Robinson Cano and Second Base Aging Curves

The Yankees have a long standing policy against negotiating contract extensions for players under contract, preferring instead to wait until the player reaches free agency to hash out a new deal. They even held that line with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, two of the iconic players in franchise history, so it hasn’t just been selectively applied here and there. So, it was pretty interesting to hear that the Yankees are ignoring that policy with Robinson Cano, and have confirmed that they recently made Scott Boras a “significant offer” to get him from becoming a free agent after the season.

Brian Cashman’s answer for why they’ve changed course with Cano:

“Since we’re the team, we have a right to change our minds and adjust the policy whenever, especially ownership,” Cashman said. “It’s not like it’s a country club, and here’s the code of conduct that you can’t deviate from. We’ve had a history of doing things a certain way, but it doesn’t mean that it has to be that way every day.”

For the Yankees to shift policy and extend Cano an offer now suggests that they’re both a little scared of what his price might be if he gets to free agency, and that they’re comfortable with how well he’ll age that they don’t need to see his age-30 season before deciding to sign up for the rest of his decline phase. The fear about his price if the Dodgers get involved is certainly valid, but should the fact that Cano is a second baseman scare the Yankees away from making a long term commitment to him before they have gathered all the information possible by letting him play out the 2013 season?

Second baseman, if you haven’t heard, have a reputation for falling apart without much notice. Edgardo Alfonso, Carlos Baerga, Marcus Giles, Chuck Knoblauch, and even Roberto Alomar all went from being pretty terrific players to completely unproductive in a hurry. Most recently, Chase Utley has seen his production tumble, as injuries have begun to take their toll, and he’s been less productive at the plate than he was during his prime. The anecdotal evidence about the detrimental affects of playing the position — taking hard slides while turning the double play is the most often cited reason — are there, but anecdotal evidence can be selectively applied, and Cano is clearly a better player than most of the guys who fell apart earlier than expected. How concerned should the Yankees be about making a long term commitment to a second baseman headed for his age-30 season?

The evidence suggests that he’s not any more of a risk than a great player at any other position on the field. Over the last 50 years, there have been six second baseman (Cano included) who have put up a 130 wRC+ or better from ages 26 to 29. Here’s how the list of second baseman since 1963 who spent their prime years just bashing the baseball:

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
Chase Utley 2,687 9% 16% 0.236 0.330 0.305 0.385 0.541 0.395 137 57.1 18.8 31.0
Joe Morgan 2,725 15% 8% 0.157 0.280 0.276 0.389 0.433 0.375 135 12.0 22.5 30.1
Rod Carew 2,555 10% 8% 0.100 0.372 0.348 0.410 0.449 0.386 143 2.0 8.1 25.5
Robinson Cano 2,748 7% 12% 0.220 0.323 0.314 0.365 0.534 0.384 138 3.2 24.3
Dick McAuliffe 2,160 14% 16% 0.187 0.274 0.254 0.361 0.441 0.361 134 15.0 (3.6) 21.8
Craig Biggio 2,612 12% 13% 0.155 0.323 0.294 0.390 0.449 0.374 134 (20.0) 6.7 19.7

As you can see, Cano has put himself in some pretty good company. Now, here’s how the other five players on that list performed starting with their age-31 season, which is the years that the Yankees would be buying out with a long term deal for Cano.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
Joe Morgan 5,390 17% 9% 0.163 0.272 0.270 0.396 0.433 0.376 136 (25.0) 39.5 49.5
Craig Biggio 7,299 8% 15% 0.167 0.308 0.279 0.357 0.446 0.351 110 (29.0) 18.6 36.8
Rod Carew 4,915 11% 9% 0.096 0.355 0.327 0.403 0.424 0.370 130 12.0 (5.8) 31.4
Chase Utley 1,327 11% 12% 0.169 0.274 0.264 0.367 0.433 0.351 119 24.0 12.5 12.6
Dick McAuliffe 1,735 12% 13% 0.141 0.245 0.231 0.324 0.372 0.319 98 (9.0) (0.3) 6.8

Finally, here are the same players, just with the changes in both their playing time and their production in that playing time during the two different timeframes.

