What is Robinson Cano really worth?
Well, that depends. Are we asking the open market, or are we asking the New York Yankees?
To a certain extent, it doesn't really matter. No matter who ends up signing the checks, Cano is soon going to be paid like one of the game's very best players. He's earned that right; there's a wide assortment of numbers that can vouch for his status as one of the game's top superstars (more on those in a moment).
But let's just say I got to thinking. I found myself pondering what Cano can realistically hope for on the open market this winter, and then I found myself pondering whether he's worth more or less than that amount to the Yankees.
It'll all make sense in the end (or so I hope). If you'll follow me, we'll start making our way in that direction.
Cano's Open-Market Value: Quite Large
We don't actually know for sure if Cano is going to hit the open market, but every sign in the universe is pointing in that direction.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently reported that Cano and the Yankees are miles apart in extension talks, and Cano let it slip to Chris Dell of the New York Daily News this week that he's going to test free agency "either way at the end of the season."
So yeah, a trip to the open market is probably happening. And when it does, the open market will have something new on its hands.
We know that Cano is going to be up for a contract worth at least $100 million. Unless my memory and MLBTradeRumors' database are missing somebody, there's never been a second baseman who has signed a contract that rich. Not on the free-agent market. Not anywhere.
Among recent big-money extensions signed by second basemen, the one most relevant to Cano is probably the six-year, $72.5 million contract Brandon Phillips signed with the Cincinnati Reds in April of 2012. Phillips signed it after his age-30 season in 2011. Cano is in his age-30 season now.
But that's where the relevance ends. Through his age-30 season, Phillips was a .272/.322/.434 hitter with 130 home runs. Cano is a .307/.352/.502 hitter with 193 home runs and counting. His career OPS is about 100 points higher than Phillips' was through his age-30 season, and his OPS+ is nearly 30 points higher.
That sheds some light on just how good of an offensive second baseman Cano is. But it gets better.
According to Baseball-Reference, there have been two second basemen in history with an OPS of at least .850 and at least 190 career homers by the age of 30. One is Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby, and the other is Cano.
Cano is undoubtedly one of the greatest offensive second basemen to come along, and you have to think he's worth well over $100 million based on that alone. But what bodes even better for him is how well he measures up against the very best hitters in the game over the last few seasons.
Since the start of the 2009 season, Cano is a .310/.364/.530 hitter. Per Baseball-Reference, the only other hitters with him in the .310/.360/.530 range since 2009 are: Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Joey Votto.
Per FanGraphs, Cano is also in these guys' company in Weighted Runs Created and Weighted Runs Above Average. Also in there are Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
Pujols and Fielder both have $200 million contracts worth over $20 million per year. Braun signed a five-year contract extension for 2016-20 back in 2011 that will pay him over $20 million per year. Votto signed a 10-year extension with the Reds last year that will pay him an average of $22.5 million. Cabrera is making just short of $19 million per year with the Detroit Tigers.
Point being: Based solely on his offensive production these last few seasons, Cano's open-market value is easily going to be in the $20 million per year range.
And if I'm Cano's reps, I'm pointing out that he's been a better hitter than Josh Hamilton in his career (true) and that he's also a year younger (also true) and has been more durable (also also true). Hamilton got $25 million per year on the open market, so it's only fair that Cano should be there too.
Cano also gets points for playing his entire career in the pressure cooker that is New York. And though advanced stats like UZR and Defensive Runs Saved tend to have inconsistent views of Cano's defense (see FanGraphs), he's an elite defensive second baseman by reputation if nothing else.
There's also the reality that the aging curve for elite second basemen like Cano isn't all that scary. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs crunched the numbers earlier this year and found that second basemen of Cano's skill level have actually tended to age fairly well.
That doesn't make a long-term investment in Cano decidedly safe, but that's not bad as far as assurances go. Thus is $25 million per year only sounding more and more fair.
If Cano were to sign a deal that would take him through his age-36 season, a la Hamilton, Fielder and Mark Teixeira, he'd be up for a seven-year, $175 million deal. An eight-year deal through his age-37 season would put him at $200 million. And so on.
