Lack of hustle or no, Yanks will miss Cano

TAMPA, Fla. -- There’s an expression for what the Yankees appear to be trying to do to Robinson Cano now that he has left them for the more lucrative expanses of Seattle: That dog won’t hunt.

For the better part of nine years, no one connected to the Yankees, from the manager to the GM to any of his teammates, expressed any displeasure with Cano’s rather leisurely pace from home to first.

The positives about Cano’s game, his wicked flash of a left-handed swing, his effortless grace in the field, his sunny demeanor in the clubhouse and, mostly, his daunting offensive numbers always seemed to outweigh this one rather trivial, if slightly annoying, negative.

I and others asked manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman, repeatedly, whether they had any problem with Cano not running full speed to first base, if only because of the perception in the minds of some that the Yankees’ best player was giving less than his best effort.

And every time, both of them said they had no problem with the way Cano ran the bases.

Until the final game of last season, when, with the playoffs already gone and Cano likely going, Girardi acknowledged that he had, in fact, spoken to his second baseman about his refusal to get out of first gear.

Soon afterward came a story from an anonymous source that Cano was “demanding" $300 million from the Yankees, a demand that the Cano camp strongly denied was ever made and one that, if it had been made, was clearly not a very firm demand because Cano wound up “settling" for a mere $240 million from the Mariners.

So it seemed a little gratuitous, to say the least, for Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to volunteer the opinion to John Harper of the New York Daily News that Cano was, to borrow his word, a “dog" on the basepaths.

“If somebody told me I was a dog," Long told Harper, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to."

Long -- who spent many hours working like a dog in the cage with Cano before games, often before any other Yankees were in the ballpark -- went on to mention Cano “taking plays off" and “giv[ing] away at-bats in RBI situations," which must not have happened very often, because Cano averaged 107 RBIs over each of his last four seasons with the Yankees.

You would hate to think the storied Yankees were orchestrating a campaign of disinformation to tarnish Cano’s image in the hopes of justifying their decision to let him go basically without a fight.

Because their stated reason for letting Cano go was solid enough: Between having been burned by the disaster-movie of a contract given to Alex Rodriguez, seeing the Angels' 10-year deal with Albert Pujols going up in flames, and holding their breath over their own long-term deals with CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees simply didn’t think it wise to commit that many years and dollars to a player already in his 30s, even one as gifted as Cano.

That should have sufficed.

But now, a couple of months later and with the full glare of the Florida spring training sun exposing the holes in their infield without Cano, perhaps the Yankees think they will need some more ammunition, er, information, to mollify their fan base.

Because the truth is, they are going to miss Cano a heck of a lot this season.

Already, Girardi has acknowledged, more than once, that his roster has no one bat to build a lineup around, no one hitter who will strike fear into the heart of an opposing pitcher, no one player who will have his counterpart in the other dugout telling his team, “Don’t let that guy beat us."

Cano was that guy, and no one feared he was going to do it by beating out an infield hit.

He was going to do it by belting the ball out of the park, or by drawing a walk because you didn’t dare pitch to him, or by causing a pitcher to lay a fat one into the guy hitting in front of him hoping to get out of a jam before Cano came to the plate.

Or he was going to do it by plucking a hot shot headed for the hole between first and second, taking that little pause of his, then flipping the ball to first with that unique underhand delivery that ended so many threats.

This season, Cano will not be at second base for the 150-plus games he gave the Yankees for seven straight seasons.

Instead, his place will be taken by Brian Roberts, a 36-year-old whose last full season was in 2009. Since then, he has played in 59, 39, 17 and 77 games, in that order, all with the Baltimore Orioles, who did not even bother to offer him a contract this winter after 13 years of service.

Roberts will flip the ball to Teixeira, who missed all but 15 games last season with a wrist injury that required surgery, and he will form a new DP tandem with Derek Jeter, who at 40 will be the oldest starting shortstop in baseball and is coming off an injury-torn season in which he was limited to just 17 games.

To Roberts’ extreme right will be Kelly Johnson, another journeyman who is not only expected to replace A-Rod, at least against right-handed pitching, at third, but is also being relied upon by Girardi to back up at short, second and first. Johnson will be helped by Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore.

What it adds up to is that the Yankees' infield, once the backbone of their offense and extremely reliable on defense, is being cobbled together out of a collection of backups.

It won’t take long before Yankees fans will grow nostalgic for the sight of Cano ambling to first base as though he were out on a Sunday stroll, because unlike most of the guys who will play in the Yankees' infield this season, he regularly made the entire circuit at that speed.

The fact that Cano never was in much of a hurry to get to first base didn’t seem to matter when he was also getting to home plate more often than just about any other Yankee for four years running, if I may use that word in connection with him.

Because if for nine years as the Yankees' best all-around player, Robinson Cano was a dog, he’s a dog the Yankees are going to miss dearly this season.