The last 17 regular-season games of 2012, Robinson Cano might have been the best hitter on the planet. He batted .419 with three homers and 17 RBIs. His OPS was 1.119. The Yankees went 13-4.
Cano, a free agent after this season, is playing for more money starting now.
"Rightly or wrongly, he has a chance to add a few zeroes in the next three weeks," an official with knowledge of the Yankees' thinking told ESPNNewYork.com.
Cano, who has an .893 OPS, can decide the narrative of his free agency by leading the Yankees into October. If he can keep them playing on his 31st birthday, Oct. 22, then he will make his surely lucrative free agency even more fascinating. (And yes, Cano must be better than the 3-for-40 he put up in last year's playoffs.)
The Yankees are clearly approaching this winter with a more disciplined plan for their biggest star than in the past. Yankees president Randy Levine again made that clear in an interview with Bloomberg News, reiterating that the Yankees aren't just presenting blank checks.
"Robinson Cano is a great player. We will sit down and talk to him," Levine said. "Hopefully he's a Yankee. Nobody is a re-sign at all costs, but we want him back and we feel good about negotiating something with him. But nobody is a re-sign at any cost."
Nor should they be. As the person with knowledge said, there will be "no A-Rod money" for Cano. Cano surely can't be aiming that high (10 years and $275 million) anyway. If he is, that would be a big story -- and, if he somehow got it from another team, the Yankees would be crazy not to let him walk.
Cano could end up in the six-year, $150 million range or maybe seven and $170 million, which would be significantly more than Dustin Pedroia's contract. Agents around the game were shaking their heads when Pedroia recently signed for eight years and $110 million. Pedroia simply could have waited until next spring, after Cano's deal was done, and signed for maybe an extra $25-50 million.
Anyway, the Yankees will likely use Pedroia's contract as a benchmark, valuing Cano higher annually, but not wanting to have as long of a deal. An initial offer could be five years for $100 million.
The Yankees are ready to stay disciplined. That is what Levine was basically saying in the TV interview. The Yankees would like to take advantage of the new rules in the game and drop their payroll below $189 million. They can do that and keep Cano.
If Cano wants to shake every last dollar out of the team, the negotiations begin now -- and they start with him holding a bat.