It is really fun to play the guessing game with MLB's off season. Predicting trades and free agent deals makes up a significant part of the Hot Stove rumor mill. While digging into the small deals is fun, most of the media attention becomes focused on the super stars--and rightfully so, as stars drive the business. That being said, the media has another alternative outside of reporting--they need to generate traffic to their articles and to their sites. Jon Heyman is a well-respected industry professional who has been breaking big news for years. When it comes to this article on Robinson Cano's pending free agency, he strays a bit too far from "informative" and winds up in the land of "digging deeply for page views."
Before getting into each team, let it be known that MLB front offices are great at thinking outside of the box--and sometimes owners decide that the desire to win outweighs the desire to turn the largest profit possible. This means that teams can't be ruled out simply because they don't appear to be a fit. After all, the Tigers didn't look like a reasonable fit for Prince Fielder, yet here we are. Moves will be given a grade based on how realistic it is that Cano signs with the team.
Whenever a player plays for the Yankees, it has been wise--until recently--to place one's bets on the player returning to the Bronx. This has been challenged in recent years as key players such as Rafael Soriano and Russell Martin have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Much has been made of the Yankees' rumored attempt to stay under the new Luxury Tax threshold, but it remains to be seen how serious their attempt is--with Robinson Cano being the key player.
However, the Yankees are facing a big off season even beyond the prospect of signing Robinson Cano. They have many pending free agents, which include Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. With Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera retiring, the Yankees are facing having to replace--or re-sign--three members of their rotation and three bullpen arms. Combined with potentially losing Granderson's bat and the uncertainty of players like CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees may find themselves inclined to let Cano go and figure things out--though they will also be inclined to bring back Cano and keep the team in the best position to win in the near future.
When faced with a log jam, the solution is never to jam more stuff in and see what happens. The Rangers have three very talented individuals--Elvis Andrus, Ian Kinsler, and Jurickson Profar--competing for two middle infield spots. Why then would they add another extremely talented star to that mix? The answer is that they wouldn't without a trade. While it's interesting to fantasize about the Rangers trading Profar for a player like Stanton or Price and then signing Cano, that's not a realistic outcome for two reasons: the Rangers love Jurickson Profar and their pockets are not infinitely deep. Due to the very small chance Cano signs with Texas--quite honestly, the odds are on par with someone like Minnesota signing him--it comes into question as to why they were even mentioned at all.
Hear this one out before going to the next team. The Tigers have the following happening in 2014: Victor Martinez' salary decreases, they lose multiple players in free agency--Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Brayan Pena, Ramon Santiago, and Joaquin Benoit--and Anibal Sanchez' salary increases by seven million dollars. Committed salary rises and actually could be scary high with Alex Avila, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Don Kelly, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Al Alburquerque, and Phil Coke all eligible for arbitration. That being said, here are two things to consider:
1) With Peralta, Infante, and Santiago all hitting free agency the Tigers' middle infield depth is completely shot. Cano would create no roster issues and would actually improve team defense--and in fact, Iglesias/Cano in the middle of the infield would be a top-tier defensive pairing, which is something the Tigers desperately need.
2) Since when is Mike Ilitch afraid to spend money? Answer: he's not. Prince Fielder was signed to a huge contract when there was no apparent need. Now there is a need, and the Tigers would add an elite bat to the lineup while also improving team defense.
Signing Cano would put a real damper on the idea of re-signing Max Scherzer, but it would also make it much easier to trade him. Plus, there's no telling how much improving middle-infield defense--around players like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder--would help on ground balls--which makes replacing Scherzer's production a bit easier. This deal would shoot payroll up above $200 million, but the Tigers would be odds-on favorites for a 2014 title. Unfortunately for Heyman, the only mention he makes of the Tigers is that their payroll is high for their market--something that doesn't seem to be true in the mind of Mike Ilitch.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are always willing to think outside the box. That said, the plan here is clear--develop the young talent and add pieces when the time is right. Considering none of the top prospects in the system figure to see full seasons in Chicago in 2014 and Robinson Cano just turned 31, the idea of signing Cano to a long-term deal seems incredibly unlikely. My personal belief is to never make MLB decisions based on prospects in the minors, but with Javier Baez and Kris Bryant looking so good in the minors, it's hard to see the Cubs bite on a middle infielder--especially with how much help the Cubs need in the system on the pitching side.
It seems that the Mariners are thrown into the mix every off season for adding an impact bat. Most of the time the rumors appear to be completely off base, but this is one that Heyman doesn't exactly have wrong. While many will point to Brad Miller and Nick Franklin as to reasons why the Mariners would never budge, consider the fact that Robinson Cano does not need to stay at second base. Cano's arm appears to be strong enough to handle third base--and while it is never ideal to move a bat out of the middle of the infield, it's possible that it could work.