Heyman wrote in his report that Cano is supposedly seeking an A-Rod-like deal somewhere in the $275 million neighborhood. I feel very comfortable in assuming he's not going to get that, but that eight-year, $200 million contract doesn't sound too far-fetched. If it comes to a bidding war, $200 million could be the floor rather than the ceiling.
I suppose that puts me with Cameron, who wrote that any offer for Cano is likely going to have to start with a two. It's doubtful that he's going to settle for less than $200 million.
But now for the tricky part: What's he worth to the Yankees?
Cano's Yankees Value: Quite Larger
When the Yankees look at their star second baseman, they apparently see David Wright.
That's not going to cut it, and the Yankees probably know that.
The Yankees must know that Cano has been the more productive player in recent seasons, and they have to know that Wright didn't sign his deal on the open market. They also surely realize that the $17.25 million average annual value of Wright's deal is only $2.25 million more than Cano is making now.
He's worth more to the Yankees than that. A lot more.
There's a website called BaseballPlayerSalaries.com that weighs a player's salary against his percent of the team's "on-field performance." This year, Cano's $15 million salary accounts for 6.58 percent of the Yankees' $228,106,125 payroll, and his production accounts for 19.33 percent of the club's on-field performance.
In other words, Cano is ridiculously valuable. If he were to be paid what he's actually worth, he'd be making over $40 million this year.
That's merely a "for some perspective" figure, to be sure. But if we were to assume that their payroll is going to be $189 million next year and roughly in that range going forward, Cano would only have to account for roughly 13 percent of the Yankees' on-field performance to be worth $25 million.
So no, a $25 million salary really wouldn't be such an absurd amount for the Yankees to pay Cano. Not in light of what he's going to be worth on the open market. And not in light of what they can spend, either.
The Yankees may need a fire lit under them in order to go that high. Said fire will certainly be lit if the Los Angeles Dodgers take an interest in Cano this winter, and it's a near-certainty that they will.
Back in February, Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York floated the Washington Nationals as another possible bidder, and it's not hard to imagine them being extra aggressive if they don't get to the postseason this year.
It would be too perfect for Cano if the Dodgers and Nationals got involved. Then he could turn and say to the Yankees, "Those guys want me, but you need me."
And that would be true, of course. The Dodgers and Nationals both have an assortment of stars in their prime years. The only guy the Yankees have who fits that particular bill is Cano.
He's playing a huge part this year, and there could well be a big part for him to play in the years to come. The Yankees won't be mired in their current mediocrity forever, but they're caught between having too many old guys and not enough young guys. Losing a true superstar in his prime would only make things worse.
If there's a fear for the Yankees, it's that re-upping with Cano would result in another albatross contract down the road. Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York reported in May that Yankees boss Hal Steinbrenner is wary of any contract as long as six or eight years, and understandably so given what's going on with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
But if the Yankees want to keep Cano, they're going to have to take that risk. And given what he means to them, they have more reasons to take that risk than anybody else who might come calling after Cano this winter.
If it comes to a bidding war, the Yankees could try to entice Cano by offering him more years. In this case, that could mean as many as nine or 10.
But rather than risk a long albatross contract, something tells me the Yankees would rather risk a shorter, more expensive albatross contract. In this case, that would mean offering Cano more money.
Even suggesting as much gives me the squirms knowing that the Yankees are trying to spend less money, but it would hardly be impossible for them to justify committing a couple million extra bucks to Cano. If he's good enough to be worth a $40 million salary on a mediocre team, then surely he could be good enough to be worth, say, a $26 or $27 million salary on a good team.
I trust the Yankees have their own formula for figuring these sorts of things out, but that could be what it's going to take for them to keep Cano even if their own formulas say no. Over eight years, that would mean something in the $210-$220 million range.
I'm not going to pretend like I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that such a payday would be an overpay in relation to Cano's market value. But relative to what I think his market value should be, yeah, that would be an overpay.
But only a slight one at that, and one the Yankees would have reasons to risk.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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