Tonight Robinson Cano will be returning to Yankee Stadium, and this former die-hard Yankees fan has divorced his team after more than 40 loyal years of marriage. The Yankees handling of Cano was my breaking point. The old guard is retired, Derek Jeter is sun-setting, and the only major Yankee human investment I had left is inexplicably a Mariner. But don’t cry for my loss, beginning with Reggie’s three homers and onto seven championships, it’s been a nice run. But I’m done like Cano.

Many fans will actually boo Cano tonight – but they should be booing Yankee owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner.

One thing should be perfectly clear: Cano did not leave the Yankees, the Yankees left Cano.

Cano was a rare homegrown Hall-of-Fame bound Yankee, he over-performed his past contracts for nine straight years, and was scheduled for 3000 hits and a plaque in monument park. Not only did this not earn him the standard Yankee line of credit, it didn’t even garner him the most basic respect. After signing a 10-Year $240 million contract with Seattle,  Cano stated:

“I didn’t feel respect. I didn’t get respect from them and I didn’t see any effort”

In some corners like this Internet commenter, there was palpable outrage – for Cano:

“What a freaking AAAAAAHOOOLLE! What planet is this jackarse from that he has the nerve to say that being offered $25,000,000 per year for 7 years is DISRESPECTFUL??!! I hope he gets run over by a truck before he collects a dime from his new contract!”

More officially, Yankee Owner Hal Steinbrenner responded:

“There was nothing disrespectful about the last offer… I’m not quite sure why he feels that way.”

Yankee President Randy Levine went further:

“We treated him with the utmost respect… If [our final offer] is not trying hard. I don’t know what is.”

While no one will confuse Cano’s plight with a Walmart worker, when the wealthiest empire in baseball gets outbid by a whopping $65 million, and never even presents a final counter-offer, that just might be perceived as disrespect.

When you then sign an injury-prone Jacoby Ellsbury and a declining over-30 catcher who hit .256 last year (Brian McCann) for a 15 million higher annual cost, and the same total cost ($238m), that is definitely disrespect.

When you engage in an ugly Cano contract struggle for months, but wrap up those McCannsbury negotiations in minutes without as much as a contractual pillow fight – that is disrespect on steroids.

That disrespect came with great help from a largely complicit sports media who helped Yankee management brilliantly frame an imaginary debate based on two imaginary numbers:

“300 Million”: Cano’s alleged opening contract offer which Cano later denied, and
“189 million”: The Yankees alleged 2014 “budget” which the they later obliterated.

Randy Levine, formerly right hand hatchet man for NYC mayor Rudy Guliani, repeated his objection to “$300 million” at every turn, and defined media talking points. In contrast, the Yankees opening insult of $138 million was simply treated by media as a standard business negotiating tactic, if even cited at all.

The Yankees 2.3 billion dollar empire was suddenly media-morphed into the Kansas City Royals. We heard more about luxury taxes than the actual luxury of a YES TV Networks that generated $350 million a year. Great media space would be devoted to Cano’s potential future overpayment, but not his extraordinary past underpayment.

Ultimately, Cano’s biggest crime against a lily-white baseball establishment may have been his hiring of hip hop mogul Jay-Z. “Cano” + “Jay-Z” + “$300M” became article and talk radio staples, and set in motion a racialized narrative of an unholy alliance of sports and hip-hop greed.

And with a misplaced focus on two self-made millionaires, forgotten was the incompetence, greed, and egos of the two entitled-since-birth billionaires: Yankee Owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner.

The sons of George — who inherited their father’s flaws, but not his loyal virtues — dropped the ball on history. Hal,  Hank, Randy, and Brian were too myopic to understand the true values of Robinson Cano.


THE 10 VALUES OF ROBINSON CANO

  1. CURRENT VALUE: How Good Is Robinson Cano?

“[Babe Ruth] was not fast, did not keep in top condition, and at times he did not hustle as might have been expected of so great a star.”  – Hall of Fame Outfielder Max Carey

Robinson Cano is not the first great Yankee to be undervalued. In assessing current value, in a 2013 ESPN poll of 10,000 responders, only 13% ranked Robinson Cano as a “Top Five” Player in baseball, and Cano was baseball’s latest player drafted into the Money Ball Wars.

