The Robinson Cano Problem: What Are the Yankees to Do?

Todd Jackson@tjaxmmaSenior Analyst IOctober 16, 2008

Robinson Jose Cano was called up to the Yankees to fill the shoes of Tony Womack in May of 2005, after a strong start at triple A.  This debut led to a strong initial showing of what Cano was capable of, both as an infielder and with a bat.  Both aspects were equally impressive right out of the gate.

Cano did so well in his rookie campaign that he finished only second to Huston Street for Rookie of the Year.  Had the Yankees finally found a sound and solid second baseman?  Would this guy become a long-time contributor to a new dynasty of up-and-coming, young Yankees that included Chien-Ming Wang and Melky Cabrera? 

Time would and still will tell.

Cano batted .297, 14 HR, 62 RBI, with 38 extra base hits.  Not bad for a rookie, whom Joe T compared to Rod Carew at the time.  What a compliment.

There are a few weaknesses to Cano.  One is a glaring weakness.  He is impatient at the plate.  In his rookie year he finished third worst in walks.  This is not a Yankee trait. 

The Yankees are notorious for working counts, wearing starters down, making them pitch.  This is not a Cano trait, and after four years averaging approximately 25 walks a season one might wonder if it ever will be.

Over the next three years Cano would come to dazzle Yankee fans, opposing pitchers, and opposing batters with his potential. 

The funny thing about potential is this: It does not always amount to success or even talent.  Potential is wasted every day by those who never realize their own.  What a shame it would be to see someone harness that potential and never bring the talent behind it to its ultimate fruition. 

Cano could be a superstar; will he be? 

Cano is extremely raw, even after four years in the show.  He has a great line when you look at his career statistics thus far, .303 batting, 62 jacks, 303 RBI. 

In his second year in pinstripes, he was elected to the American League All-Star Team, on which he could not participate because of being on the DL at the time of the game. 

He even contended with his captain, the great Derek Jeter, for a shot at a batting title in only his second year as a Yankee.  They both fell to Joe Mauer of the Twins.  Jeter fought down to the last game.

After four years in the bigs, though, one would think a player might get better. 

A player might improve and adjust to bring more to the table than the year before.  The player is expected to take the guidance and the leadership placed before him to better himself for the team and for his own success.

The player should be accountable as a professional baseball player.  All players need guidance, encouragement, and at times discipline.  One thing players should never need is the push to be a professional by anything other than his own self-motivation. 

This is a professional sport, in one of the most demanding arenas known to athletes.  Motivation should be a given; drive and desire are par for the course. 

If Cano can shoot under par is the question. Can he even shoot par, though? 

If you hit a rough patch at your job, more than likely Larry Bowa isn't coming over to your desk to have a talk with you or give you "tough love."  You're given a box and told to clean out your desk.

Part of being a professional is knowing your business, the expectations of you, and your own capabilities and living up to those capabilities.  The guidance from your superiors is to assist you and lead you, not force you to do what is necessary for you and them to succeed.

Cano is not progressing as a player; he is digressing.  This is very alarming to both Yankee fans and the Yankee brass.  One need not look any farther than Cano's defense this year to see this is a serious problem. 

Fans can watch a guy struggle with certain aspects of the game and still have faith that he can contribute.  He who will remain nameless and only be known as the best baseball player of our era has trouble with something as simple as a pop fly.  Yet he still contributes, and Yankee fans can count on him for his contributions. 

Fans knew Cano was impatient and jumpy at the plate.  That can be corrected.  Hopefully sooner than later, but it can be. 

It sounds as though the greatest hitting coach of all time, Kevin Long (cough, cough), is going to the Dominican this winter to school Cano on a different batting approach—one that served him very well during the last two weeks of the season. 

Once he conforms to the new approach and is comfortable with it, maybe he might just be a new man.  That still won't make him patient.

The thing Yankee fans will never tolerate from Cano is complacency.  Not at the dish and definitely not in the field. 

Watch old highlights of Derek Jeter go flying into the stands and come out, not only bloody, but bloody with a ball in his glove. 

