Cano Will Miss New York, But Are the Yankees Better Off Without Him?

He’s smiling now, but wait until he plays a game in Seattle

It was a hectic Friday for the New York Yankees. They took some big losses to their offense and franchise. First, their best player departed the team after nine seasons in the Bronx. Their first homegrown superstar to leave in the prime of his career. Robinson Cano signed a 10 year contract with the Seattle Mariners worth $240 million, one of the four most lucrative deals in sports history. Curtis Granderson went across town to join the Mets for four years.

There’s no doubt the Yankees will miss Cano and Granderson, as they hit a combined 232 home runs from 2010-2013. However, they may miss the Yankees even more; in the long run, the Yankees may be better off without them. Cano moves from Yankee Stadium, one of the best hitting parks in baseball, to Safeco Field, one of the worst hitting parks in baseball. That alone will cut his power numbers by a serious margin.

Cano also moves from the greatest franchise in sports to one of the worst franchises in baseball. The Mariners have just 11 winning seasons in almost 40 years of existence, making the playoffs just four times. They only attracted 1.76 million fans this past season, 11th in the AL. Do Cano and Jay Z think he’s going to breathe new life into that franchise? He’s no Ken Griffey, Jr.

Let’s also not forget the talent in Seattle’s lineup is of minor league quality, so he will not be able to get good pitches to hit with a lack of protection. I mean, his second best teammate is Kyle Seager, a career .260 hitter. Thus, his numbers will start to decline as soon as next year, and it’s unlikely the Mariners will be competitive in the same division as Texas and Oakland. Cano’s move to Seattle from New York will be one he will regret, even if he got paid.

So how did the Yankees respond to two big losses for their lineup? Simple: Spend mo money. They brought back ace Hiroki Kuroda for one more season, a much needed piece to fill a huge void in the rotation. Then, they struck again on Friday night, bringing Carlos Beltran to the Bronx at long last; for three years and $45 million. They also have finalized the deals for Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann this past week; both are serious upgrades to positions where the Yankees had huge holes at.

Carlos Beltran finally joins Derek Jeter in the Bronx

So, to recap: The Yankees have so far spent about $300 million between McCann, Ellsbury, Kuroda, and Beltran. Cano and Granderson alone got the same amount of money. The Evil Empire still has some more holes to fill, (in the rotation, the bullpen, and the infield), but they have more than enough financial muscle to do so.

Their payroll is currently around $150 million, so they still have about $30-35 million to spend if they are committed to keeping the payroll around $189 million to avoid the luxury tax. They may risk going over the limit for trying to further upgrade the roster, but they may have even more flexibility if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended for the entire 2014 season. That’ll free up over $25 million.

Next move for the Yankees may be on the trade market. With the arrival of Ellsbury and Beltran, Brett Gardner becomes expendable, and he’s a valuable asset, being worth 16 wins in his last three full seasons and providing Gold Glove caliber defense. He can be packaged along with expendable prospects, and there’s already talk of the Reds willing to take him for either Homer Bailey or Brandon Phillips. They should also look into Chase Headley from the Padres if A-Rod gets banned.

The Yankees are not done. 2008 ALCS MVP Matt Garza could be next on their shopping list.

Then there’s the rotation. Currently, three spots are filled with CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda. It seems one of the open spots will be a Spring Training competition, so the Yankees could afford to fill the last one via free agency or trade. The top free agent pitcher is Matt Garza, an AL East veteran who is looking for a deal for about five years. There’s also Masahiro Tanaka, the latest Japanese sensation, but he may not be available at all this winter as his team is frustrated by big changes to the posting system. Either one would be a terrific no. 2 or no. 3 pitcher in the rotation, but with plenty of risk attached.

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This is likely going to be their Opening Day lineup, with different scenarios considered:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)

DH Derek Jeter (R)

RF Carlos Beltran (S)

1B Mark Teixeira (S)

C Brian McCann (L)

LF Alfonso Soriano (R)

3B/3B/2B Alex Rodriguez/Chase Headley/Brandon Phillips (R/S/R)

2B Kelly Johnson (L)

SS Brendan Ryan (R)

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Potential rotation:

LHP CC Sabathia

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

RHP Matt Garza/Masahiro Tanaka

RHP Ivan Nova

RHP/RHP/LHP Michael Pineda/David Phelps/Vidal Nuno

IF everybody stays healthy, any scenario is a really damn good lineup, one that is also very well rounded. Could be one of the best lineups in the game. That rotation looks pretty solid too, especially if Sabathia returns to form. A lot will still have to go right for the Yankees next season for them to win, given all the inconsistencies and injuries to several regulars this past season. But hey, it happened to the Red Sox this year, so “why not us?” They’re sitting more pretty even now than Seattle-bound Robinson Cano.

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Without Cano, Ellsbury Doesn’t Make Sense for the Yankees

The New York Yankees made their second big heist of the offseason Tuesday, signing former Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury to the third largest contract ever given to an outfielder. A grand total of $153 million for seven years, with an option for an eighth year that will push the value of the deal to $169 million.

This deal came at a total shock, as the Yankees finalized the $85 million deal for Brian McCann hours before signing Ellsbury, and only days prior met with Robinson Cano, who lowered his demands but is still millions apart from the Yankees’ offer. This deal just makes New York’s winter even more complicated.

I really just don’t get the deal, and for more than a few reasons. The Yankees had plenty of priorities this offseason, and getting a high-priced upgrade to the OF was not one of them. They’ve now spent over a quarter of a billion dollars to fill two spots in the lineup, and there’s still plenty more holes to fill with a possible self-imposed $189 million cap to worry about thanks to the luxury tax.