Cano has averaged over 8 Wins-Above-Replacement (WAR) the last two years which is considered “MVP quality”. To 87% of these fans, Cano should not be uttered anywhere near the Mike Trouts and Miguel Cabreras, but to baseball advanced statisticians, he ranks right after them.

The words “second baseman” is why Cano is so valuable. After you get past the 5-best, there is a huge talent cliff. If the Yankees don’t sign Ellsbury, they still have a very capable Brett Gardner back in centerfield. When they didn’t sign Cano, they got washed-up .230 hitters like Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.

  1. FRANCHISE VALUE: Who was Really The Face of The Yankees?

“I couldn’t believe the Yankees let that walk away. He’s the face, as long as he played for the Yankees, he was the face of that ballclub. He was backing up everybody.” – David Ortiz

Big Papi’s quote may seem crazy to fans, but not opponents. While media guides show Derek Jeter as “The Face”, and local tabloid back pages vote Alex Rodriguez, neither has had a big year since 2009. Since 2010, the highest single season WAR for Jeter, ARod, or Mark Texiera is 4.1. A closer look shows that Big Papi is right. Cano “was backing up everybody”:

Top Yankee WAR Seasons Since 2010 (6.0+)

8.5  Cano 2012
8.2  Cano 2010
7.6  Cano 2013
7.5  Sabathia 2011

7.4  Gardner 2010

Even with Yankee fans – especially with Yankee fans — it can be astonishing how undervalued Cano is. For some, Cano’s bat has been blinded by Jeter’s aura, and his gold glove-work has gone unnoticed. For others, Cano’s habit of not hustling on apparent outs is morally reprehensible, or his poor post-seasons cause amnesia of the previous 162 games. With all Yankee fans spoiled-at-birth, it helps to provide gentle reminders that The Babe wasn’t exactly “Charlie Hustle”, Joe D batted 55 points lower in 10 World Series, and Cano has been the greatest 2nd baseman in Yankee history.

  1. HISTORIC VALUE: What’s the Price of a Home Grown Hall-of-Famer?

Everybody is replaceableThat’s a team concept.” – Brian Cashman

For the Yankees, homegrown Hall-of-Famers have never been replaceable. That’s a historic concept.

Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle were never allowed to become free agents back when players were “well-paid slaves” in the famous words of Curt Flood.

After the dawn of free agency, George Steinbrenner seized its advantages with high-profile signings of Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Winfield, and he later resigned every surefire homegrown Hall of Famer (see Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera), and potential homegrown HOFer (see Ron Guidry, Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada)[1].

How good is Cano? Historically good. Since 2010, his 7.5 WAR and .906 OPS surpass the best 4-year stretches of Robbie Alomar and Craig Biggio, and since 1947, only Jackie Robinson, Joe Morgan, and Chase Utley (barely) have produced more valuable 4-year stretches as a second baseman.

You just don’t let that go.

Forty years from now, no one will remember the great Yankee Brian McCann.

  1. PAST VALUE: How Much do The Yankees Owe Robinson Cano?

“I think he loves the money” – Brian Cashman

When it comes to contracts, sports media doesn’t like to talk about the past. It keeps players greedy and owners rich. However, the audacity of Cashman’s quote was likely not lost on Cano who has been baseball’s most underpaid player over nine years. If any player justifiably deserves a Yankee contract for 300 million over 10 years, it was Cano.

Let review:

2007 – 20th Highest Paid Yankee: In 2006, Cano would become an all-star while posting a .342 batting average for a $381, 000 salary. The next year he would become the American League’s best 2nd baseman, and earn $481,000 while his infield colleagues of Jason Giambi, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez each earned over 22 million.

2010 – 10th Highest Paid Yankee:  Cano would rise to undisputed #1 Yankee, #3 in AL MVP voting, witness newcomers Sabathia, Mark Texiera, and AJ Burnett average over 20 million per year in salary.

2013 – 6th Highest Paid Yankee: Cano’s 15 million salary last year was already met or surpassed by 16 current and past teammates.

2014 – PayBack Time?: Cano’s fair market production value since 2006 has been $161 million according to Fangraph’s analysis, and his net earnings of $57 million.

Cano has provided the Yankees with over $100 million dollars of free labor.

Those who obsessed on whether Cano will be worth a Yankee salary over his final four years should know that he already paid them.

