Why Robinson Cano Is the One New York Yankee Who Can't Be Replaced
You can credit the Yankees' recent surge to interleague play. You might argue that the long ball has paved the way to the team's rise to the top of the American League East and the best overall record in the league.
And you have to tip your cap to the pitching staff, where the starters have been consistent and pitching deep into games while the bullpen has thrived despite the loss of Mariano Rivera.
For our money, however, the biggest reason the Yankees are streaking is Robinson Cano. He is the their most complete player, offensively and defensively.
He is their best hitter, the only one likely to finish with a .300 average. And yet Cano doesn't take a back seat to anyone when it comes to reaching the seats. He is second on the team to Curtis Granderson with 17 home runs. But while Granderson has sacrificed average for home runs, Cano was hitting .302 entering Tuesday's game and appears headed for his fourth consecutive .300-plus season.
You can take any other Yankee out of the lineup, and manager Joe Girardi has options. Derek Jeter, you say?
After a phenomenal start, Jeter has come back down to earth. The Yankees might miss his leadership more than his bat.
Who, however, would they plug into second base for any length of time?
It's a rhetorical question.
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After a slow start in the first five weeks of the season, Cano has found his groove. It's no coincidence that his resurgence coincides with the Yankees' turnaround.
He has developed into one of the best all-around players in the game, with a picturesque swing and even disposition. He has overtaken Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers in the All-Star balloting. Kinsler is really the only other second baseman in the majors who comes close to Cano in talent.
Cano is a gifted defensive player with a .988 fielding percentage and only four errors thus far. The best part for Yankee fans is that he is still only 29 years old and is in his prime.
And he is durable. He missed only 12 games from 2007-11 and has played in every game this season. Don't overlook that quality on an aging team where injuries are a price you pay for experience.
For a franchise that seems to have abandoned the philosophy of developing their own players as the Yankees did with Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, Cano is a reminder of how patience can pay off.
We can see him moving to third base when Alex Rodriguez becomes a full-time designated hitter, but that's a story for another day.
The Yankees are overpowering opponents right now and that approach will work in their quest to win the AL East and finish with the best record in the league. The playoffs are another matter. That's when pitching tends to dominate and the Yankees won't be facing anyone's No. 4 or No. 5 starter.
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That's where Cano will be even more important. Hitting is not an all-or-nothing proposition for him as it is for Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez, among others. He still strikes out a little too much, but isn't infatuated with the long ball. He saves that guilty pleasure for the All-Star game, where he won the Home Run Derby last season and will defend his title this season.
With Cano in the cleanup spot, the Yankees should be set for another half-dozen years. That's provided they sign the Scott Boras client to a new contract. Cano is signed through 2013.
Chances are, even the new budget-conscious Yankees will ante up for their best player.
Tommy Heinrich was Old Reliable.
Jeter is the Captain.
Robinson Cano has become Mr. Indispensable.
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