Robinson Cano has picked a bad time for a slump.
Certainly, the New York Yankees need their second baseman to begin hitting because they're having trouble generating any offense. In seven playoff games thus far, the Yanks have scored a total of 20 runs. That averages out to 2.86 runs per game.
One of the reasons for the Yankees' scoring struggles is Cano, who's batting 2-for-32 (.068) in the playoffs. He's currently in an 0-for-26 funk. Not only is that the longest hitless streak in Yankees postseason history, but as Steve Garagiola from Detroit's WDIV tweeted after Game 2 of the ALCS on Sunday (Oct. 14), it's the longest slump in MLB postseason history.
Yet from an individual standpoint, Cano's skid comes at a time that could also affect his future earnings. The 29-year-old has a $15 million club option for next year that the Yankees will almost certainly pick up. But both sides surely want to work out a contract extension before Cano becomes a free agent at the end of the 2013 season.
Cano has been the Yankees' best hitter for at least each of the past three seasons. At 29, he's the one player in their lineup who arguably has a longer-term future with the team as well.
Has this postseason slump created any sort of doubt in the Yankees front office, however?
Might general manager Brian Cashman and part-owner Hal Steinbrenner wonder if Cano is the sort of player that future Yankees teams can be built around? If he can't be a star in the playoffs, is he worth the nine- to 10-year deal worth at least $20 million per season that the elite MLB players are signing nowadays?
Though everyone associated with the Yankees has to be disappointed with Cano's playoff performance, it would probably be a mistake to reduce his career in pinstripes to a bad postseason. Just last year, for example, Cano was one of the team's best hitters in the ALDS versus the Detroit Tigers, batting .318 with a 1.057 OPS in 22 at-bats.
During the 2010 playoffs, Cano was even better, with a .343/.361/.771 triple-slash average, four home runs and six RBI in 35 at-bats as the Yankees made it to the ALCS before losing to the Texas Rangers.
Cano has produced at the most important time of the season, when the pressure and expectations are at their highest.
Even this season, he was the Yankees' best hitter in September while the team was locked in a battle with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East lead and a wild-card playoff spot. During the final weeks of the season, Cano hit .347/.418/.581 with 11 doubles, six homers and 24 RBI.
In his last nine games before the playoffs began, as Larry Brown Sports explains, he was 24-for-39 (.615) at the plate with seven doubles, three homers and 14 RBI.
Without that level of performance, would the Yankees have won the AL East over the Orioles? Would they have had home-field advantage during their first two playoff series? (Never mind that hosting Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium didn't help them.)
That will likely play a far larger role in determining the value and length of Cano's next contract with the Yankees.
But most importantly, as mentioned earlier, Cano is the current Yankees player who projects to have a long-term future with the team.
Nick Swisher seems likely to sign with another team as a free agent after this season. Curtis Granderson has a $13 million club option and two consecutive 40-homer, 100-RBI seasons, but that batting average is plummeting. Both players are also struggling terribly this postseason, along with Cano.
Mark Teixeira has four more years remaining on his contract and still appears capable of putting up 30 homers and 100 RBI per season. But he'll turn 33 years old next season. Is he at the beginning of the downside of his career?
Then there's Alex Rodriguez, with five years left on his contract worth $114 million. He's going to be 38 next year and looks like he's deteriorating right now. Will A-Rod even be with the Yankees next year? Can he and the team get past his ineffectiveness this postseason and the indignity of him being benched?
Will Cano get the nine- or 10-year deal that Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto have received over the past year? Perhaps not, but the Yankees would be right to regard him as that cornerstone sort of player. Any potential stars in their minor league system are at least three or four years from seeing the major leagues. The Yankees need Cano.
When Derek Jeter signed his 10-year, $189 million contract in 2001, he was 27 years old. Cano is a little bit older, so maybe he won't get that sort of commitment from the Yankees. But he could still sign a six-to-eight-year contract, and there's no reason to think he can't maintain his current level of production through the life of that deal.
Cano has consistently hit over .300 with an .850 OPS, 25 home runs and nearly 100 RBI during the past four seasons. Despite his postseason slump, he doesn't appear to be suffering from diminishing skills. He can handle the pressure of playing in New York.
Frankly, there just aren't that many good second basemen throughout MLB. The Yankees have one and should do all they can to hang on to him.
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