Yankees wise to let Robbie Cano go

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NEW YORK -- The Yankees have decided Robbie Can Go, and in the short run, that might sting a little. But over time, the decision not to shoot it out with the Seattle Mariners over Robinson Cano will probably turn out to be the smartest thing this notoriously free-spending organization ever did.

Because with Cano or without him, with Brian McCann or without him, with Jacoby Ellsbury or without him, the song remains the same: It don't mean a thing if they ain't got that fling.

Sure, it would have been great to send a lineup out there with Cano batting third every day, flanked on one side by Ellsbury and the other by McCann or Alfonso Soriano, with a presumably recovered Derek Jeter leading off and Brett Gardner hitting ninth.

But really, how many games would the 2014 Yankees win without a serious infusion of starting pitching?

The answer is, probably no more than the 2013 Yankees, and likely even a few less.

Because right now, the Yankees have two -- count 'em, two -- bona fide major league starting pitchers on their roster: CC Sabathia, who appeared to be in a serious decline last season, and Ivan Nova, who you are still not sure you can fully trust every five days.

There was a telling moment at Thursday's news conference to introduce McCann, when the catcher was asked how much he knew about the Yankees' pitching staff.

He mentioned Sabathia. And Nova. And that's all.

Clearly, he knew more about the Yankees' pitching staff than any of us could have imagined, because right now, that's all there is. And that's no way to go into a season.

So while we will all miss Cano's picture-perfect left-handed swing, his stylish way of snatching a ground ball and flipping it underhand to first, and his ever-present smile, the truth is, his absence will make all our hearts grow fonder.

For one thing, it would have not only been suicidal, but downright stupid to give a player who will be 32 next October a 10-year deal. Haven't the Yankees already seen enough of late 30-somethings collecting huge paychecks for minuscule production? (You can fill in the names yourself.)

And as one team insider confided to me last week, "You think the guy doesn't run out ground balls now, wait until he has a guaranteed 10-year contract."

In fairness, I think the ground ball thing is overplayed -- Cano rarely misses a game, takes early extra batting nearly every day, and led the team in just about every offensive category, so who cares if he Cadillacs it on sure outs? -- but the point is a valid one.

Long-term free-agent deals, by their very nature, come too late in a player's career to really pay off, and a ton of guaranteed money tends to dampen motivation. It's only human nature.

As Marvin Hagler once told me while he was training for a big fight, "It's tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you've been sleeping in silk pajamas."

The odds are, Cano already has had his best season and the bulk of the $240 million the Mariners are paying him will be for past performance. In fact, the only 10-year deal I can think of that actually worked out for everyone concerned was the one the Yankees gave Jeter, but he was 26 when he signed it.

So the Yankees probably dodged a lethal bullet in not trying to match the Mariners' offer, even if it does remove their best hitter from the lineup for now.

But the fact is, they'll probably survive this blow, for a number of reasons. For one, the money they are saving on Cano can now be applied toward adding another power bat, maybe Shin-Soo Choo or Carlos Beltran, and another starting pitcher.

In fact, the Yankees can say that on balance, they had a good Friday because Hiroki Kuroda, their ace for five months of the 2013 season until his September fade, had agreed to return for another year.

And assuming MLB and the Nippon Baseball League come to an agreement on new rules for the posting system, they will be all-in for Masahiro Tanaka, should he become available.

Plus, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez, all viable short-term solutions, are still on the board, and Michael Pineda, more than a year removed from shoulder surgery, will be in camp competing for a spot in the rotation.

Those are the players who are likely to have more of an impact on the 2014 Yankees than Cano would have had. After all, Cano had an outstanding 2013 season -- .314-27-107 and an .899 OPS with virtually no protection in the lineup -- and the Yankees still finished only four wins above mediocrity and out of the playoffs for only the second time in nearly two decades.

Besides, even if the Yankees don't pursue a high-profile second baseman to replace Cano -- free agent Omar Infante and the Cincinnati Reds' Brandon Phillips, signed through 2017, have been mentioned as possible targets -- they can at least start the season with a veteran, Kelly Johnson, at second. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who hit 16 home runs last year and should benefit, as Cano did, from the lefty-friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

The bottom line is, both sides did well for themselves here. Even if he didn't get the $300 million he had reportedly been asking for, Cano got his 10-year deal and a contract the equivalent of Albert Pujols', which is the third-most lucrative in baseball history.

And the Yankees both avoided the trap of another anchor of a contract, and freed up some resources to attend to the numerous and very real needs of their aging roster.

To paraphrase Jay Z, who is said to have masterminded Cano's deal with the Mariners, the Yankees may have had 99 problems, but now Cano ain't one of them.

Now they can attend to the 98 that remain.

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