That title is a little unwieldy, but go with me on this.
The objective behind that question isn’t to overly glorify the All Star Game. As adults, I think most of us give that honor some degree of importance below what we gave as kids. Yeah, making the All Star Game is nice for the player, but it’s sort of a meaningless honor where players who don’t necessarily deserve it get rubber-stamped into the game beyond their primes (see: Derek Jeter).
Robbie Cano is an All Star for the sixth time in his career; obviously the first time as a Mariner. He earned the honor in his second season in the bigs, then missed out for three years, and has been going back ever since. You could say Cano is in the Rubber Stamp phase of his career, except clearly he is still deserving of the honor.
The thing about All Star Games is, you often don’t get recognized until you’ve put up a second season of greatness. That’s obviously not true across the board, as you see rookies make it all the time, but it’s more of a general rule of thumb. You also tend to get recognized at least a year after you should stop going. Take Ichiro, for instance. He was an All Star from his rookie year through 2010. Are you telling me he was one of the three best outfielders in all of the American League in 2010? I highly doubt it.
Getting back to Cano, you have to figure he’s got a number of All Star-worthy years left in him, followed by probably another Rubber Stamp year that we won’t really count because it’s not important. What’s important is: how many elite years will the Mariners get with Cano?
I ask that, because I don’t see a dramatic falling off a cliff in him. I figure there will be ‘X’ number of All Star-worthy years, then there will be a more gradual decline. Maybe a couple of just-okay seasons, followed by ‘X’ number of pretty bad years where you’re not getting NEARLY the return on investment as you’d like. That’s just the way it’s going to be, unless Cano is superhuman (which, for the record, I won’t rule out).
So, I ask again: how many All Star appearances does Cano need to make his contract a success?
2014 is the first year of 10. He’s 31 right now. He will be 40 in 2023. He’s making $24 million in each year of his deal. There is no opt-out that I’m aware of.
I like the Ichiro example when it comes to Cano, because I feel like we can see some parallels there. Ichiro was 27 when he hit the Major Leagues. That was his rookie season and arguably it was the best season of his career. I don’t know what he was like in Japan, but let’s just say his year-27 season was the first season of his “Prime”. I would argue that Ichiro’s prime extended through the 2010 season, when he was 36 years old. 2010 wasn’t on par with 2001 or anything – this was definitely the tail end of his prime – but it was still a very good year with 200 hits and all that. In 2011 and 2012, while still playing a full slate of games in each year, Ichiro’s hit totals declined to 184 and 178 respectively. Again, not a dramatic drop-off, but you can see that he’s a shell of his former “Prime” self.
I know Cano’s game and Ichiro’s game are dramatically different – Ichiro’s game was based on speed and infield hits, batting leadoff, and playing a very good defensive right field; Cano’s game involves more power, more RBI production, more walks, and the more-important defensive position of second base – but just go with me on this too. Cano’s year-36 season will be in 2019. If he can hang onto his “Primeness” through 2019, that will be 6 of the 10 years. And, if he declines gradually, as Ichiro did, then years 7 and 8 shouldn’t be too bad either. It’ll be in the two final years where we probably won’t want to play Cano every day (but might be obligated to, considering the heft of his contract).
So, how does that sound? Does 6 years of All Star-calibre play, followed by 2 years of just-okay play sound like something you could live with under Cano’s $240 million deal? Because, I could TOTALLY live with it. And, obviously, anything beyond that (if, indeed, he is super human).
But, what happens if it’s only 4 or 5 All Star years before he starts his decline? At what point is the contract a failure?
I know this post probably could’ve been written when we first signed Cano (and, indeed, I’m sure some variation or another is out there in Mariner Blog Land), but I didn’t feel like writing it then. When someone signs a huge contract with a new team (especially one that plays half its games in Safeco Field), it’s not out of the question to wonder if you’ll get ANY All Star-calibre seasons out of a player. How have the Angels done with Pujols? How about the Tigers/Rangers with Fielder? At least with Cano, we KNOW we’ve got at least one All Star year! And, you’d think, as long as he stays healthy, we’ll have at least a few more.
I’m not gonna lie to you, I think I need these first six years to be great. I’d settle for five years of great (as long as the subsequent three years were in the just-okay range, as opposed to two), but I wouldn’t be thrilled. Four or less? That’s got disaster written all over it. Six years or more of Cano struggling might seriously wipe me out.
Of course, the good thing about all of this is that we don’t have to worry about it now. Because Cano IS good. He’s great, even! And, if he helps me win my futures bet against Adrian Beltre at season’s end, he can go on to have nine years of ineptitude for all I care!