Name 26-29 PA/Year 31+ PA/Year 26-29 WAR/600 31+ WAR/600 PA% Decline WAR% Decline
Joe Morgan 681 539 6.6 5.5 21% 17%
Craig Biggio 653 664 4.5 3.0 -2% 33%
Rod Carew 639 546 6.0 3.8 15% 36%
Chase Utley 672 442 6.9 5.7 34% 18%
Dick McAuliffe 540 434 6.1 2.4 20% 61%
Average 637 525 6.0 4.1 18% 33%

Overall, the group lost an average of about 100 plate appearances per year and went from playing like +6 win players to playing like +4 win players when they did take the field. McAuliffe had the biggest decline, as he was essentially done as a useful player by age 34, but one guy falling apart out of five isn’t the clear trend that the reputation of aging second baseman would suggest. Even including McAuliffe, these five players averaged 3.5 WAR per season after they turned 31. Hardly a group that just fell apart after their prime was over.

If we give Cano a projection of just below the group’s average performance for his age 31-40 seasons — Utley’s further decline will likely pull the +3.5 WAR per season average down slightly as he gets older — assuming he’ll have enough leverage to land a nine year deal, the Yankees would be paying for around +30 WAR over the life of the deal. If you assume something like 5% inflation annually over the next nine years, the average price of a win during Cano’s contract would be in the $7 million per win range, which would place a fair market deal in the range of $210 million. Projecting long term inflation isn’t easy, especially with the varying television deals being struck lately, so that might even be a bit of an undershot — we saw most of the premium free agents this year sign for more than the crowd expected when the winter began.

There’s no question that Scott Boras is going to be using the Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto contracts as his starting points in negotiations. Votto signed away his age 30-39 seasons for $225 million, and was two years away from free agency when he got that contract. Fielder signed his 28-36 seasons for $214 million, but isn’t as good as good of a player as Cano and had his market limited to AL teams because of his body type. Pujols signed his age 32-41 seasons for $240 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the contract Boras tried to beat if he gets Cano to free agency.

At some point in the near future, Robinson Cano is going to become a very, very rich man. The fact that he plays second base probably won’t hurt him in negotiations much, as the evidence that great second baseman age worse than other positions doesn’t really hold up very well. Cano won’t be a +6 win player in his 30s, but he doesn’t have to be to be worth $200+ million on his next deal. If the Yankees want to keep him from free agency, their “generous offer” is almost certainly going to have to start with a two.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 4 months ago

Elite first basemen retain much more value age 31-38 than second basemen (or shortstops).

soamx
Member
soamx
3 years 4 months ago

Theres a vocal group of Yankees fans who don’t think Cano is an elite player and don’t think he’s worthy of a mega deal. I guess that comes from the mainstream media portraying Cano as a guy who is lazy and who hasn’t lived up to his potential. It’s crazy talk.
Cano is one of the games best players (top 10) and is worthy of a $150+ contract easily.
However, as much as I love him, I want the Yankees to let him move on.
Considering inflation, the bad contracts we’re already stuck with over the next few years, the new CBA, the austerity budget benefits,Yankees insistence on staying under $189m and all the holes we have I think a more efficient way of putting a championship team on the field would be to trade cano for a big haul and use the money to add wins in other areas.
I don’t think there’s any chance they’ll trade him, but if they are serious about the $189m budget than they should.

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 4 months ago

I think a more efficient way of putting a championship team on the field would be to trade cano for a big haul and use the money to add wins in other areas.

Not so sure the “big haul” will materialize if they hold him until the trade deadline. Even assuming he maintains his superstar production from 2012, I think last season indicated that teams are less interested in paying for rentals right now.

Nick C
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Nick C
3 years 4 months ago

We Yankees fans have a pretty good reason to fear 9 year+ deals for 200+ million dollars. That reason is rehabbing his hip as we speak.

philosofool
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Member
philosofool
3 years 4 months ago

It must be awful.

