All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano will be a free agent at the end of this season and, understandably, he wants a big pay raise. Cano is one of the game's premier all-around players and, with Mariano Rivera retiring and Derek Jeter spending more time on crutches than on the field, he could emerge as the new face of the Yankees.
His asking price, though, is quite steep: $305 million.
That's reportedly what Cano has asked from the Yankees to keep him in pinstripes past this season. At $305 million over 10 years, that would be the most expensive contract in the history of baseball, topping Alex Rodriguez's record 10-year, $275 million deal.
Now, Cano's ask is merely a starting point in the negotiations. And he and the Yankees are reportedly far apart on a dollar figure — the Yankees are offering something around $161 million over seven years.
The Yankees' counteroffer is interesting because, unlike years past, when there was seemingly no limit to what the team would pay to scoop up the market's top free agents, the team is taking a more reasoned approach this time around. And, what's more, they're right to balk at making Cano baseball's first $300 million man.
Baseball players typically peak in their late twenties. Cano is 30 years old, meaning he would be expected to decline over the next decade while still making a $30 million per year.
Consider how miserably the last huge contracts handed out to star sluggers have gone.
Prince Fielder signed a nine year, $214 deal with Detroit two years ago. He's on pace to finish with the lowest home run total of his career and his worst OPS+ (on-base plus slugging percentage, adjusted for park factors) since his first full year in the majors as a 22-year-old.
Albert Pujols is in the second year of a 10-year, $240 million deal — third-richest in MLB history, behind only A-Rod's two record deals — and he's already looking like a barely above-average player. He's been declining in virtually every offensive metric for five straight years, and will finish 2013 with by far his worst numbers ever. The Angels still owe him $212 million.
Cano's production hasn't noticeably tapered off at all. He's actually putting up numbers better than his career averages this year.
Yet those numbers aren't close to what Alex Rodriguez was doing when he convinced the Yankees to sign him to a new 10-year, $275 million contract after his MVP-winning 2007 season.
In 2007, A-Rod led all of baseball with 54 home runs and a 1.076 on-base plus slugging percentage. Over his career, he has won three MVP awards and ranks fifth all-time in home runs.
Cano, meanwhile, has never finished higher than third in MVP voting; he's never hit more than 33 home runs in a year; and his overall production, while exceptional for a second baseman, doesn't come close to touching A-Rod's.
Since his debut in 2005, Cano has been the ninth-most valuable player in baseball, per Fangraphs' WAR (wins above replacement.) Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has been nearly as valuable, and he just signed a seven year, roughly $100 million contract extension.
If the Yankees let Cano walk, free-spending teams like the Dodgers could engage in a bidding war that drives up his price. It's going to be a thin free agent class, and Cano easily tops the list of available candidates. But even under those favorable circumstances, it's hard to imagine anyone plunking down $300 million for his services.
Sure, this is the Yankees, and Cano holds an extremely high intangible value for them. But the team has already conceded it botched A-Rod's colossal contract.
The last thing they need now is another A-Rod-sized problem.