At age 30, Robinson Cano is on the cusp of free agency, and about to get paid the big bucks. I absolutely could not care any less who his agent is, and won’t get into that, but any change in agent heading toward free agency is a clear signal of an intent to test those waters. Cano is the top talent headed to market, and it isn’t really close, and although the past few winters have witnessed some ugly deals handed out to flawed or aging superstars, it’s hard to remember a player Cano’s age who looked like a better investment than he does right now.
Cano is enjoying the best season of his life. His .331 True Average (TAv, per Baseball Prospectus) is his best-ever mark. Whereas Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and others who have gotten this far recently have had small hiccups or faded by five percent in the season leading to their liberation, Cano is peaking.
It’s not luck. In fact, Cano’s .302 BABIP is his worst since 2008. He’s not a high-average hitter whose average is about to drop out and leave some team holding a $225-million sausage casing of an offensive profile. To the contrary, Cano is growing and evolving as a hitter at a time when many guys struggle just to maintain their performance.
After striking out 96 times in each of the last two campaigns, Cano is making more contact. He’s whiffed just 52 times in 409 plate appearances, and just by volume of batted balls, he’s therefore offsetting the loss of BABIP. At the same time, though, he’s making huge strides in plate discipline and patience. He’s walked 48 times this season. If he keeps up this rate, he’ll obliterate his career high for walk frequency.
You may counter that teams are pitching around him more often due to the weaker Yankees lineup around him, and you may be right. Usually, though, batters struggle to adjust when that happens, and are unable to do as much damage as they usually do with their power. Cano has not had that problem. In fact, quite the opposite: He is trading doubles (he has just 18 so far, threatening a streak of four straight seasons and six out of seven in which he has doubled at least 40 times) for homers, of which he has 21. He’s not suddenly Chris Davis, but he should meet or exceed his career high for big flies before the end of the year. (He needs just 12 second-half homers to tie his 2012 tally.)
Suddenly getting more balls over the wall and being a near even strikeout-to-walk guy means Cano has transitioned comfortably into the use of old-player skills, and even seems to be thriving on the adjustment. That’s fantastic, and there is no shape his production could have taken this year that would have augured better for his offensive future.
On the other hand, everyone declines after 30, or close enough to everyone that not even the numbers above can convince me Cano is immune to aging. Therefore, it’s nice to know Cano will continue to have defensive value even when the bat eventually slows a tick.
Cano is famously nonchalant at second base, but is one of the best defenders in the game at that spot right now. That won’t last that long, but when the time comes for Cano to make a switch of some kind, finding him a new home should be fairly easy.
That’s because Cano has the best arm of any active second baseman. Frankly, his arm is wasted on the position, but that’s always been where the opening was, so it’s always been where he played. As Cano ages, though, and whether he’s a Yankee beyond this year or not, he probably should move to a position that requires less speed and range; puts him in harm’s way less often; and better calls upon his strengths. Third base is one option. Left field is another. Either way, the bat can carry the glove, so it’s not a big deal unless the team with whom Cano signs makes it so.
I still don’t want to be the one handing out $200-plus million to Cano. That’s a heavy investment. When some GM inevitably does pay the man, though, would-be critics should hold their tongues. Cano is not like any other big-money signing of the past half-decade. He’s set for another six or seven years of star-level production.Next post: Orioles and Rangers Building a Rivalry Based on More Than Geography
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