Robinson Cano is the best player on the 2013 Yankees. He's a homegrown superstar on the path to Cooperstown.
He's also an impending free agent that could command a $200 million contract this winter. An impending free agent that might walk away from New York.
Can the richest franchise in baseball afford to let that happen?
Team president Randy Levine has said he's a great player, but not one that will garner a blank check from ownership in the Bronx.
In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Levine expressed New York's desire to sit down and talk about a long-term solution with Cano, but subtly began the public relations battle with Cano's agency in the media by declaring no player too valuable to let go.
"Hopefully he's a Yankee," Levine said. "Nobody is a re-sign at all costs, but we want him back, and we feel good about negotiating something with him. But nobody is a re-sign at any cost."
In the aftermath of re-signing Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million deal after the 2007 season, the Yankees should know about the short and long-term effects of paying top dollar for a marquee star coming off a big season.
Cano, like Rodriguez during his 2007 AL MVP campaign, is putting the finishing touches on another outstanding season.
Heading into play on Wednesday, Cano is hitting .308/.382/.510. That slash line is good enough for a 142 OPS-plus mark in the context of the 2013 season.
At the age of 30, Cano owns the seventh best adjusted OPS in the history of second baseman. With marks of 141, 133, 148 and 142 over the last four seasons, respectively, he's likely one more big season from launching himself ahead of Larry Doyle and Chase Utley into fifth place among the best offensive second baseman in baseball history.
In other words, we're dealing with a truly great player in the context of both the past and present.
At times, it feels like he's irreplaceable. If Yankees fans expect the team to find another second baseman with his defense and bat, than irreplaceable is the proper term to use.
However, it's unlikely the organization views the situation through those lenses.
With the Yankees facing question marks about so many older players on the decline (Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki), Cano's presence as an everyday star has solidified their lineup all summer long.
Factor in a possible long-term suspension for Rodriguez, free agency for Curtis Granderson and unknown future production from the catching and designated hitter positions, and it's easy to see why Cano's bat is so important to New York.
After spending lavishly on big money deals for Teixeira, Rodriguez and CC Sabathia, plus the specter of a $189 million luxury tax staring them in the face next year, it's easy to see why the Yankees fear overpaying Cano this winter.
It's clear that Levine and Yankees ownership do not want to repeat their mistakes, hand Cano a contract in excess of $200 million and watch him decline within three or four years. Yet, in order to compete for the postseason on a yearly basis, they need star level contributors to lead their offense.
Cano is that, and he will likely continue to hit for years to come.
Ultimately, the Yankees won't let Cano "win" the negotiations. If it comes down to staying in New York for great but not record-breaking money, there will be a common ground between the two parties.
However, if Cano wants to place himself among the highest paid players of all-time and an owner is willing to write the check, his days as a Yankee may be numbered.
From a competition standpoint, the Yankees can't afford to lose Cano, but considering their hard line stance with Jeter just a few years ago, they likely don't care. What could be lost in the 2014 product can be made up in time.
Cano is very, very likely to receive a lucrative deal to stay a New York Yankee for many years, but times have changed.
The richest team in baseball doesn't handle out blank checks anymore or for anyone.
If Cano can accept that, a marriage between future Cooperstown inductee and winning team will continue.
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