Nick C
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Nick C
3 years 4 months ago

We feel as cheated as the people who donated to his charity.

Travis L
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Travis L
3 years 4 months ago

But this is the hope for non-Yankee fans — that they do sign these huge deals that will eventually (hopefully) hamstring them!

Troy
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Troy
3 years 4 months ago

who the hell would trade a “big haul” for a guy about to enter free agency and a boras client? he’s guaranteed to sign with the yankees or the dodgers and everyone knows it. the most they would possibly get is a B prospect for a few months rental of cano.

Preston
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Preston
3 years 4 months ago

Seriously, you think Carlos Beltran nets Zach Wheeler and Robinson Cano nets a B prospect. I don’t think there is a chance in hell that the Yankees actually trade Cano, but he would bring back either one elite prospect, or several solid ones.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 4 months ago

You’ve cherry-picked one particularly egregious example for comparison.

Antonio bananas
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Antonio bananas
3 years 4 months ago

What’s the opportunity cost of losing him to the Dodgers?

Travis L
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Travis L
3 years 4 months ago

I think the opportunity cost would come into play if they were to sign him. What else could they have acquired with the money?

Tyler K Patterson
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Tyler K Patterson
3 years 4 months ago

This doesn’t even mention the complete dearth of free agent talent available next winter and the fact that if Cano walks next year the Yankees almost surely won’t make the playoffs. Hell they have him this year and it’s going to be a battle to get in. This is going to be a monster contract.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 4 months ago

If the Yankees stick to their under-salary-cap stratedgy for 2014, Cano will have to accept a relatively small salary for the first year. This could be a hurdle, but I can’t say that for certain.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 4 months ago

An interesting note about second basemen – the largest free agent contract ever signed by a second baseman was Luis Castillo, at 4 years, $25 million. Every single deal that was bigger, going all the way back to Ryne Sandberg’s early 90s deal, was an extension.

History suggests an extension.

Tchaikovsky08
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Tchaikovsky08
3 years 4 months ago

That’s a little misleading. There have been examples of guys who rejected extensions only to be traded and sign a long-term deal at that point, which is similar to FA bidding. (e.g. Dan Uggla’s 5 year, $62 million deal with Atlanta)

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 4 months ago

I think you meant i.e., not e.g.

Anyway, I don’t think it is misleading. Teams and players who happen to play second base seem very amenable to extensions, seemingly moreso than other positions. There’s also never been a $100 million second baseman and Cano is trying to skip over that hurdle to the next one.

Tchaikovsky08
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Tchaikovsky08
3 years 4 months ago

No, I meant e.g. E.g. means “for sake of example” — i.e. means “that is.” It’s clear I was using Uggla as an example.

More to the point, I said it was “a little misleading,” because it is. Just because no 2B has cashed in huge on the FA market doesn’t mean it’s because their current team always locks them up to an extension.

Uggla is but one example; a more high profile one would be Joe Carter, who refused to sign an extension with the Indians in 1989. The Indians thereafter traded him to Toronto where he inked an extension.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
3 years 4 months ago

It was a joke in reference to the fact that Uggla is the only example. I now see that you meant in general, not 2B in particular, and there are more examples of course (there may even be other 2B I can’t say for sure but I can’t think of any). However, I still don’t think it is misleading. Whether following a trade or not, there has been an incredible streak of top second basemen signing extensions rather than enter free agency (even though I was corrected and Alomar did sign a FA deal, that was in the 90s). I think that allows me to say that history “suggests” it will happen again with Cano without being labeled even “a little misleading.” If someone reads my statement as precluding the possibility of Cano reaching free agency, that person is dumb and that isn’t my fault.

Sleight of Hand Pro
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Sleight of Hand Pro
3 years 4 months ago

when did joe carter become a 2nd baseman?

JoeFish
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JoeFish
3 years 4 months ago

Hey, now, Joe Carter *was* a second baseman!