Whether respect for his teammates (or his extensive charity work in US and Dominican Republic), Cano values giving back.

  1. PUBLIC VALUE: What do the Yankees Owe Taxpayers?

“I’m from the Giuliani school. It’s business, not personal. The ‘Godfather’ mantra.”Randy Levine

Business is personal. When members of the local South Bronx community board objected to giving the Yankees $850 million to build a brand new 2009 stadium, those members were ousted from the board. One of those members, Anita Antonetty she said of Levine:

“His attitude was, how dare you object to this — we’re the Yankees. He came out of the Giuliani administration, so there was no negotiating at all.”

In his book Joe Torre also blamed Levine for his disrespectful 1-year offer that included a pay-cut before leaving for more respectful pastures. Whether NYC taxpayers, Torre, or Cano, the numbers may change, but Levine’s godfather mantra remains the same.

Unlike Chrysler or General Motor’s, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner do not have to pay back nearly a billion of city-funds received to finance their 2009 stadium, and profits will not be redirected to lower seat prices, or concession stand costs.

Perhaps the only indirect on-field cost that the Yankees have arguably paid some back is their habit of resigning homegrown players at the back-end of their career. Fans know full well an older Jeter is overpaid and a bad value that last few years. It doesn’t matter.

  1. THE VALUE OF RESPECT: What Cano Learned From Roger Clemens

“I was happy to give up the number to a future Hall of Famer if Roger comes aboard. Hopefully, he will be one of my teammates, I’ll have the pleasure of playing with him.”  — Robinson Cano in 2007

In 2007, a 44-year old Roger Clemens would come back for one last half-a-season at a prorated 28 million per year. Clemens went 6-6 with 4.18 ERA, and would “earn” more money in starting those 17 games than Cano did in his first five years (734 games).

That’s not all. Cano also saw that Clemens was afforded unique team privileges, and was permitted to skip road trips when he wasn’t scheduled to pitch. Cano saw that the Yankees or the media ever considered Clemens as “selfish” for skipping games.

Cano bought in. When Cano learned that “The Rocket” might join the team, he offered to entice Roger by offering Clemens back his old #22 (see quote above).

Cano then chose a new jersey #24 which had special symbolic meaning. Cano’s father had named him “Robinson” after Jackie Robinson. With #42 unavailable, he chose the reverse.

But today Cano is back to #22 because he refused to take Seattle’s #24, Ken Griffey’s old jersey which may soon be retired by the Mariners. Said Cano of Griffey:

“He’s a Hall of Famer. You have to show him respect”.

Cano values baseball history. The Yankees should understand. They have 17 retired numbers, keep other numbers out of circulation (see Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill), or give a respectful 7-year waiting periods (see Mike Mussina).

But In spring training, The Yankees gave away Cano’s #24 to a bench player named Scott Sizemore.

  1. TRADE-IN VALUE: Why Ellsbury-McCann $238M Signings are Riskier Than Cano’s 10-Year Contract

We did everything we could to try and bring [Cano] back,” — Randy Levine

The 24 million Cano will earn in 2014 will be the equivalent of Brian McCann and Ichiro, or by Jacoby Ellsbury and a bag of chips (see Kelly Johnson). As a long-term investment, Cano is even less risky than the $238 million given to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. While two normally trumps one, Cano has been valuable than both. Over the last four years, Cano’s WAR is 30 while Ellsbury-McCann are 24 combined.

Critics correctly argue that Cano will be overpaid on the back-end of his 10-year contract, but the same is surely true for Ellsbury and McCann. Each will likely be shells of their former selves with a few years left on their contracts —  4-6 years of total salary.

McCann’s 5-year salary at 17m per year is most egregious as declining injury-prone catchers rarely produce past age 32. Had the Yankees not let Russell Martin go in 2013, they could have gotten the same production for half the cost. Some argue that these type of moves will help mark The End of The Yankee Dynasty.

The Yankees simply chose to overpay McCannsbury in latter contract years instead of Cano. Of course, the Yankees, who generated 471M in 2012 according to Forbes, can afford them all.

