Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was revered during his legendary career for his impeccable character, honesty and lifestyle. Controversy never followed the all-time-great closer during a nearly two-decade stint in New York.
Less than a year into retirement, that's changed. Rivera's new autobiography The Closer has hit bookshelves across the country. As the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand chronicled, the former Yankees star used his new forum as a chance to voice an opinion on his former teammate and current Seattle Mariners star, Robinson Cano.
More specifically, why Rivera would chose Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia over Cano if the choice between excellent second basemen was left to him. Per Feinsand's transcription of Rivera's book:
This guy has so much talent I don’t know where to start... There is no doubt that he is a Hall-of-Fame caliber (player). It’s just a question of whether he finds the drive you need to get there. I don’t think Robby burns to be the best... You don’t see that red-hot passion in him that you see in most elite players.
Later, Rivera expounded on Pedroia, a star at the "top of his list" of players he admires.
“Nobody plays harder, gives more, wants to win more, " Rivera wrote. "He comes at you hard for twenty-seven outs. It’s a special thing to see. ... If I have to win one game, I’d have a hard time taking anybody over Dustin Pedroia as my second baseman.”
Any player—especially a Cooperstown-bound star and five-time World Series champion—has the right to an opinion on talent, drive, work ethic and on-field baseball acumen. If Rivera truly believes that Pedroia is a better player than Cano, he's entitled to do so.
However, if the now-retired star is simply using a hot take to sell copies of his new book, the opinion becomes harder to digest. When looking at the Cano vs. Pedroia debate through the prism of on-field performance, it's hard to see the reasoning behind choosing Boston's star as the superior player.
As the numbers show, Cano has been a more durable star and far more prolific offensive player since the start of the 2007 season. When factoring in defense and baserunning, the advantage in WAR—using both Baseball-Reference.com's and FanGraphs' calculations—is split, with both players narrowly gaining an edge:
If there's one area where Cano is the superior player, it's in the batters box. When breaking down the Cano-Pedroia debate using solely offensive value, Seattle's $240 million man stands alone. From 2007-2013, only Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols provided more offensive value to their respective clubs.
It's impossible to draw the line between Rivera's opinion and raw, unfiltered statistics that the former player may or may not have had handy when expounding on the subject in an autobiography. In reality, it doesn't matter. Choosing Pedroia as a better player is a matter of debate, even if the statistics give Cano an edge.
On the other hand, two aspects of the excerpt paint Rivera in a poor light: The choice of Pedroia to "win one game" and questioning Cano's "burn" and "red-hot passion" to be the best he can be.
Let's start with Pedroia over Cano for the purpose of one win-or-go-home game. As chronicled, both players are brilliant, transcendent talents at second base. During the seven-year stretch studied, few players in baseball provided more value in all of baseball.
Who would you rather have?
Yet, part of Cano's value is rooted in his durability. From 2007-2013, major league teams each played 1,134 regular-season games. Over that span, Cano missed just 14. In other words, he suited up for an average of 160 of 162 games per season. During that same span, Pedroia missed 149 games—the equivalent of almost a full regular season.
In order to justify Pedroia over Cano, the current Red Sox star would have to be healthy and actually on the diamond in a do-or-die game. Based on how the last seven years have gone, that's far from a guarantee in Boston. With Cano, playing time is a lock.
Undoubtedly, the most inaccurate part of Rivera's rant centered around the idea that Cano doesn't strive to be the best or have the burn to become an all-time great player. For years, Cano's on-field demeanor has confused baseball pursuits and fans. Because of all-world gifts and talent, Cano doesn't always come across as a gritty, hustling player, like, say, Pedroia.
Confusing grit for drive is a mistake made by fans but shouldn't be given credence by a former teammate. When Rivera chose to question how hard Cano works at his craft, he basically admitted to a lack of awareness in the clubhouse that he once policed.
After all, if Rivera had simply paid attention during recent offseasons, he would have been privy to stories of Cano's winter baseball boot camp, per Daniel Barbarisi of The Wall Street Journal:
Cano rousts his pupils out of bed as early as 5 a.m., just as the sun rises over his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. Most days, Cano wants to hit the track by 6:30 a.m., and woe to anyone who holds him up. His students are universally shocked by the rigor. They are all major leaguers, and they thought they worked hard. Then they joined up with Cano.
"I was like, 'Wow. When do we finish?'" said former Yankee Eduardo Nunez. "And then he tells me we just got started. And then we did it again. Every day."
Book excerpts aside, any city would be lucky to have second basemen like Cano or Pedroia. Both are stars, work hard and give their respective teams a chance to win on a nightly basis. Choosing one over the other is a matter of opinion, but facts are vital to forming an educated take.
After sharing a clubhouse with Cano for nine seasons and battling Pedroia for nearly a decade, it would be easy to assume that Rivera had the requisite information to deliver a measured and deliberate response to the great second base debate. Yet in this case, that wouldn't be a very good strategy for selling books.