How about the time he sprinted across the diamond against the A's to grab an errant throw from right field and toss it to Posada to throw out what would have been a game-changing run at the plate, in the post season?  Pinstripes to the bone.

Veterans aren't the only ones who hustle indefinitely.  Just this year Brett Gardner nearly knocked himself out stealing a home run and trying to tear down the outfield wall in the process.  You never saw Gardner dog it; he is a hustler, a hungry one at that. 

Yankee fans love this stuff. 

Then we see Cano.  What grace he has when he patrols his position! How strong his arm is! How smooth he makes it all look!  Like Yankees on ice or something.  He really is that good! 

Problem is that is his potential you see.

 If his talent were being showcased, you would never see him throw away a ball on a routine double play to the captain. 

He would never watch a worm burner go by him with a man on third, in a crucial game against the Halos.  He would never stand still in shallow right field and force his outfielder to run in on an errant ground ball that he very easily could have snagged, all the while watching the batter turn it into a double. 

Then again, Cliff Floyd runs like greased lighting, so surely that was excusable.

Joe Girardi did not see fit to excuse these blunders for the whole season.  It took a while, but Joe saw the problem and addressed it by benching Cano for a few games towards the end of the season.  When Cano returned, he looked like a new man.  He did just enough to keep Yankee fans interested for what is next in the ongoing roller coaster ride that is Robinson Cano. 

Is Cano the real deal?  Is Cano a Yankee?  Is Cano a San Diego Padre?  There are a lot of questions surrounding this fine second baseman. 

The bottom line is that Cano is the real deal.  Cano really is a great ball player who needs to figure out what it is he wants to leave behind when his time as a ball player is over. 

Does he want to be a Yankee great?  Does he want to do justice to his namesake, the great Jackie Robinson?  Of course he does. 

Considering that potential that was mentioned earlier, one might think this is a Hall-of-Famer waiting to happen.  Considering those mental lapses also mentioned earlier, maybe he is just another second baseman destined for the tail end of some random lineup. 

The crystal ball is out of order, so here comes the gamble. 

Do the Yankees keep Robinson Cano and bank on the fact that his potential will come to fruition for the long term?  Do the Yanks pass on possible trade offers that may bring a healthy return if Cano were to be traded?

If he is to stay, hopefully for his sake and the Yanks', Larry Bowa has gotten over his sour grapes about the way Mr. Torre was let go.  Hopefully, if Cano stays, Larry Bowa is standing in the third base coach's box next year.  Having Bowa back wouldn't hurt A-Rod's performance any either.  Larry Bowa is a topic for another article.

If the Yanks decide to use Cano as a trade tool, what could they accomplish with him?  Could Cano get the Yanks some pitching?

Could the Yanks go get Ian Kinsler out of Texas?  Could the O's be persuaded to let Brian Roberts go within the division?  How hard would it really be to replace Cano?

Can the Yankees really package Cano with, say, Ian Kennedy and maybe Kei Igawa to pick up Jake Peavy?  If that is a viable option, Cano seems expendable in light of recent performance.  What harm would it do if Cano goes to San Diego and becomes the next Rod Carew? 

Sure, the Yankees would miss him, but there is the other side.  What if Cano never amounts to much of anything but the mediocre player he represented himself to be this season?  Then you have nothing.

He seems like a great clubhouse guy.  He has the best smile in baseball.  He does not make excuses and represents himself well during interviews.  He is a very likable guy.  He makes a great Yankee.  It really is a difficult thing to do, passing judgment on him.  

The potential of this player is very scary.  So is his downside.

He is being held ransom by his own potential.  His talent must come set him free, or he will be lost forever to mediocrity.  That, my friends, would be a damn shame—for Cano, for the Yankees, for you and me. 

Pick up the pace, Cano. Pitchers come and go, and a healthy horse on April 1 could wind up being a hole in a rotation on May 1.  A solid second baseman isn't found every day, especially with a strong bat. 

Come on, Robbie. Chin up, and work hard this offseason.  You are a very important piece of Yankee success.  Visualize this and achieve it. 

If you go, best wishes, and hopefully the return received for you is worthy of your potential.  The odds are it will be realized and the Yankees will regret it.

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