When Robinson Cano came up in 2005, the team was in a rough place. It was early May and the Yankees were 11-15. This was on the heels of an embarassing ALCS loss to the Red Sox, and there were whispers that Joe Torre would be fired. They had signed 35-year-old Tony Womack prior to the season, and he was a mostly terrible second baseman. Cano had been a productive player in the minors – nothing special – and the team made a gutsy call to call him up and move Womack to left field.
Cano had a terrible start, and the team kept losing:
May 3rd: Cano goes 0-for-3, Yankees lose 11-4 (11-16)
May 4th: Cano picks up his first big league hit, goes 2-for-4, Yankees lose 11-8 (11-17)
May 5th: Cano goes 0-for-3, Yankees lose 6-2 (11-18)
May 6th: Cano goes 0-for-4, Yankees lose 6-3 (11-19)
It was their worst start in years, and Cano continued to struggle: 0-for-3 on May 7th, 0-for-4 on May 8th, 0-for-2 on May 9th. He went hitless in 6 of his first 7 games and was 2 for his first 23. He was booed constantly, and it was clear Yankee fans wanted him back in the minors. It was an inauspicious start for a guy who would eventually receive a 10-year, $240 million contract.
But Torre kept playing him because he didn’t have any other options, and eventually Cano turned it around. After his 2-for-23 start, he hit .307 for the rest of the year and was second in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Huston Street.
All in all, the Yankees got nine productive, durable years out of Cano and paid him about $57 million. His final line with the team: 1,374 games, .309/.355/.504, 204 home runs, 125 OPS+, 45.2 WAR. He missed a total of fourteen games over the last eight seasons. He became an elite defender, a rock in the middle of the order, with one of the sweetest swings in the game. He had a great run.
The Yankees had no choice but to let Cano go. The Mariners blew everyone out of the water, and they’ll be saddled with an albatross contract. The Yankees have learned their lesson, and giving out 10-year contracts to a guy on the wrong side of 30 is not a good winning model. It will hurt in the short-term, no doubt, but they will have a lot more financial flexibility down the road.
But, man, this is strange. I can’t ever remember a time that the Yankees let a home-grown player in the prime of his career walk. The thing about the Yankees is that, sure, they have the money to sign big free agent players from other teams. But over the last 20 years, they were also able to keep all of their productive home-grown players: Bernie, Jeter, Jorge, Pettitte, Rivera. All of those guys received big contracts at some point or another, but, really, there was never a doubt that they would stay with the team.
The sad thing is that Cano will get overwhelmed with jeers when his Mariners travel to New York in late April. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not happy about Cano leaving, but I don’t think I could ever boo him. Well, I guess I’m not a booer in general. This is not a situation Yankee fans have been in before – booing a player on another team because he turned down their offer. It’s a shame because Cano had such an awesome career and provided me and other fans with countless great moments. Yes, he certainly had his downfalls. He wouldn’t run out ground balls. He would appear lackadaisical at times. He never really emerged as a leader. But he was, mostly, a joy to watch. I hope fans remember that.