For one, they could have upgraded the outfield with cheaper alternatives to Ellsbury. As much as I didn’t want Carlos Beltran (he’s 37 and wants three years), the impact of a deal for him wouldn’t be as bad. Shin-Soo Choo does a lot of things Ellsbury does: steals bases, has more pop, plays CF (although poorly). Heck, even somebody like Corey Hart would be a good no-risk, high reward pickup.

I was afraid of Ellsbury getting a large contract, and my fears are officially realized. Now, Ellsbury is a terrific player. When healthy, he’s one of the top players in the game. He was the runner-up to Justin Verlander for MVP in 2011 and has led the league in stolen bases three times, stealing over 50 bases in each season with amazing efficiency. However, he has a long history of injuries with Boston. A history of speedsters versus the age curve is mixed, some guys playing for a long time like Rickey Henderson, others, like Carl Crawford, not so much. The only way for this deal to make sense is if there is more spending to come.

The Yankees still have other holes to fill right now. They still have to sign Robinson Cano and fill up the giant void in the rotation and the bullpen. Cano recently met with the Seattle Mariners, who seem to be hell bent on outbidding the Yankees for the superstar second baseman. Now, the Yankees don’t want to go above $180 million, so the fact that they paid Ellsbury, who isn’t even close to Cano’s level, over $150 million is just silly. They need Cano, and Cano needs them. If the Yankees want to compete next year, they have to blow past the $189M cap and pay Cano. He’s the heart of the franchise.

Probably the biggest hole the Yankees have right now is the giant void in the rotation. Currently, it’s just composed of CC Sabathia, who had his worst season in the bigs this year, and Ivan Nova, who has been inconsistent in his MLB career, but was brilliant in 2013. From that 2013 rotation, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes are gone, but Hiroki Kuroda could possibly be on the way back. Which leaves two open spots. You could fill one with Michael Pineda or David Phelps, but that’s only if they are healthy. That’s still a major question mark.

They could fill the rest of the void in the pitching staff through free agency. Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are the best guys left, but they’re a risk that could boil over into a John Lackey/AJ Burnett situation.

Then there’s the latest Japanese star, Masahiro Tanaka. Just yesterday, MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball agreed to a deal to change the posting system which includes a maximum bidding cap. This would basically allow any posted player to negotiate with any team he wishes; previously the highest bidder had exclusive negotiating rights.

Of course, all of this may not mean a thing if the Yankees decide to buck the $189M cap altogether, and it would help them if A-Rod is suspended for the entire season, freeing up over $25 million. They could still end up signing Cano and putting together a very solid rotation (with high risk), thus making them serious contenders again and a threat to Boston’s crown.

Just imagine a lineup like this:
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
DH Derek Jeter
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
RF Alfonso Soriano
C Brian McCann
LF Brett Gardner
3B Kelly Johnson
SS Brendan Ryan

And a rotation of this:
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Hiroki Kuroda
RHP Masahiro Tanaka/Matt Garza
RHP Ivan Nova
RHP Michael Pineda/David Phelps

That’s pretty good, right? One of the best lineups in all of baseball, potentially. That rotation could also be very good. Only problem is, everything has to go right. No more injuries. People like Sabathia and Jeter have to rebound this year. In 2014, the Yankees could potentially be a championship team, or a total disaster and financial white elephant.

Who Should the Yankees Sign? Part Two: Jacoby Ellsbury

Part Two:

CF Jacoby Ellsbury

Born: September 11, 1983 in Madras, Oregon (Age 30)

Major League Debut: June 30, 2007 (Age 23)

Teams Played For: Boston Red Sox (2007-2013)

By the Numbers:

2013 Numbers: .298/.355/.426/.781, 114 OPS+, 52 steals in 56 attempts, 5.8 WAR

Career Numbers: .297/.350/.439/.789, 108 OPS+, 241 steals in 287 attempts, 21.0 WAR

Previous Contract: 1 year, $9 million

Projected Contract: 6 years, $112.4 million, $18.7 million AAV, made $9 million in 2013

Pros- When healthy, Ellsbury is an outstanding five-tool talent. He’s led the league in steals three times, and is pretty efficient in doing so with an 84% success rate. He is an outstanding center fielder, averaging over 10 UZR/150 in the last four seasons. He has the ability to give you a parade of extra-base hits, even on the road. He’s one of the more valuable players in the game when healthy.

Cons- Ellsbury is very injury prone. In 2010 and 2012, he played in just 92 games due to rib and shoulder injuries. Freak injuries, yes, but it’s definitely a red flag. Also, in August he suffered a compression fracture but returned to the team a month later. But what’s more concerning is the history of giving long-term deals to players like Ellsbury who rely on speed. The Red Sox already made that mistake with the Carl Crawford contract.

Normally the first thing to decline in a baseball player in his 30s is his legs. Other than 2011, Jacoby has never been a power hitter. In fact, his numbers are pretty similar to Crawford’s when he became a free agent. Worst of all, his value is no doubt being juiced by that outlier 2011 season when he hit a whopping 32 HRs, batted .321 with a 146 OPS+, and led the majors in total bases, earning him the runner-up spot to Justin Verlander in the MVP balloting. Never in his career has he gotten even close to power numbers like that, and it’s unlikely he’ll come close again in his 30s.

Verdict- There’s justway too much risk to give him over $18 million per year well into his 30s. He’s way too injury prone, so his legs may go even sooner than Carl Crawford’s. Also, that much money is too much for a guy who has had only one season in his career to justify the contract. Also, Scott Boras is his agent, so you can bet he’ll be even more overpriced than projected. Pass on Jacoby Ellsbury. Let another team suffer the consequences.