Last season, we spent a good portion of the early offseason kicking around names that the Tigers might possibly target during winter negotiations. The list was fairly comprehensive, covering everyone from the probable to the unlikely to the "no way, man." This year, we're doing the same thing (if that wasn't clear already). Any and all names that pop up around this blog, Twitter, or elsewhere will be covered -- except Mike Trout, so stop suggesting it.
After nine wildly successful years with the New York Yankees, Robinson Cano is a free agent. Normally, this wouldn't be news, but the Yankees are trying their damnedest to get under the luxury tax for the 2014 season. For the first time in recent memory, a Yankees free agent isn't necessarily a lock to be in pinstripes next spring.
Who is he?
Quite simply, Cano has been the best second baseman in baseball for the last five years. Ben Zobrist holds a slight edge with 29.7 WAR to Cano's 29.4 during that span, but Cano leads all others in the following categories: batting average, slugging average, wOBA, wRC+, and ISO. He's not quite the defender that Dustin Pedroia or Chase Utley can claim to be, but his monster offensive production far outweighs any defensive inefficiencies.
Why should we care?
See above. Cano's bat isn't just elite for a second baseman, it's elite for anyone. In the last five years, four players in baseball have been worth more wins above replacement than Cano: Miguel Cabrera, Evan Longoria, Zobrist, and Joey Votto. His wOBA and wRC+ rank 13th and 17th, respectively, among all baseball players with at least 1,000 plate appearances during that stretch.
While his home run totals may be slightly inflated by Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field, Cano's power is very real. He hit 16 home runs on the road in 2013 compared to 11 at home, and he has a higher career OPS in away games. Looking at the advanced metrics, Cano's career wOBA and wRC+ splits are nearly identical. He also has respectable numbers against left-handed pitchers, hitting .290/.340/.450 against southpaws in his career.
Why should we stay away?
Money, mostly. Cano's contract demands probably aren't realistic -- more on those below -- but he's still going to get a hefty payday this offseason. Will it be the Yankees? The Los Angeles Dodgers? A "mystery team?" We don't know. However, the Tigers can find better ways to spend their money. They have several arbitration raises due this offseason and the bullpen needs some work.
Going along that line of thinking, how long will Cano be able to keep up the type of production that a contract of this expected magnitude warrants? Cano is already 31 years old -- he just had a birthday last week -- and second basemen don't typically age well. His bat should stay productive for a good portion of that contract, if nothing else.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Robinson Cano isn't going to be a bargain for anyone, but it's anyone's guess as to how far owner Mike Ilitch will go to win a World Series. Cano's early contract demands -- or at least the demands of his rap mogul-turned-agent -- are sitting at the 10 year, $300 million mark. We don't have enough info on the Tigers' finances to know whether they have that kind of money available, but conventional wisdom suggests that a Cano signing would put the Tigers in serious jeopardy of extending Miguel Cabrera's contract when it expires after the 2015 season. We said "it will never happen" about Prince Fielder, but I don't see lightning striking twice here.