For 2 innings… in 1985…

He was 1 for 1 in fielding :-)

indyralph
Member
Member
indyralph
3 years 4 months ago

My first reaction to this is that it couldn’t possibly be true. Sure enough the first guy I checked, Roberto Alomar, signed for 4 years, $30M in 1998.

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/24/sports/plus-baseball-cleveland-roberto-alomar-agrees-to-deal.html

I think an extension is the most likely outcome as well, but I don’t think “history” is why, even if it were true.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 4 months ago

Yep, you’re right. I was counting on cot’s contracts mostly, which I knew didn’t have the Sandberg contract, but I thought covered the rest. Still, that is tiny compared to the top deals at other positions.

Travis L
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Travis L
3 years 4 months ago

How many Cano caliber 2b have there been in the recent past? Couldn’t the reason for the lack of big 2b contracts simply be because there haven’t been a player at the position this good in the recent (post 2000, big money era) past?

Not adjusting for inflation or value is a weakness in your argument.

ausmax
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ausmax
3 years 4 months ago

chase utley says hi.

BlackOps
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BlackOps
3 years 4 months ago

Chase Utley has never been a free agent.

Rob
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Rob
3 years 4 months ago

Please cross-reference with Scott Boras history of clients.

Derek
Member
3 years 4 months ago

There’s also another incentive to get the extension done now for the Yankees in terms of the luxury tax. If they tack on an extension now, the 14 or 15 million he earns in 2013 is factored into the AAV calculation. That, of course, would bring down the overall AAV and save some money (albeit maybe a million or two dollars). Still, I’m sure they’d take savings any way they could.

YanksFanInBeantown
Member
YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 4 months ago

Cano also has a completely different body type than any of the guys you listed; Chase Utley is the closest and Robbie’s got 10 pounds on him and is an inch shorter.

Also forgotten is the fact that Cano has a cannon throwing arm. Unlike Rod Carew, who had to move to 1B when he lost his range, Cano is going to be able to slide over to 3B for a couple of years. The position adjustment alone gives him an advantage over a lot of these guys.

Mario Mendoza
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Mario Mendoza
3 years 4 months ago

I agree, I think they are signing ARod’s replacement.

AMAC
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AMAC
3 years 4 months ago

He’s got a cannon from second no doubt. I’d want to see some reps before I was willing to bet the numbers that are being bounced around here on it being as effective from third.

Jay29
Member
Jay29
3 years 4 months ago

Yeah. As a Yankee fan I’m welcoming just about any extension for Cano, as I think he can age pretty gracefully, playing 4-6 more years at 2B then finishing out a long contract at any corner position, really. Maybe his legs would preclude him from LF/RF, but I think he’d at least be a solid 3B into his late 30s and a no-brainer at 1B (though he might block a power bat there).

Now Batting
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Now Batting
3 years 4 months ago

He’s already bad at going to his left. 3b isn’t a slam dunk.

geefee
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geefee
3 years 4 months ago

To be concerned about how second basemen generally age implies that there is something about playing second base in and of itself that makes you age faster, which really doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense. If he’d been in a different organization, he might’ve been playing third all this time, and this article wouldnt have been written.

As pointed out above by a few people, certain types won’t age real well, and arguably, those types are more likely to play second base.

indyralph
Member
Member
indyralph
3 years 4 months ago

I think this is right. There is selection bias in the population. Generally, a player is put at 2B because his bat, arm, fielding range or some combination do not profile at another spot on the diamond. In the case of one particular elite second baseman, you can consider throwing that generalization out because it’s possible the skill set has room to deteriorate and still contribute at 2B or another position.

Joebrady
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Every year, I see this analysis for some ridiculously long contract.

Every year, the fallacy of signing hitters into old age is proven wrong, and almost immediately.

How about, instead of prjecting forward, take the universe (admittedly small) of guys that signed uber-long term contracts until age 39 or older, and tell me how long until they regretted it. Carlos Lee? ARod? Pujols?

