I have shocking, breaking news: Robinson Cano is a fantastic baseball player. That should come as no surprise given that his 7.8 WAR was tied for fourth in all of baseball this year, of course, and it’s been that way for a while. Measuring only his offense using wOBA, he was the best second baseman in baseball in 2012, second-best (by a single point) in 2011, best in 2010, and third-best both in 2009 and 2006. In a galaxy of Yankee stars, Cano is among the brightest, having provided more WAR value to the team since 2006 than anyone other than Alex Rodriguez.
Oh, and he’s also coming off his best season. Cano set career highs in homers (33), runs (105), BB% (8.8), ISO (.238), SLG (.550) & wOBA (.394), just barely missing a career mark for OBP as well. Over the final week of the season as the Yankees fought to hold off Baltimore for first place in the AL East, Cano went on a tear that I don’t think most hitters could replicate even in batting practice, hitting .615/.628/1.026 in 43 plate appearances over the final nine games. Small sample sizes be damned: what you had there was a great hitter on a potentially Hall-of-Fame trajectory leading his team into the playoffs, capping off another excellent season on what’s become an outstanding career. Oh, and he was better in June, ripping off 11 homers to go with a .340/.416/.730 line.
But none of that is really news, right? You hardly need me to tell you that Cano is incredible, and that he’ll go into 2013 as the consensus top-ranked fantasy second baseman and a top-ten overall pick, at the very least. So rather than try to come up with 30 different ways to explain something you all know as we wind down our second base in review series, let’s try a thought experiment: is Cano really the safest pick on the board, or is there anything to worry about as he heads into his age-30 season in 2013?
For one thing, if you haven’t spent October living on Mars in a cave with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, you probably noticed that the Yankees got drummed right out of the postseason by the Tigers. You might also think that Rodriguez made every single out of the series, but as terrible as he was, it wasn’t he or Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher who was biggest black hole for the Yankees: it was Cano, who had a mere three hits in 40 at-bats. (That’s a wonderful .075/.098/.125 line.) It got so bad that Cano was booed by his hometown fans at Yankee Stadium, who were no doubt less than pleased to see him set a postseason record with an 0-for-29 hitless streak.
Cano also heads into 2013 in the final year of his contract, and Scott Boras is already making noises about wanting to get his client a “10-year deal at top-of-the-market dollars.” As the Yankees continue to try to reshape their aging roster while staying below the luxury tax threshold, the direction they take with Cano’s contract takes on incredible importance. If it doesn’t get done this winter, his ability to walk at the end of the year would hang over his head (and the always friendly local papers) for the entire season.
Finally, Cano’s platoon splits took a turn this year. Heading into 2012, he really didn’t have that much of a platoon split, having put up an OPS of .854 against righties in his career and a still-good .818 against lefties. But in 2012, that fell apart, because he was largely unable to hit against lefties all of a sudden, hitting .239/.309/.337 with only six of his 33 homers. One-year platoon splits should hardly be given undue performance given the small sample sizes involved, but it’s not exactly encouraging for a player on the verge of a huge contract extension. (Of course, the flip side of that is that since he put up a career year even with this handicap, he absolutely destroyed righties.)
These are all valid points, and all things that Cano is going to have to deal with. He’s going to have to prove he can hit lefties again, that he’s to be counted upon in the playoffs, & deal with his contract situation. But to be honest, we’re really picking nits here, because he’s simply one of the best there is. See how difficult it was to put any dirt on him? Draft Cano with confidence, and enjoy the results.