The general assumption made by the majority of baseball analysts is that Robinson Cano, arguably the top free agent on the market this Winter, will wind up back in pinstripes.
But assumptions this time of year are dangerous.
After all, who thought Albert Pujols would leave St. Louis to sign with the Angels? Or that Josh Hamilton would also take a mega-deal from the Halos? Or that the Marlins would engage in a spending binge?
So, yes, while Cano and the Yankees finding common ground on a contract does certainly make sense, it’s not written in stone (or, as Brian Cashman would no doubt prefer, written on a legally binding document).
The Yankees have no internal options to replace Cano, unless they think David Adams has become a completely different hitter in three months or they believe Eduardo Nunez has suddenly turned into a competent fielder.
If Cano does depart, the most likely target is Tigers free agent second baseman Omar Infante. And Infante would make some sense.
Infante, who turns 32 on Dec. 26, made $4 million last season with Detroit, the most he’s ever been paid. While he’ll surely see a raise in free agency, his price tag shouldn’t come anywhere near the dollars or years Cano can command – a not-so-unimportant point for a Yankees front office that’s attempting to reduce payroll beneath the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Infante is also versatile, and considering the health (Derek Jeter) and legal complications (Alex Rodriguez) associated with the left side of the Yankees infield, that could come in handy. Though he’s primarily played second base the last several seasons, he has experience at shortstop (225 games), third base (107 games) and each outfield position (101 games combined).
While Infante is not the caliber of fielder that Cano is, he possesses slightly better range and is still above average at second base.
Infante batted .318 with a .345 on-base percentage and 10 home runs last season. But that was a career year. Expectations for Infante should be set more around his career .279 average and .319 OBP. The 10 home runs aren’t a bad estimate. Advanced metrics also rate him as an average to slightly above-average base runner, though he’s not much of a stolen base threat; Infante’s only nabbed double-digit bags twice in 12 seasons.
Here's how Infante compared with Cano last season and for the past three seasons:
|Infante (2013)||Cano (2013)||Infante (2011-2013)||Cano (2011-2013)|
|Wins Above Replacement||2.4||7.6||5.2||21.5|
|Defensive Runs Saved (at 2B only)||-5||6||5||22|