Or the number of hitters that had 3+ WAR each year? 2012 = 3. 2011 = -0-. 2010 = 2.

I think Cano is a really good player, but as a RS fan, I hope they sign him until age 39.

Jay29
Member
Jay29
3 years 4 months ago

Even at $30MM/yr, a +6-8 WAR player provides positive net value, and Cano is probably not going to get more than $25MM/yr in an extension (though he’d probably get that in FA). So while the odds are against a 36-to-39-year-old out-performing his salary in those years, the odds are very good that he’ll more than make up for it in the 30-35-year-old range.

And the Yankees can afford it. Just look at how they remain competitive in the AL East now despite the underperformances of A-Rod and Teixeira with respect to their contracts, not to mention eating the AJ Burnett money and slightly overpaying to keep Jeter and Rivera in pinstripes. I imagine that by ~2020 they’ll have another slew of high-WAR/$ talents (like Cano, Gardner, Robertson, etc are now) supporting a stable of highly-paid veterans and be doing just fine.

Joebrady
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3 years 4 months ago

Whoops, that should’ve read ‘number of players 36 or older that had 3+ WAR’.

odbsol
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odbsol
3 years 4 months ago

Surprised Ryne Sandberg wasn’t on that list.

classicsteve
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classicsteve
3 years 4 months ago

Sorry but the statement that second basemen don’t age worse than other positions isn’t supported by this control group.McAuliffe was essentially irrelevant (in a baseball sense) after reaching the age of 31, Carew had already been moved to first base to save wear and tear on the body, Utley regressed from one of the elite players in the game to one who could barely manage 100 games/year ages 31-33, Biggio devolved from a player who averaged 133 OPS+ from ages 27-32 to one who couldn’t clear 114 OPS+ for any single season the rest of his career and Morgan fell from an MLB WAR leader at the age of 32 to an All-Star at age 33 to an MLB average player at the age 0f 34. Compare this to third basemen Schmidt, Brett and C. Jones who were still putting up elite years at the age of 35 and beyond. Jeff Kent and Lou Whitaker would have been better examples.

KM
Guest
KM
3 years 4 months ago

I wouldn’t count Utley out yet. He looks physically more comfortable and strong than he has in the last couple years so far. I’m not saying he’ll be an MVP, but he’s definitely driving the ball better than we’ve seen lately.

grant
Guest
grant
3 years 4 months ago

Isn’t a sample size of 6 pretty small? If you expand your criteria just a little, lower the wOBA to 120+ instead of 130+ and add one more season (age 25) to the time period, you get an extra 8 guys – http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=2b&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2012&month=0&season1=1960&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=25,29&filter=&players=0&sort=18,d

Those extra 8 samples produce a bunch of players who seem very comparable to Cano, and dropped off a cliff in their early 30s: Alomar, Vidro, Knoblaugh, Alfonzo, Bill Madlock.

This seems like Dave overfitted the model.

Travis L
Guest
Travis L
3 years 4 months ago

I’m not going to do the research but I don’t think Vidro, Knob, Alfonzo, and Madlock are “very comparable” to Cano.

Rob
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Rob
3 years 4 months ago

That’s correct. They are not proper comparisons.

Baltar
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Baltar
3 years 4 months ago

Please explain why not.

YanksFanInBeantown
Member
YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 4 months ago

Only Alfonzo and Vidro have similar body types and none of them have comparable power.

Vidro’s the only one with a career ISO within .050 of Cano, and he’s actually the best comparison. His career is basically Cano’s before the power leap. That is, minus the last 3 years where he’s been, by far, the best second baseman in the game.

When the best comp in a list is a good comp of the player before he took the next step, it’s a pretty terrible list.

YanksFanInBeantown
Member
YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 4 months ago

Just checked it out further. Cano produced exactly as much WAR through his first 6 seasons as Vidro did over his 12 season career.