  1. RIPKEN VALUE: The Value of Durability and Hustle

“Cano shows up for at the office more than any teammate, but he takes a few too many coffee breaks while there… so [The Yankees] shouldn’t bust the budget for a player who doesn’t bust it for them.”ESPN’s Ian O’Conner

Cano has averaged 160 games over the last seven years. That is not just “durable”, that’s Ripkenesque. Over the last four years, disabled list regulars Ellsbury and McCann have averaged 68% of the games played by Cano.

But instead of Ripken comparisons, Cano critics prefer to talk about “hustle”. Cano himself has reasoned to Yankee coach Kevin Long that he does not run hard on apparent outs when “his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy”.

Long – who lauds Cano’s incredible work ethic — found Cano’s answer “unacceptable”.

When it comes to holy church of baseball, arguments about “hustle” are often highly emotional, righteously moral, definitely cultural, but rarely rational. In his article, Tussle Over Cano’s Hustle, Jay Jaffe very nicely sorts all this out.

In a statistical 7-year study of Cano ground balls, Ben Lindbergh from Baseball Prospectus & Deadspin concluded that Cano loses four trips to first base over the course of a season. Or in scientific terms: Insignificant.

But what is absolutely significant is Cano’s nearly perfect attendance each year. Cano has not been on the disabled list since he strained his hamstring while attempting to leg out a double in 2006. He knows his body, and he hasn’t gotten any more hustle hamstring pulls. Unlike Derek Jeter last year. Unlike David Wright as well. Unlike Joe Kelly this month.

While hustle purists will likely be unmoved, Cano values actual production over the appearance of production. And it would be prudent for General Managers investing hundreds of millions to do the same.

  1. THE DOMINICAN VALUE:

“[Cano] has a chance to be the first Dominican-born player to have his number there in Monument Park and that’s a big deal. A real big deal.” – Brian Cashman

History was not lost on Cashman who mentioned Cano’s heritage on multiple occasions. And he is historically correct: having Robinson Cano retire amongst the Yankee pantheon of mostly lily-white greats is a big deal. With token exception, The Yankees did not truly begin seek out and sign African American players (1970’s) and Latin American players (1990’s) until the George Steinbrenner Era of ownership.

But Cashman’s words while including the context of the Yankees actions are disturbing. The Dominican translation became:

“If you want the respect instantly given to every other American homegrown Yankee great in Yankee history, then take $65 million less for the privilege and be grateful for it.”

For Yankee management, looking out for Yankee history was Cano’s responsibility, not theirs.

Cano might wonder how different his negotiations might have gone if he looked like Brian McCann.

Don’t think that this was part of the lack of respect Cano felt. Race and ethnicity played a factor, the only question is whether it was more about Cano or his agent.

  1. JAY-Z’s VALUE:

“We’re not the Brooklyn Nets. We don’t need Jay Z’s marketing expertise.” – Yankee Unnamed Official

The Yankees contempt for dealing with Cano and Jay-Z seemed palpable, and the disdain emanating from this quote might be what Cano’s un-signing is really about: a threatened Yankee establishment that had them obstructing to change like Mitch McConnell, even if it made their own country team worse.

In media, Jay-Z’s competence was questioned and ridiculed from the very start, some openly called Cano “a dumbass” or “an idiot, and the previously-hated agent Scott Boras suddenly had defenders for the first time.

As for Jay-Z and his Creative Artists Agency partnership, he has already won Rookie of The Year and MVP awards in 2013 with Cano’s Seattle contract. Just don’t expect Scott Boras to drop a debut hit hip-hop album anytime soon.

Cano valued Jay-Z’s competence. Now others athletes will as well.

—-

The Yankees did not share the values of Robinson Cano.

Cano saw how the Reds Joey Votto got a $200 million contract despite two years left on his contract. He later saw the Dodgers pay Clayton Kershaw $30 million a year without fighting or blinking, and the Tigers ensure Miguel Cabrera never wears another uniform no matter how old.

Cano knows what hometown respect looks like.

Cano also saw all the inferior Yankee teammates get big money; past homegrown greats get cared for; Clemens special treatment; the effortless McCannsbury signings; the Yankee comments painting him as greedy; and Scott Sizemore wearing his jersey before his contract ink was dry.

Cano knows what disrespect looks like.

Maybe now the Yankees will know too.



[1] Pettitte was offered the largest contract by Yankees, but departed for less money before returning in 2009.

 

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