Cano’s Late Second Wind Salvages Good Season

The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.

SECOND BASE – ROBINSON CANO (33 HRs,94 RBIs, .313 BA)

If this report were written on Sept. 24, when Robinson Cano was hitting just .293 with 30 home runs and 80 RBIs, it would not have been so flattering to Cano. Though Cano managed to set a career high with 30 home runs, Cano would have looked at that RBI total and season average and called it subpar season.

But in his last nine game, Cano went on an Most Valuable Player-like tear, going 24-for-39 (.615) with three home runs and 14 RBIs to enter the playoffs as one of the hottest hitters in the playoffs.

The truth is, Cano did not have the season at the plate he would have liked to have. For most of the season, Cano did not hit well with runners in scoring position. He finished at a somewhat respectable .268 thanks to his final surge.

Cano also, for the first time in his career, was not very good against left-handers. He hit just .239 with six home runs and 26 RBIs.

Cano was known in the past as someone who routinely crushed left-handers. Managers would scramble out to the mound to bring in anyone who remotely could get the ball over the plate left-handed only to watch Cano come up to the plate and crush their first pitch into the upper reaches of Yankee Stadium’s second deck.

Not this season.

One reason why is that left-handers have been ordered to throw him only fastballs inside on his hands or slow breaking stuff away. Cano never really adjusted to it and there you go.

In the first half, Cano had 20 home runs, 50 RBIs and he batted .316. He ended up in the second half adding 13 homers, 44 RBIs and his average dipped slightly to .313.

But to call a season in which someone hit .300 with more than 30 home runs and more 90 RBIs a disappointment shows just how good Cano really is. He remains the game’s best hitting second baseman. He remains the game’s best fielding second baseman.

And, on a team loaded with veteran stars and All-Stars, Cano is simply the best player on the Yankees.

His swing is so balanced and fluid that it could almost be called a work of art. It is beautifully lyrical and when bat meets ball the ball seems to rocket farther than it would off the bat of anybody else. His hands are so skilled it just seems he could hit just about any pitch anywhere it was pitched.

However, here is also where Cano’s weakness lies. Cano is so adept at putting the bat on the ball and averse to walks (He did draw a career-high 61 this season) that he is wont to hit pitches out the strike zone that end up as weak flies or pops or dribbling grounders to an infielder.

So pitchers prey upon Cano’s impatience and let him get himself out when he is going bad. However, look out when he is going good like now. There is just no way to pitch Cano when he is going good because he can hit any pitch, anywhere in the zone and hit it hard.

He hit a grounder so hard against the Red Sox on Tuesday it nearly carried Dustin Pedroia into right-field. So even his outs are loud and hard to catch.

Watching Cano in the field is similarly fun.

He is so graceful and fluid he even makes the tough plays look so easy. It is if he is playing the game of baseball like it was one level below where he should be playing it. He looks effortless.

Which is why they tag Cano as “lazy.” Which is ridiculous. Cano is simply the best-fielding second baseman in the game and his range to run down outfield popups and sprints to his right to flag grounders up the middle is incredible.

But where Cano really shines in the field is his cannon of an arm and the unbelievable turns he makes on double plays. It is like watching Leonardo da Vinci doing brushstrokes. It is simply masterful stuff.

Cano started 150 games at second base and committed only six errors, his second-lowest total of his career. His lowest total came in 2010 when he won his first and only Gold Glove. The same year he also won the Silver Slugger at the position. Cano should win both this season, if there is any justice.

Where I will say Cano is the weakest is when he is on the bases. Though he only has average speed, Cano should do batter at stealing bases but he doesn’t. He also is one of the worst instinctive base-runners I have ever seen. He makes a lot of mistakes on the bases and his judgment is poor.

But that is a mere quibble compared to his overall game.

Cano could very well carry the Yankees to their 28th championship on his back alone. His two home runs and six RBIs on the final game of the season show just how dangerous he can be with the bat.

