Despite the illusion that it's written in the bylaws of MLB that the New York Yankees must be one of the five playoff teams in the American League, a spot in the postseason is anything but a lock for the Bronx Bombers in 2013.
Faced with improved competition, both in the AL East and the rest of the American League, the veteran-heavy club enters the season with a number of key pieces set to become free agents at the end of the year, none bigger than second baseman Robinson Cano.
Unquestionably the best second baseman in baseball, Cano, 30, is going to command a massive contract. According to ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews, the team has broken from its protocol and reached out to his representative—Scott Boras—to begin discussions about a long-term deal.
Boras, who has a lengthy track record of steering his highest-profile clients to the open market, is thought to be seeking a contract along the lines of what a pair of first basemen, Cincinnati's Joey Votto (10 years, $225 million) and Los Angeles' Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million) got from their respective clubs.
That doesn't jive with the Yankees' stated goal of getting underneath the $189 million luxury tax in 2014.
So, what happens if not only talks between the two sides, but the Yankees playoff chances falter during the season? It's something that Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News wonders about:
This hasn't happened in our modern Yankee era, but what if they flop this year and trade Cano at deadline to replenish farm?— Anthony McCarron (@AnthonyMcCarron) February 9, 2013
It's certainly a fair question to ask, and it brings up some interesting scenarios.
Without a doubt, for the Yankees to seriously consider moving their All-Star middle infielder, they would need to receive an incredibly lucrative package. It would need to start with at least a pair of high-end pitching prospects, and very likely a smooth-fielding outfielder with power as well.
Receiving a second baseman in the deal may or may not be a necessity, with the Yankees having a pair of prospects in David Adams and Corban Joseph who might be able to take over at second base, though they are far from the can't-miss type.
So which teams around baseball have the financial wherewithal to pay Cano what he seeks, a need at second base and the top-level prospects that would be necessary to extract him from the Bronx?
The list isn't a long one—though some of the teams with the ability to pull a deal off might surprise you.
Keep in mind, I am not advocating that a deal be made by the Yankees or any of these clubs. We are merely looking at the possibilities.
Miami has money to spend, and while owner Jeffrey Loria traded away his big-money signings (and then some) this past winter, the Marlins still have plenty of players to piece together to land Cano.
A straight-up deal for slugging right fielder Giancarlo Stanton would work for the Yankees, though why Miami would move a young star for an older one doesn't make much sense.
Instead, you'd imagine that the Marlins would look to pair Cano with Stanton, dipping into the farm system for the pieces needed to land Cano.
Any package would begin with right-hander Jose Fernandez, one of the most electric pitching prospects in all of baseball and a future ace. Outfielder Christian Yelich, currently a center fielder with the power to move to a corner spot, would also need to be part of the deal.
Catcher Rob Brantly and a pair of left-handed starters who are both a few years away from making an impact, Justin Nicolino (acquired from Toronto in the fire sale) and Andrew Heaney could also be used to facilitate a deal.
The Mariners have money to spend (as evidenced by their ongoing negotiations with ace Felix Hernandez on a lucrative contract extension) and one of the deepest farm systems in the game.
While the team has high hopes for second baseman Dustin Ackley, who took a step backwards in 2012, he doesn't offer the kind of production in the middle of the lineup that Seattle desperately needs.
A deal that started with two of the pieces the Mariners were ready to trade to Arizona for Justin Upton—middle infielder Nick Franklin and right-handed starter Taijuan Walker—would certainly pique the Yankees interest.
Adding another of the big-time arms in their system: Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer or Victor Sanchez and a lesser piece might be enough to get the job done.
St. Louis Cardinals
I hesitated to put the Cardinals on this list for two reasons. First, they already have a highly thought of second base prospect in Kolten Wong.
More importantly, the Cardinals are going to need to spend big money to keep ace Adam Wainwright in the fold after the 2013 season, so the money that the team could put towards locking Cano up long-term may not be available.
Still, adding Cano to a Cardinals team that is watching its core of Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina all getting into their thirties may be what the team needs to make a handful of runs at a World Series title before the window on this group closes.
With the best outfield prospect in the land in Oscar Taveras and plenty of young pitching prospects with high upsides in right-handers Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals have plenty of pieces to put a deal together should they decide that's the way they want to go.
Rick Weiner is a Featured Columnist covering all of MLB.