Building a Yankees team without Robinson Cano

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

Robinson Cano isn't backing down from his moon-base demands. Want to sign Cano? Build him a moon base. Terraform the surface, get an atmosphere going, and stock it with academics and skilled technicians. It really isn't that hard, people. We're not talking about Dan Uggla. This is Robinson Cano. Pay up.

As such, the Yankees aren't exactly thrilled with the Cano negotiations right now.

"As Hal [Steinbrenner] said, ‘We have no interest in paying any player over $300 million.’ We hope he comes back to us. We want him. But there are really no reasons to have any discussions at this point.’’

Cano is playing footsie with the Mets right now, and baseball fans in New York are reacting to the rumors in a calm, level-headed way. No, they kind of are. That isn't even sarcasm. A quick spin around the all-caps wing of the Internet confirms it. Yankees fans still expect to re-sign Robinson Cano. This is probably because the Yankees are extremely likely to re-sign Robinson Cano. Still. They aren't paying him $300 million, but neither is anyone else.

For a moment, though, pretend there really is a mystery team out there, and that they're eager for the privilege of overpaying Cano until Bryce Harper is in his 30s. The mystery team strikes a huge deal overnight, and before Thanksgiving, the Yankees are without one of baseball's better hitters.

What do they do?

We'll start with two unassailable truths:

1. The Yankees' offense was dreadful last year with Cano. They hit .242/.307/.376. For perspective, note the Mariners hit .237/.306/.390 playing half their games in Safeco Field. So without Cano, the Yankees would need more hitting.

2. If Cano isn't involved, the Yankees would suddenly have more money to spend to find this hitting.

The Yankees would like to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, of course. So we'll set that as the artificial cap, though I can see them going over it for the right combination of players. And without Cano, the Yankees have already committed more than $100 million to the payroll.

Alex Rodriguez, $26 million
Mark Teixeira, $23.125 million
CC Sabathia, $23 million
Derek Jeter, $12 million
Ichiro, $6.5 million
Vernon Wells, $6.4 million
Alfonso Soriano, $5 million
Brendan Ryan, $2 million

And then there are the arbitration-eligible players. MLB Trade Rumors usually does a very good job estimating those totals, so we'll use their numbers:

David Robertson, $5.5 million
Brett Gardner, $4 million
Ivan Nova, $2.8 million
Shawn Kelley, $1.5 million
Jayson Nix, $1.4 million
Francisco Cervelli, $1 million
Chris Stewart, $1 million

Finally, the pre-arbitration players who will make somewhere between the minimum and $1 million:

Michael Pineda
Eduardo Nunez
David Phelps
Adam Warren
Preston Clairborne
Zolio Almonte
Austin Romine
Other

Maybe all of those guys fill out the roster; maybe none of them do. I'll estimate the Yankees' current obligations to be about $120 million, which leaves them about $69 million to get …

a starting second baseman
a starting third baseman?*
a starting outfielder or lefty DH option
at least one starting pitcher
probably another starting pitcher
a reliever or three

* A-Rod could be suspended without pay, in which case, whoopee, the Yankees finally catch a break.

Sixty-nine million sounds like a lot of money. But the free-agent market is like a post-apocalypse convenience store. Can of tuna? $500. Twine? $1,000. Don't expect deals. The money will go quickly.

But let's look at a couple different scenarios.

IN YOUR FACE, BOSTON

Jacoby Ellsbury - $20 million/year
Juan Uribe - $5 million/year
Masahiro Tanaka - $16 million/year (not including posting)
Matt Garza - $16 million/year
Different relievers and utility players - $ the difference

In this scenario, the Yankees totally damon away a beloved Red Sox player. Ha. And the offense is still awful, though they can now trade Brett Gardner away for some help if they choose. Pitching's good, though. Pitching's good.

Wait, we didn't get Tanaka

Shin-Soo Choo - $20 million/year
Ervin Santana - $15 million/year
Ubaldo Jimenez - $15 million/year
Omar Infante - $7 million/year
Different relievers and utility players - $ the difference

In this scenario, the offense is still not very good. Looks like Choo replaces Granderson, and Infante replaces Cano. That's maybe a wash if you're generous. I mean, it could be good if everyone over the age of 30 hits way better than expected. Pitching might be good, though, if a little erratic.

A mad push for offense

Curtis Granderson - $16 million/year
Carlos Beltran - $17 million/year
New second baseman - Acquired for Brett Gardner and/or prospects Good pitcher - $15 to $20 million
Different relievers and utility players - $ the difference

In this scenario, Beltran and the new second baseman make up for Gardner and Cano. Also, I'm not sure who's available in trade. Gordon Beckham? Dan Uggla? Brandon Phillips? Rickie Weeks? Daniel Murphy? Man, this is depressing. In this scenario, the offense is still not very good.

The pitching's good as long as Sabathia rebounds, Nova continues his solid pitching, and Michael Pineda is healthy. Those are all pretty much givens, right?

Ha, we don't need "runs"

Masahiro Tanaka - $16 million/year (not including posting)
Matt Garza - $16 million/year
Ubaldo Jimenez - $15 million/year
Curtis Granderson - $16 million/year
Mark Ellis or something - $5 million/year
Different relievers and utility players - $ the difference

Alternate heading: "Say, remember that one offseason where we signed Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright because that's what was out there?" But the goal is to out-pitch the opposition! Excelsior! Don't focus on Mark Ellis or Infante replacing Cano. Don't worry about Teixeira's declining health and production, and don't worry about Jeter or A-Rod getting older and worser.

Don't worry about any of that because Ubaldo Jimenez will save you.

Wait, all of these options suck

Because if you're not spending $25 million on Cano, what's the point? There isn't even a good way to tread water offensively. The only options are to throw slightly less money at inferior options, and funnel the savings to pitchers who are the Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights of their era. That doesn't seem like a good idea.

That doesn't seem like a slightly palatable idea.

The Yankees need Cano if they're planning to contend next year. There isn't a way to make up his offense on the free-agent or trade markets. The Mets might want Cano, sure, but they aren't paying $300 million. No one is. The Yankees are bidding against themselves.

The Yankees are probably thimblerigged either way. But they're really, really in a difficult spot without Cano. Luckily, Cano still needs a big spender to big-spend on him. The Yankees are still one of the only ones interested.

For more on the Yankees and Cano and … Erisbel Arruebarruena? … please visit Pinstriped Alley.

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