Cano has been highly praised his career but he has a opportunity to join some Yankee immortals with a breakout postseason. He seems ready to do it. Yankees fans have watched him grow up as a little pup at 22 in 2005 to the strapping “Best In Show” purebred we see today at age 29 in 2012.

Any way you look at it, Cano is a star. This postseason he can become a superstar.

MIDSEASON GRADE: A-

SECOND-HALF GRADE: B+

OVERALL GRADE: A-

BACKUP – JAYSON NIX (4 HRs, 18 RBIs, .243 BA)

When you look at the numbers Nix put up this season you might think he was a failure and the Yankees would be looking to get rid of him. But Nix is one of those players that numbers do not tell the story.

Nix, 30, was not in the team’s original blueprint for 2012. He was invited to spring training as a non-roster player and he hit .323 while not embarrassing himself playing shortstop, second base, third base and the outfield.

So when the Yankees decided the had enough of the errors from Eduardo Nunez they summoned Nix from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on May 3.

So Nix played some left for Brett Gardner, some shortstop for Derek Jeter, Some second for Cano and some third for Alex Rodriguez. He committed only four errors all season.

His home run and RBI total do not look like much but he only received a 177 at-bats. Nix solidified this team as infield reserve and he simply was this team’s best bunter this season. So Nix did the little things to help the Yankees win and that is something very special.

Unfortunately, Nix suffered a left hip flexor injury in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 27 and he is expected to miss the next 10 to 14 days. So Nix will not be on the postseason roster in the American League Division Series that begins on Sunday.

But Nix did a good job for the Yankees whether he plays in the postseason or not.

MIDSEASON GRADE: C

SECOND-HALF GRADE: C+

OVERALL GRADE: C+

The Yankees also used Nunez and Ramiro Pena at the position, although Pena was designated for assignment and released.

Nunez, however, will be the backup at second in place of Nix in the postseason. But he won’t play here because Cano is not coming out of the lineup, barring injury.

Nunez, 25, has swung the bat well since he recall on Sept. 1 and he likely will replace Andruw Jones as the team’s right-handed hitting designated hitter.

Nunez hit .227 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 33 games at Scranton. But he was hampered most of the season with a right thumb injury that sidelined him for more than two months. The Yankees do not look at Nunez as a second baseman but as a future starting shortstop.

At Scranton, Corban Joseph, 23, hit .266 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in 84 games after replacing Kevin Russo, 28, once he was recalled from Trenton. Though Joseph once held prospect status, his star has fallen somewhat and he is not considered more than a potential backup second baseman at this point.

The Yankees do have a pair of raw former shortstops playing second base in the minors in Angelo Gumbs and Jose Pirela.

Gumbs, 19, hit .272 at Class-A Charleston but his defense is such he may end up being shifted to the outfield. Loaded with speed (28 stolen bases), Gumbs is the team’s eighth-ranked prospect.

Pirela, 22, played all over the diamond at Trenton and hit .293 in 82 games. He is ranked as the team’s 15th best prospect. But he looks to be a potential utilityman in the majors.

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: A

Cano is the best second baseman in baseball and he is the best player a on talented Yankee team. He is also primed for a monster postseason if he continues to hit as he has done the final nine games of the season.

Cano is also playing in the next to his last season under contract with the Yankeees and he switched agents to hire Scott Boras. So after the 2013 season the Yankees are going to have to pony up some serious money to Cano to keep him in pinstripes while maintaing their pledge to reduce payroll by 2014.

Good luck with that task.

Cano is worth an awful lot and Boras will not hear anything about a home-team discount. The Yankees, much less any team in baseball, have anyone who can replace what Cano does for the Yankees.

So they are going to have to open their wallets if they want to keep him. My guess is they will. But with Boras in the mix anything is possible. Remember Boras’ antics during Rodriguez’s contract negotiations?

Yankee fans and A-Rod would like to forget.

 

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