Many will think this is ludicrous due to Kyle Seager's rise to power at third base, but consider this: Seager has posted a DRS of -15 over the last two years, and his scouting reports don't exactly rave about his glove at third. Before completely falling off in the last two months of the season, Seager was putting up offensive numbers that can be acceptable--even good--in left field or first base. If you let your mind wander a bit, consider putting Cano at third and Seager in left field. Seager's defense seemingly could not be worse than Raul Ibanez', and a transition to third base might help Cano as he ages. This deal sounds better and better by the minute, and it's not like the Mariners are deep into several large contracts.
It's pretty safe to say that last off season's big trade blew up in the face of general manager Alex Anthopolous. While that is true, it's also true that the Blue Jays are not in a bad spot. While many will associate big names and big trades with big dollars, the Blue Jays don't have a ton of money committed in 2014 and beyond. In fact, the four highest paid players on the roster are making a grand total of 60 million dollars--with Mark Buehrle actually being the highest paid of all of those players.
If you're curious as to how much the Jays have coming in salary increases, the answer is: not much. J.P Arencibia, Colby Rasmus, Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers, and Brad Lincoln are the only players on the roster eligible for arbitration. Pair that with Josh Johnson's $11.25 million coming off of the books--as well as his awful performance being removed from the roster--the Jays are actually in a really great spot. They have several players on friendly deals with reasonably cheap team options coming up, and Robinson Cano would be their only huge financial commitment.
That being said, the only thing standing in the way is the Blue Jays' team philosophy of avoiding major long-term commitments. This can be avoided however if the Jays are willing to make an interesting offer. If the Jays were to bite the bullet on the AAV in Cano's contract, they could offer a massive 5-year deal with an AAV trumping the AAV of any longer commitment offered to Cano. When it is considered that the Jays have a need at second base, this possibility actually opens up significantly. In all honesty, it would appear that the Blue Jays are the best fit for Cano if the Blue Jays are willing to make the commitment.
This one is interesting to think about, but it's hard to find the legitimacy in a rumor involving the Orioles. Consider this: the Orioles will likely be extending Matt Wieters and Chris Davis in the very near future--in fact, they might be the teams' top two goals in the off season. Along with this, the Orioles are a very strong offensive team and a poor pitching team--top 10 in wRC+ and bottom 10 in xFIP. While driving the narrative of "they need pitching" and "they have enough offense" is something people should generally stay away from, the concern here is legitimate. If the Orioles want to make the playoffs--and more importantly, win the in the playoffs--they are going to need to add starting pitching.
With all due respect, what in the world are the White Sox doing here? They just traded Jake Peavy and Alex Rios this season, Paul Konerko is a candidate to retire, and the team just shelled out money for Jose Abreu. With a weak farm system and little talent on the MLB roster, it is incredibly likely that the White Sox are going to invest their money in young talent to shore up the farm and build for future years. Signing Cano isn't going to be enough to propel the White Sox anywhere near the playoff race, and it wouldn't even put the Sox in the top three teams in their own division. This one was just thrown out for fun--likely because the White Sox are in a big market.
Sure, the White Sox have had money come off the books recently and appear to have needs everywhere, but let's be realistic: they'll build around Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, not Robinson Cano.
This is the first case where Robinson Cano's change in agency may be a big deal. The Nationals' connection to Scott Boras is obvious as they have five players playing with Boras as a client. Danny Espinosa, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg are all Boras clients. With Cano switching agencies, the Nationals may have become that much less likely to gain Cano's services--if it is to be believed that agent-team relationship plays that much into negotiations and decision-making.
That being said, agency-team relationship won't be why the Nationals don't sign Robinson Cano. The massive change in team payroll and complete lack of need will be what stops them. The Nationals have 77.25 million dollars committed in 2014 and they have eight players eligible for arbitration. While Dan Haren's $13 million is coming off the books, that is essentially the only money being removed from the payroll. While the Nationals have not been afraid to spend money, there really is no need for Cano--and no room without a significant trade.
With Anthony Rendon at second, Ryan Zimmerman at third, and Bryce Harper in left, there isn't room to for Cano. Zimmerman has a big contract and Bryce Harper is one of the best young players in the game--who is also cost-controlled--so the most likely candidate to be traded is Anthony Rendon. With as talented and cost-controlled as Rendon is, he would have to be involved in a trade for a major player. Food for thought: David Price?
Last off season seems to have proven one thing: the Angels seemingly have no breaking point when it comes to spending. Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols have impossibly back-loaded contracts and Mike Trout isn't going to stay young and cheap forever. Signing Cano to a market-value deal would add another $25 million man to the roster, which is something that would absolutely drive the Angels over the Luxury Tax threshold. While the Angels may be able to afford such a penalty, the roster can ill-afford to do so.
