Why Robinson Cano Isn't Worth a $300 Million Contract—Or Even $200 Million

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Why Robinson Cano Isn't Worth a $300 Million Contract—Or Even $200 Million
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

If Robinson Cano has his way, free agency will end with him becoming the highest-paid player in baseball history.

According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, Cano wants to be baseball's first $300 million player, holding firm to his request for a "10-year, $310 million" contract.

Once you stop laughing, realize that someday there will be a player who breaks the $300 million threshold. There have already been rumblings the Los Angeles Dodgers could give Clayton Kershaw a deal in that range, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.

It's also possible that Mike Trout, who can become a free agent after the 2017 season at age 26, hits the $300 million mark.

However, therein lies the problem that a player like Cano faces when deciding he wants to set the market on fire with one of the biggest contracts in baseball history—a contract that he's nowhere near worth.

Players like Kershaw and Trout were called up to The Show at a young age, excelled right away and held their value. Teams will feel much more comfortable giving them a 10-year contract.

Cano did come up at the ripe age of 22 in 2005 and signed a six-year, $55 million deal before the 2008 season that took away two of his free-agent years.

Now he's 31 years old playing a position (second base) where players don't traditionally age well.

It also doesn't help Cano's case that the last two major deals signed by free agents over the age of 30 have been busts.

Albert Pujols was the best player on the planet for the first decade of the 2000s, winning three National League MVP awards and hitting at least 32 home runs every year from 2001 to 2011. 

The Los Angeles Angels rewarded Pujols' efforts by signing him to a 10-year, $240 million contract two years ago. He played well in his first season with the team, hitting .285/.343/.516 with 30 home runs and 50 doubles, but it was a far cry from what he did in St. Louis.

Everything fell apart for Pujols in 2013. He played in just 99 games, hit .258/.330/.437 with 17 home runs and suffered a foot injury that plagued him all year before he was shut down in August.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Robinson Cano can thank Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols if his contract negotiations aren't up to his lofty standards.

Josh Hamilton, another Angels signee, had a disastrous end to the 2012 season with Texas, hitting just .245/.330/.543 in the final month. He did hit 43 home runs, so it's not like the year was a waste, but the finish didn't inspire a lot of confidence moving forward.

Sure enough, in the first season of a five-year, $133 million contract. Hamilton had the worst season of his MLB career with a .250/.307/.432 line and 21 home runs in 576 at-bats. 

Teams are paying more attention than ever to what happens with marquee players signed to massive contracts in the offseason.

Cano, meanwhile, didn't have a catastrophic collapse to end the season (Hamilton), nor is he coming off the worst season of his career (Pujols) prior to free agency.

Via MLB Advanced Media

In fact, 2013 was one of Cano's best seasons. His .314 batting average was his best since 2010, and his on-base percentage of .383 was a career high.

Since 2010, Cano ranks second behind Miguel Cabrera in FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement (25.4). The only other up-the-middle player in the top five during that span is Pittsburgh center fielder and 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen (fourth at 23.9).

But you have to keep in mind what free agency is. All these numbers I am talking about are what Cano has done in the past.

Free agency pays you for what you will do in the future.

MLB teams tend to forget that, opting to pay players based on their past glory instead of examining what the future holds.

To be fair, Marchand's report simply says that Cano is looking for $310 million. The report also speculates that if the New York Yankees want to stay on their current payroll trajectory, Cano's price will have to "drop about $100-120 million."

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs hypothesized before the 2013 season started and after the Yankees made a contract offer to Cano's then-agent Scott Boras that the second baseman would be worth about $210 million over the next 10 years. 

Cameron cited examples of second basemen, Cano included, who put up at least 130 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) during their age 26-29 seasons. He also found that the players in that group saw their average WAR totals per season (assuming 600 plate appearances) decline by 33 percent once into their age-31 and older seasons.

For perspective on $200 million contracts, here are the players who have signed them in baseball history.

MLB Contracts Worth $200+ Million
Player Contract Signed
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees 10 yrs, $275 mil 2008
Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers 10 yrs, $252 mil 2001
Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels 10 yrs, $240 mil 2012
Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds 10 yrs, $225 mil 2012
Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers 9 yrs, $214 mil 2012

Cot's Baseball Contracts

Two things immediately jump out from that list.

First, those players were all elite power hitters at the time the deals were signed. They may not be at that level anymore, but with the exception of Votto, the three players had at least two seasons of 40 home runs under their belt at the time of the agreement.

Even Votto, who is by no means a slouch in the power department, had a 37-homer season under his belt. Votto, Rodriguez (the second time he signed a $200 million contract) and Pujols also had at least one MVP award on their mantles when they signed.

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As great as Cano has been, he's hit more than 30 home runs just once and hasn't won an MVP award. I'm not saying that's right, or that it should lower his value, but MLB teams follow trends more than anything when handing out contracts.

That point is more about the way teams appear to evaluate players for these massive deals rather than anything Cano has done.

So why would I not want to give Cano $200 million, let alone $300 million?

It's not rocket science. These of deals always end up badly for the team, while the player suffers because he ends up hearing all sorts of criticism about the albatross contract that is holding the franchise back.

I don't mean those deals barely provide value to the teams; more often than not, though, they wind up so lopsided in the favor of the player that he might as well be given control of the franchise.

Look at the names of the players above. Votto was great in 2013, posting 6.2 in FanGraphs WAR, but the other three combined for 3.4.

Pujols and Rodriguez had excuses since they were hurt for most of the year, but Fielder was healthy and just saw his value decrease by more than half (4.8 WAR in 2012 to 2.2 in 2013).

Cano might be the one exception of a player who can maintain most of his value well into his 30s, but the odds are strongly against it. There is no concrete evidence of a second baseman continuing to post (at least) five wins above replacement at that age.

Certain players warrant the kind of contract Cano wants. Unfortunately, given his age and history, he isn't one of them. He will sign the biggest deal this offseason, but it would be a shock to see the price exceed $200 million.

 

Note: All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.

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