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November 25, 2005

Should the Yankees trade Robinson Cano?
by SG

Based on some discussion in the last set of comments, I thought this was an interesting topic. Although Cano has only 132 major league games under his belt, he has enough of a minor league track record that there may be enough data to a rough comparison between him and one of the more recent Yankee 2B of note, Alfonso Soriano.

Soriano debuted in the US in 1999 at what was believed to be the age of 21, although he turned out to be 23. He appeared in 5 games for the GCL Yankees, then spent the bulk of the season in AA Norwich, where he hit .305/.361/.501 in 393 plate appearances. He struck out in 21% of his plate appearances, walked in 8%, and had an extra base hit in 9%. His ISO (Isolated Power calculated by SLG - AVG to take out singles) was .196.

At the same level over parts of 2003-2004, Cano(at ages 20 and 21) hit .294/.349/.450 in 504 plate appearances. He struck out in 11% of his plate appearances, while walking in 5% and hitting an extra base hit in 9%. His ISO was .156.

Soriano's time in AAA over ages 23 and 24 saw him hit .274/.311/445 in 582 plate appearances. He struck out in 18% of his plate appearances, walked in 5%, and had an extra base hit in 10%. His ISO over this time was .172.

Cano spend part of 2004 in Columbus and the start of 2005. Over that time when he was 21 and 22, he .284/.331/.460 in 504 plate appearances. He struck out in 11% of his plate appearances, walked in 7%, and had an extra base hit in 9%. His ISO here was .176.

Soriano made his full major league debut in 2001 at the age of 25, although he saw brief action in '99 and 2000 as well. His composite line was .259/.292/.427 in 676 PA. He K'd in 21% of his PA, walked in 4%, and had an XBH in 9%. His ISO was .168.

Cano made his major league debut in 2005, and hit .297/.320/.458 in 551 PA. He K'd in 12% of his PA, walked in 3%, and had an extra base hit in 9% with an ISO of .161.

Let's line these up for clarity

On Contact
Soriano in AA 23 393 .305 .361 .501 .196 32 67 .17 .08 .10 .374 .616
Cano in AA 20-21 504 .294 .349 .450 .156 33 56 .11 .07 .09 .335 .513

Soriano did better in almost every aspect of his game in AA, although his K rate was significantly higher. He was 2-3 years older though. The last two sets of stats are the player's batting average and SLG when you take out strikeouts, which is a good way to see how much damage the player does when he doesn't K.

On Contact
Soriano in AAA 23-24 582 .274 .311 .445 .172 30 103 .18 .05 .10 .338 .550
Cano in AAA 21-22 324 .284 .331 .460 .176 24 40 .11 .07 .09 .324 .525

In AAA, Cano outperformed Soriano everywhere except raw power, hitting for a better average, walking more frequently(on a rate basis), but posting a lower isolated power mark.

On Contact
Soriano in MLB 23-25 675 .259 .292 .427 .167 30 143 .18 .04 .09 .335 .552
Cano in MLB 22 551 .297 .320 .460 .161 16 68 .12 .03 .09 .341 .526

Then came their rookie seasons. For the sake of completeness I've included Soriano's cups of coffee in 1999 and 2000 into his line above. Cano hit for a better average, but walked less than Soriano?????? What surprised me was that he hit for almost the same amount of power, despite being 3 years younger.

This comparison does not include baserunning, where Soriano is a far better player than Cano. Nor does it include defense. Cano's defensive reputation is all over the place, with some thinking he's a good defender, and some thinking he's Jeter-esque. The various defensive metrics I've looked at have pegged him anywhere from above average to average to below average to heinous. My own assessment, which means nothing, is that he has good defensive tools, but suffers from a lack of concentration at time. I would describe his range as above average, and as a converted shortstop he has a cannon for a 2B. I think he is a better defender than Soriano, and I doubt many would disagree with that.

What I see here are two second baseman with good power and bad plate discipline. The difference is that Cano seems to have better plate coverage, with a much lower K rate. He does not swing and miss pitches nearly as much as Soriano. Soriano does more damage when he hits the ball and is a better natural athlete, with much greater speed and base-stealing ability, but there are no indications his K rate will ever improve. I would think that someone like Cano can work on his selectivity to a degree, and not focus on making contact on every pitch, but instead focus on making contact on good pitches that he can drive.

Cano is going to be 23 next year. He's going to make the league minimum or close to it. He's shown similar potential to one of the better 2B in the league right now. He has his weaknesses, and they are significant. His walk rate is abysmal. His P/PA was the lowest in the league. His defensive lapses are problematic. I can't see him ever walking more than 40-50 times a season, he's not that type of player. However, he's a SECOND BASEMAN. He does not have to hit like Barry Bonds to have value. You DO NOT HAVE TO WALK ALL THE TIME TO BE A GOOD PLAYER. It helps, but if you do enough other stuff well enough, it's not necessary. Sometimes we fall in the trap of focusing on only what a player cannot do, and ignoring the things he can do. The average AL second baseman hit .267/.319/.407 this season. Cano was worth 5 wins above a replacement level 2B by WARP3. He's a Yankee farm system product, which is a good thing. I'd much rather root for players brought up in the Yankee organization than 33 year old free agent imports.

Is Cano untradeable? In theory, no one should be. If the Yankees get an offer that fills a need and makes sense, I would gladly trade him. I'd only trade him for a youngish player though, no way do I trade him for anyone over 30. Also, to all the people proposing to trade him for a CF, who then plays 2B? Tony F'ing Womack? Does that make even a modicum of sense on any level? Why would you fill one hole and create a new one?

As annoying as it looks that the Yankees may end up not signing some players through free agency, I would prefer that they sign no one than sign any more bad contracts that they will be stuck with. If it hurts them competitively in 2006 but makes their odds of competing better for a longer term in the future, it is the smart way to proceed. Maybe the Yankees should look to the Rule 5 draft to fill out the bullpen if they have no confidence in their minor league arms. The Royals did it last year with Andy Sisco and got a steal.

In other news, the trade that sent Aaron Rowand to the Phillies may actually end up helping the Yankees, if they can pry away Jason Michaels. According to Newsday, the Yankees are interested. He's hit .291/.380/.442 in his career and is considered an average defender. He may be available cheaply enough to be worth pursuing. If he was on the Marlins he'd have already been traded to Boston in the Beckett raping.