With Cano being 31, he's going to start declining--and if past second base trends apply to Cano, the slope of decline will be steep. With Pujols and Hamilton already looking like horrid decisions--and the possibility of a Mike Trout extension staring them in the face during the time when Pujols and Hamilton will be making most of their money--a Cano contract makes little sense. The Angels would simply have too little WAR making too much money on too many roster spots.
The Giants sure seem to have the finances to pull this deal off, but the need is not there at all--unless you get really creative. Marco Scutaro doesn't seem like a candidate so decline swiftly and he's signed through 2015, so second base is essentially out of the question for Cano. That being known, Pablo Sandoval might be eligible to get the reverse-Miguel Cabrera treatment. Sandoval could move from third to first, but there's just one issue: Brandon Belt emerged in 2013 as an impact bat, and his defense is good enough that he's the ideal first baseman for the Giants.
This is where the Giants would need to get creative, because Pablo Sandoval is clearly a block in signing Robinson Cano. However, Sandoval only has one year left on his deal at a very reasonable $8.25 million. This makes him a very reasonable trade candidate. Sandoval could be justified as a third baseman or first baseman to potential trade partners, so it shouldn't be ruled out that Sandoval could be flipped for prospects while Cano is signed to play third base. The Giants are a year removed from a World Series win, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them treat the current roster as if they are in win-now mode--which they likely are. This possibility may seem far-fetched, but it's within the realm of possibility.
Now to everyone's favorite potential Cano landing spot--along with the team Heyman seems most bent on ruling out in his article. When writing about the Dodgers in his article, Heyman said this:
[Alexander] Guerrero could possibly play shortstop for the Dodgers, with Hanley Ramirez possibly moving to third base. However, Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said today that Guerrero would "probably" fit at second base for them.
This kind of thinking assumes two things: Alexander Guerrero opens the season with the Dodgers and Robinson Cano has to play second base. Neither of these things is a given, especially with Guerrero's unproven status in MLB and Cano's age. The view in the media appears to be that Cano has to play second base, but this can't be the only view--teams are more creative than that in modern times. His skills could possibly translate well to third base, leaving second base open for Guerrero--when he's ready--and shortstop open for Hanley Ramirez.
Clayton Kershaw's pending contract extension/free agency candidacy would like a word here. While $300 million sounds like a fairy tale, paying a 6+ WAR player $30 million AAV is not unfair in this market--and Kershaw would be 35 years old at the end of a ten year deal. This extension could very possibly happen, and it's going to be the priority for the Dodgers this off season. Cano could happen--as the Dodgers have plenty of money to go around--but the Dodgers have a much bigger fish to fry first.
With 12 teams--over a third of Major League baseball--mentioned in Heyman's article, there is still one team that has a realistic shot at Cano that went completely unmentioned. This team will get a low grade for realism, but at the same time the need and ability are both there. That team is:
The New York Mets
It's been driven into our heads that the Mets are going to spend money on free agent outfielders this year. What if their real focus is simply to add an impact bat? With Ike Davis' career plummeting and players such as Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Matt Harvey forming the center of the Mets' future plans, the Mets have a big need for big offense. With Juan Lagares seeming like a very viable option in center field, the Mets' outfield needs may seem less pressing, and it's also not a given that the Mets would be limited to one free agent.
With David Wright signed long term, there is evidence that the Mets aren't exactly scared of shelling out big money to aging impact players. Paired with little in future commitments and a young pitching staff with depth and talent, Cano could sign with the Mets along with someone like Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Nelson Cruz. In fact--and this admittedly may be outlandish--the Mets could also spend on a less expensive player like Jhonny Peralta and turn a team on the rise into a legitimate contender. The biggest wild card rests in the pockets of Mets' ownership.
I hold much respect for Jon Heyman--he has a big job that requires constant work to provide content for millions of interested readers. At the same time, there is a fine line between reporting and baseless speculation. While it is possible that industry sources are feeding Heyman's rumors, the facts certainly don't seem to back up the possibility. While Cano's status as the best player available will inherently drive his market to become larger than many will anticipate, that truth relies on teams to be more creative than viewing Cano as a superstar second baseman--which they likely will. Cano has a very diverse and deep skill set that can place him as a star at multiple positions across the diamond. While keeping him there could be ideal, his career may last longer and his decline may be slower if he moves off of the position.
Don't consider Robinson Cano as a second baseman. Consider him as a star with a deep skill set that can help many teams in many ways. He'll be signed to a big contract, and hopefully now you've got a better idea as to who will be the suitor.
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Ken Woolums is the Transactions Editor at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on twitter @Wooly9109
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