And Vidro was the best comp in terms of how they produced value.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 4 months ago

My own first reaction was that the sample was both small and biased.
I’m not saying that Dave’s point is incorrect, only that I don’t feel satisfied that it’s well-supported in this article.

Polka Walnuts
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

As good as Robbie is, he WILL decline and paying for past results is a pro sports pastime…give him a 4-5 year extension most, and save the money you will most certainly need to buy your next pennet New York. 10 year deals are insane, and no one should het 200 million for the declineing years of production…but of course will…..

shthar
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shthar
3 years 4 months ago

I’d give him a great big contract, if he could hit the left.

bawfuls
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bawfuls
3 years 4 months ago

Career 109 wRC+ against LHP, compared to 132 vs. RHP.

Yes it’s a split, but we’re not talking Ryan Howard or Andre Ethier here.

YanksFanInBeantown
Guest
YanksFanInBeantown
3 years 4 months ago

Exactly. He’s only a 4 WAR 2B against LHPs? God forbid!

Captain Obvious
Guest
Captain Obvious
3 years 4 months ago

The Yankees should let him walk. All you need to know about Cano and how he profiles is here.

http://www.minorleagueball.com/2005/2/20/93945/3590#19

tekkkkk
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tekkkkk
3 years 4 months ago

Damn son…damn.

Shawn
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Shawn
3 years 4 months ago

My favorite part:


Cano

I guess I should have nominated Cano in the most overrated prospect thread the other day. That he still gets talked up as some kind of top prospect (not pointing at John here, by the way) amazes me.

I’ve seen Cano play a lot, and I’m not even sure he’d be a productive Triple-A player. Let’s start with his defense; it’s brutal. He has terrible footwork and simply lacks any kind of instincts around the bag. There’s no way you want him playing up the middle. He might have the raw speed to not be awful in left field, but that’s about as kind as I can be regarding his glovework.

Offensively, he’s a fastball hitter. He sits dead red on every pitch and waits for a mistake. Any good breaking ball or offspeed pitch will have him out in front. He’s mostly a gap hitter, lacking the power to drive the ball consistently over the wall. To add insult to injury, he’s also a terrible baserunner.

In his prime, I think he could hit .280/.320/.400 while playing awful defense. Yipee.

by david cameron on Feb 20, 2005 10:17 PM EST

and

cano

I’m not quite as pessimistic about his offense, but I agree with your concerns about his glove. I know that his glove hurt his trade value a lot last summer.

by John Sickels on Feb 21, 2005 12:19 AM EST

fuster
Guest
fuster
3 years 4 months ago

you’re funny Shawn.

and I don’t mean humorous.

Preston
Guest
Preston
3 years 4 months ago

He was wrong about the bat, but his minor league numbers prior to 2004 had not been impressive. His defense was bad when he came up to the majors. And even though he is fast, he has never converted that skill to his base running. I don’t think it was at all likely in 2004, that Cano would be a perennial .300 hitter, let alone have the power he currently has. Although I think Cameron was overly critical. Cano was always young for his level and had great contact rates. And since power develops late, his power bump in 2004 should have been considered legitimate.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 4 months ago

OK, I got a laugh out of this, but you know it’s unfair. I’m glad I don’t have to defend views I held 8 years ago.

jim
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jim
3 years 4 months ago

wasn’t the only other offer we know fielder had from the dodgers?

maqman
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maqman
3 years 4 months ago

He will get $200MM and more, may well exceed Pujols $240MM. The Yankees have no choice to do otherwise. With the other old guys fading fast they need him to stay relevant. A-Rod, Jeter, Rivera, Ichiro and Pettitte are all about done and Teixeira has admitted he’s on the downhill slope of his career. They can’t afford to get punked by the Dodgers and with the influx of new media millions there are more buyers in the free agent market, like the Indians this past off-season and the M’s can be next off-season. It’s going to get harder to buy a pennant from now on.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
3 years 4 months ago

Wow…Utley is my favorite player, but as good as he’s been I’d always assumed he still wasn’t in Joe Morgan’s league. Apparently I was wrong on that.

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