Nearly two years ago, Robinson Cano did the unthinkable. He left New York for a bigger contract. He went after the money and was rewarded with a ten-year $240 million dollar contract from the Seattle Mariners. No one blamed Cano for taking such a contract and leaving New York. It was just hard to fathom that the Yankees were outbid – or at least were not willing to spend top dollar to keep their all-star second baseman. Moreover, the Yankees were reluctant to dish out a ten-year deal to any player after Alex Rodriguez‘s debacle of a contract.
Despite the Yankees unwillingness to roll out the red carpet for Cano, they still were big players in the 2013 offseason. The Yankees ended up spending a total of $438 million dollars to sign Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. Needless to say, it appears the Yankees were scared away by the amount of years Cano wanted, not the amount of money.
Unfortunately, the Yankees $438 million dollar crew has failed to live up to expectations. Tanaka, although brilliant when pitching, has struggled staying healthy – most notably his infamous partial UCL tear. Ellsbury had a solid first year, but missed a bulk of time in 2015 due to injury and never was the same player when he returned. McCann has had solid offensive campaigns during his two-years in the Bronx, but he saw a huge decline in the second half of 2015 and his defense has begun to dwindle with age. Beltran had a fairly miserable 2014 season and struggled with injuries and after the first month of the 2015 season, Beltran looked done. However, by the end of the season, Beltran had became one of the Yankees most reliable hitters, catching fire after his brutal start to the season.
On the other side of the country, Cano has had ups-and-downs through his first two seasons with the Mariners. Cano was brought in to end the Mariners playoff drought and, in his first season with the team, the Mariners fell just short of their first playoff appearance since 2001. Cano posted solid numbers across the board that season, batting .314 with 14 HRs and 5.2 fWAR. The Mariners were hopeful that they were just missing another bat and went out and signed Nelson Cruz last offseason. However, despite Cruz’s great 2015 season, the Mariners took a giant step backwards. Cano also took a step back, posting abysmal numbers in the first half of the season. Cano had a much better second half, but the Mariners were already too far out of contention for it to matter. He finished the season with a .287 batting average (his lowest mark in seven seasons). On top of this, Cano saw his K% spike to 15.9%, the highest mark of his career. He also managed just a 2.1 fWAR in 2015, the third lowest mark of his career, and lowest since 2008.
Fans and media were both startled by Cano’s massive drop-off and many wondered if this was the beginning of the end for Cano. The Mariners certainly hoped these notions were untrue, as they owed Cano another $192 million over the next eight seasons. Mid-season, reports surfaced that Cano has been dealing with an abdominal issue since 2014 that effected his appetite and energy. Cano recently had surgery to fix this issue and hopes that the problem is behind him.
Meanwhile, John Harper, of the New York Daily News, recently reported that a close friend of Cano’s told him that he was unhappy in Seattle and wish he was back in New York. Cano attempted to debunk these rumors posting a tweet shortly after the rumors of him wanting out of Seattle came to light:
Despite Cano’s public attempt to diminish the rumors, it is hard to believe that he would not mind donning the pinstripes again. So, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. A trade that would send Cano back to the Bronx seems to make almost too much sense for it to be true. A match made in heaven, maybe. The Mariners, tired of falling short of their playoff aspirations, revamped their front office this year, hiring former Angels GM Jerry Dipoto as their Executive Vice President and General Manager. The man that signed Cano to that gigantic contract no longer makes the decisions in Seattle. Dipoto could be much more willing to start over and move Cano and his large contract. This is where the Yankees come in. Since Cano’s departure, the Yankees have struggled to find a solution at second base. They have tried endless options ranging from Brian Roberts to Stephen Drew. Neither exactly panned out and are no longer on the Yankees roster. The Yankees did acquire Dustin Ackley from the Mariners this past season, who has experience at second base, but is more of a platoon player, if anything. Furthermore, the Yankees do have a young second baseman in their system named Rob Refsnyder, but the Yankees do not seemed sold on his abilities to consistently perform at a high-level.
Robinson Cano could slide right back in and fill the second base role in the Bronx for years to come. Despite his regression in 2015, Yankee Stadium is tailor-made for Cano’s swing, and would provide a much-needed boost to the middle of their lineup. The Yankees are probably reluctant to take on such a hefty-contract, especially since they were unwillingly to dish out the same contract two-years ago. But in comes Jacoby Ellsbury, the $153 million dollar man the Yankees elected to sign instead of Cano. The Mariners could use a lead-off hitter and a established center fielder – both of which Ellsbury provides. The Mariners current outfield consist of Nelson Cruz (who is much better suited for the DH role), Franklin Gutierrez, and Leonys Martin – whom they recently acquired from the Rangers. Ellsbury would certainly help give the Mariners greater flexibility in the outfield. Moreover, Ellsbury’s has 5 years $105.7 million dollars – with a $21 million dollar club option – left on his contract. Dealing Cano for Ellsbury would save the Mariners three season and nearly $87 million dollars.
Although the Yankees would be taking on an extra three years and $87 million dollars, they have a large sum of money coming off the books at the end of both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. The deal would also provide the Yankees with greater roster flexibility, which they have been determined to achieve. The Yankees would be able to slide recently acquired Aaron Hicks into CF to replace the loss of Ellsbury. It would also make Refsnyder much more expandable, allowing the Yankees to potentially trade him to improve their pitching.
While a trade of Ellsbury for Cano seems unlikely at this point, I would not be surprised if this changed. The deal makes sense for both the Yankees and the Mariners. It is now up to Brian Cashman and Jerry Dipoto to make it happen.