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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees know Robinson Cano is money

Yankees' Robinson Cano, Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P.

Yankees' Robinson Cano, Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, and umpire Rob Drake watch the home run hit by Cano in the fifth inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. (May 18, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Hal Steinbrenner can talk all he wants about the "great stories'' on this Yankees team, from little guys Jayson Nix and Preston Claiborne to reclamation projects Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells.

But Hal, like his dad, is no fool when it comes to operating a baseball team in New York, and the Yankees can't function without the requisite star power of someone such as Robinson Cano. If Steinbrenner had any doubts before this season, they've certainly vanished by now.

His $200-million team, stripped of its top everyday gate attractions, still has managed to climb into first place, with Cano blazing the trail. And the junior Steinbrenner, who was in attendance Saturday, watched the slugging second baseman boost his market value with two booming swings during the Yankees' 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays.

With two outs in the third inning, Cano reached for a first-pitch splitter from Brandon Morrow and golfed it almost one-handed into the first row of the rightfield stands. The next time up, with two outs in the fifth, Cano hammered a slider for a towering home run that sailed over the Yankees' bullpen in right-center. That gave him four RBIs and produced a 5-1 lead.

For all the nibbling Hal's "scrappy'' Yankees have done recently to support an outstanding pitching staff, Cano again showed how much damage he can deliver in short order. On this roster, it's Cano and everyone else.

"Robby's so important to us,'' Joe Girardi said. "Offensively, defensively, his presence in the lineup. He's not someone you can replace.''

Are you listening, Jay-Z? Girardi deserves a commission on Cano's next deal after dishing out superlatives like that, but the second baseman's worth to the Yankees is no secret. It's just a matter of figuring out how to arrange the numbers on a contract extension that should eclipse $200 million.

Steinbrenner knows it, too. Maybe he's playing hardball behind the scenes, but in the past few days, he's professed nothing but optimism when asked about getting Cano locked up long-term.

On Thursday, after the MLB owners' meetings, he admitted to already engaging in talks with Cano's CAA rep, Brodie Van Wagenen, and made his intentions clear.

"We want him to be a Yankee,'' Steinbrenner said. "We want him to end his career here.''

And they want it done before Cano hits free agency after this season. As Steinbrenner added, "We're going to continue in the weeks ahead to work through things and try to come to an agreement.''

When asked Saturday if he was trying to put on a show for the owner, Cano laughed. He hasn't offered much about his contract negotiations, other than saying it's a topic he doesn't want to address since the shocking switch from Scott Boras to Jay-Z last month.

"I saw him today,'' the smiling Cano said of Steinbrenner. "I just go out there to win games.''

Cano is doing his part, and at a faster pace than a year ago. Last season, it took him 65 games to hit his 12th homer, which he did Saturday in Game No. 43. That leads the American League, and his 31 RBIs, mostly coming from the No. 2 spot in the lineup, ranks seventh.

"He's done a nice job adjusting to the two-hole for us,'' Girardi said. "It doesn't really matter where he hits. He's going to get his numbers, and that really helps us out that he has that versatility. He makes everyone better around him. That's the type of player he is.''

Cano also has quickly changed the conversation from last October's postseason face-plant (3-for-40) to becoming the face of the Yankees for the next decade. And he's doing it virtually alone with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira -- to name a few -- on the disabled list.

Just reeling off those names, maybe with the exception of the captain, is enough to make any owner jittery about creating another Yankee for life. But when it comes to Cano, at this critical juncture for the franchise, Steinbrenner realizes he doesn't have a choice.

"I think anybody would get a little nervous as you start getting out in the seven-, eight-, nine-year range,'' Steinbrenner said. "But the market is the market. You've really got to go by what the market is. That's the way it is in any business, right? Supply-and-demand type of thing.''

We know the Yankees have plenty of replacements. As for Robinson Cano, there is no substitute.


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