As the off season rolls along, discussions between teams and free agents are starting to heat up. The bigger names will start to fall in place now that a certain Second Baseman, who played in the Bronx last year is off the market. Robinson Cano’s contract with the Seattle Mariners has signed the third largest contract ever, tied with Albert Pujols. Both contracts are for 10 years and $240 million. Not quite what he wanted, as Robinson Cano was seeking a contract worth $310 million over 10 years. To put that into perspective, the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu had a GDP in 2010 of $36 million, or $5 million more than Cano was seeking annually While to the average person this is more money than we can imagine being paid, for an elite Major League Baseball player it is not quite the same stretch.
Every year pundits write baseball’s obituary, saying it is a dying sport. If they are right, then why do salaries keep going up, why do sponsors keep spending millions to advertise with Major League Baseball? Dating back to the last Major League Baseball strike in 1994-1995, the yearly salary for the highest paid player has risen from Barry Bonds’ $7.29 million to Alex Rodriguez‘s $27.5 million. That is a 377% increase in 19 years. I would say that is representative of a sport that has plenty of life.
So now that I have debunked the idea that baseball is on life support, lets look at whether Robinson Cano is worth, in baseball terms, the $310 million contract he was seeking ($31 million average annually), or even the $240 he will receive ($24 million average annually). Since the start of the 1995 season the following players have had the highest annual salary: Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Albert Belle, Barry Bonds (again), Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Mike Piazza, Mo Vaughn, Kevin Brown, Roger Clemens, Carlos Delgado, Alex Rodriguez, and Alex Rodriguez (again).
Excluding the pitchers on the list (Maddux, Martinez, Brown, and Clemens), and comparing Cano’s career to the other highest paid players, this is how Cano stacks up statistically.
The year they signed the contract, and their career stats amassed before signing the contract:
Barry Bonds- 1992, ($7.29 million)
7 seasons, G 1010, R 672, H 984, 2B 220, HR 176, RBI 556, SB 251, BB 611, SO 590, BA .275, OBP .380, SLG .503, OPS .883
Ken Griffey Jr.- 1996, ($8.5 million)
6 seasons, G 845, R 518, H 972, 2B 194, HR 172, RBI 543, SB 88, BB 374, SO 477, BA .306, OBP .379, SLG .541, OPS .920
Albert Belle- 1996, ($11 million)
8 seasons, G 913, R 592, H 1014, 2B 223, HR 242, RBI 751, SB 61, BB 396, SO 622, BA .295, OBP .369, SLG .580, OPS .949
Barry Bonds- 1997, ($11.45 million)
11 seasons, G 1583, R 1121, H 1595, 2B 333, HR 334, RBI 993, SB 380, BB 1082, SO 871, BA .288, OBP .404, SLG .548, OPS .952
Mike Piazza- 1998, ($13 million)
7 seasons, G 840, R 511, H 1038, 2B 148, HR 200, RBI 644, SB 11, BB 330, SO 493, BA .333, OBP .396, SLG .575, OPS .972
Mo Vaughn- 1998, ($13.333 million)
8 seasons, G 1046, R 628, H 1165, 2B 199, HR 230, RBI 752, SB 28, BB 519, SO 954, BA .304, OBP .394, SLG .542, OPS .936
Carlos Delgado- 2000, ($17 million)
8 seasons, G 829, R 493, H 818, 2B 214, HR 190, RBI 604, SB 5, BB 436, SO 728, BA .282, OBP .383, SLG .557, OPS .940
Alex Rodriguez- 2000, ($25.2 million)
7 seasons, G 790, R 627, H 966, 2B 194, HR 189, RBI 595, SB 133, BB 310, SO 616, BA .309, OBP .374, SLG .561, OPS .934
Alex Rodriguez- 2007, ($27.5 million)
14 seasons, G 1904, R 1501, H 2250, 2B 395, HR 518, RBI 1503, SB 265, BB 915, SO 1524, BA .306, OBP .389, SLG .578, OPS .967
Then we compare these numbers against Robinson Cano:
Robinson Cano- 2013, (wanted $31 million, got $24 million)
9 seasons, G 1374, R 799, H 1649, 2B 375, HR 204, RBI 822, SB 38, BB 350, SO 689, BA .309, OBP .355, SLG .504, OPS .860
Robinson Cano is seen as a slugger who can change a game with one sing of his bat, although perception and reality may be out of alignment. He is well established in Major League Baseball after 9 seasons. The highest paid players in Major League Baseball since the strike in 1994 have all played 8 years or fewer except for Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez when they both signed contracts which made them the highest paid player in baseball for a second time.
Examining Cano’s career statistics against the other members of this list at the time they were the highest paid player in Major League Baseball he has scored more Runs than everyone except Bonds* and Rodriguez* (both when they signed their second contract). Only Rodriguez* had more career Hits and more Doubles. Belle, Bonds*, Vaughn, and Rodriguez* had more Home Runs. Bonds* and Rodriguez* had more RBIs. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Bonds*, Rodriguez, and Rodriguez* had more Stolen Bases. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Bonds*, Vaughn, Delgado, and Rodriguez* had more Walks. Bonds, Griffey, Belle, Piazza, and Rodriguez had fewer Strikeouts. Only Piazza and Rodriguez had a higher career Batting Average. Everyone had a higher career On Base Percentage. Everyone but Bonds had a higher Slugging Percentage. Everyone had a higher OPS than Cano.
Ultimately I think what Robinson Cano is as a player is a hard hitting Second Baseman who can collect a lot of hits, drive the ball in the the alleys for doubles and hit 20 to 30 home runs a season. It is important to remember that Yankee Stadium is easier to hit home runs in than Safeco Field, so be prepared to see a bit of a drop in Cano’s home run total. He is billed as a slugger, and he approaches his at bats as such. However with two strikes he is smart enough to take what he is given instead of continuing to swing for the fences. Will Cano make a difference for the Seattle Mariners? Yes. Will he be an elite player at the end of this contract? Doubtful. Should Cano, and any other player, make as much money as they can? Absolutely. Cano is an elite player. Is he a future Hall of Famer? He is trending that way but he has work left to do. I believe is initial demand of $310 million was way over his value, and the contract he signed is still high. The Mariners did over pay, but Cano will have a positive impact on Seattle, as they should start to contend in the American League West again soon.
*Second contract (not the asterisk most people feel they should have next to their names)