In the American League East are two elite second basemen in line to get paid: Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees and Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox.
Now we have an idea as to who's going to be paid first, which naturally means we have to ponder what it could mean for the other guy.
If you haven't heard the latest yet, it sounds like Pedroia's the guy who's going to be paid first. The word from Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports is that he and the Red Sox are discussing a contract extension that could exceed $100 million over five or six years. That would make him the highest-paid second baseman in history.
At least until, you know, Cano hits the open market this winter. He's going to become the richest second baseman ever no matter what happens with Pedroia. About the only thing Pedroia can do with an extension is help Cano raise the bar to the level he wants it.
Yes, the door is still technically open for Cano to sign an extension with the Yankees, but it was easy to believe Jon Heyman of CBS Sports when he reported in June that free agency is a "very likely outcome" for Cano. The man himself even let it slip to Chris Dell of the New York Daily News that he's going to be a free agent "either way" at the end of the season.
Cano's situation sheds light on Boston's urgency to re-sign Pedroia.
Taking an $11 million option for 2015 into consideration, he's under club control for two more years beyond 2013. But the Red Sox are playing it safe, as they could either wait for Cano to set the market for elite second basemen in free agency or go ahead and do it on their own terms with an extension for Pedroia.
They've got the right idea in doing so, and they also have the right kind of figure in mind.
A contract worth $100 million or more over five or six years would put Pedroia in the range of $20 million per year. That's a bit more than the $15 million per year that the Texas Rangers gave Ian Kinsler last year, but that's OK. Contract values do tend to inflate, and Pedroia has both age and numbers working for him in comparison to Kinsler.
Pedroia is now in his age-29 season, whereas Kinsler signed at the start of his age-30 season. Put side by side, their career numbers look like this:
For the uninitiated, ISO stands for isolated power and is essentially a slugging percentage that ignores singles. Here it confirms that Kinsler is the better power hitter, but not to such a degree that it makes him the better overall hitter.
So yeah, $20 million sounds reasonable for Pedroia, and it's a figure that ought to agree with him, seeing as how he's only making $10 million this year and next. And in light of his upcoming free agency, a $20 million-per-year deal for Pedroia ought to agree with Cano as well.
It's already a given that Cano is going to get at least $20 million per year when his next deal comes. He certainly won't settle for anything less. But since he'll obviously be looking to get as much money as possible, it won't hurt if he has Pedroia's contract to point to while saying, "You want me? Beat that!"
And if it comes to that, Cano will have a couple of legs to stand on. Namely, numbers and health.
One significant edge I believe Pedroia has on Cano is his defense.
Cano is easily among the game's best defensive second basemen, but FanGraphs will vouch that there's a huge gap between him and Pedroia in fielding runs above average since 2007, Pedroia's rookie season. Pedroia also holds a significant edge in defensive runs saved.
But offensive numbers are the ones that pay the bills and attract the big bucks, and that's where Cano has Pedroia beat handily.
Pedroia has the edge in on-base percentage, but Cano's huge edge in power is worth something in this case. What's more, Cano can brag that his power is only getting better while Pedroia's is getting worse. Cano has an ISO of .233 since the start of the 2011 season, compared to .153 for Pedroia.
Cano and his people (i.e. that one rapper guy and others) may already be treating $25 million per year as a realistic goal. Said goal would likely only become more realistic if Pedroia inks a $20 million-per-year contract, as Cano would be able to sell his power as being worth an extra $5 million per year.
But we're not done here. Another notion that Cano can sell prospective bidders on is the prospect that he's going to age better than Pedroia.
He may be a year older than Pedroia, but Cano's injury history is a lot cleaner. He hasn't been on the disabled list since 2006. Per Baseball Prospectus, Pedroia has lost almost 100 games to the DL since 2010, and the Boston Herald reported in May that he's playing this season with a torn ligament in his thumb.
And let's face it, you only need to watch the two guys play to conclude that Cano is the safer long-term investment. Pedroia plays recklessly, going all-out all the time. For lack of a better word, Cano plays smoothly. If Pedroia is the Jeep of second basemen, Cano's the Cadillac.
This is going to be particularly relevant if Pedroia inks a six-year contract that would take effect after the two years he's already under club control. In that scenario, the Red Sox would be tied to him through his age-37 season in 2021.
A free-agent contract that would take Cano through his own age-37 season would only be a seven-year deal. I say "only," of course, because Joel Sherman of the New York Post mentioned last October that Cano would be looking for a 10-year deal. He's kidding himself if he actually thinks he can get something like that, but him being able to set the floor for his next contract at seven years would be good enough.
Seven years at $25 million per year would, after all, be a $175 million contract. For some perspective, that's $100 million more than the current record for a second baseman (held by Kinsler).
Cano would do even better than that if he were to get the right teams involved in a bidding war. One of those between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers would be perfect, as it would involve a team with a need and lots of money (Dodgers) going up against a team with lots of money and an even bigger need (Yankees). In such a bidding war, more years and more money could come Cano's way.
So...what happens if the Red Sox only ink Pedroia to a five- or six-year deal that would take effect immediately and only lock him up through 2018 or 2019?
Best guess: Nothing that would hurt Cano.
Even if it comes to that, the Red Sox and Pedroia will still have set an annual average value for Cano to beat. And while the precedent wouldn't be set for Cano to get a long-term deal, such a precedent isn't necessarily required given Cano's optimistic aging outlook and, indeed, the fact that he should be negotiating with several teams rather than just one. The team that wants him the most will be willing to do an extra year or two.
It all goes back to what I said earlier about Cano not really needing Pedroia to set the bar in order to set his own bar this winter. He's going to do that anyway.
All Pedroia can do is make it a little easier for him to do so.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
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