees have chosen the player who projects to be worse – Steamer and Oliver have Cano at 1.3 or 1.4 WAR > Ellsbury next year – over the next 7 years for $2M per year of annual savings in exchange for benefiting greatly in 2021 to 2023. Personally, I’m more concerned about 2014 through 2020.

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  25. Eric Davis says:

    Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips to the Spanks for Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda…

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  26. Xeifrank says:

    The Zips Guy (Dan Szy…) says that Franklin and Cano have nearly identical WAR totals over the next 10 years.

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  27. Guns says:

    I love how Steamer projects Ellsbury, a “star in his own right” according to Jeff Sullivan to hit .276/.334/.417 .329wOBA 104wRC+

    That’s a $20M player if I ever saw one.

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    • Sandwich says:

      Defense exists.

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve dalkowski says:

        Base running is a thing

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      • qwerty says:

        Defense is overrated, and I say this because I watched the yankees run out some of the worse defensive teams in baseball during their 4 championship runs. I’m actually not certain if it’s possible to have worse defense than they did, especially up the middle. Defense is important, but it’s not worth what teams are paying.

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  28. Green Mountain Boy says:

    Will someone please explain to me the infatuation with Brian McCann? He hasn’t had a real good year since 2009, and his last two have been dreadful. Salty would have brought the same production or better at half the cost. XBH last 3 years – Salty: 42, 43, 54 – McCann: 43, 34, 33. Does no one see the trends here?

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    • MaCann will be a monster with the short porch in RF.

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      • qwerty says:

        That is a possibility. It’s also very possible that he will get pull happy just like every other lefthanded hitter to sign here and end up batting .200 with 170 strikeouts. Yeah, maybe he’ll hit 30+ home runs, but will those home runs really make much a difference when you’re an automatic out?

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  29. Brandon Phillips says:

    Has anyone thought about Brandon Phillips to New York? I know he is on his way out, and the Yankees apparently need a second baseman. Ichiro and any lefty should get him I would think.

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    • Bill says:

      The market has gotten a lot better. The Yankees are no longer able to get good players simply because they are willing to take on payroll. It will require real talent (or at least the Yankee special, over-hyped mediocre talent) to get Brandon Phillips.

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  30. Mike says:

    Percentage of baseball fans capable of objectively evalauting the Yankees = < 10

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