Free-agent roundtable: If Robinson Cano walks, what do the Yankees do?

How would Robinson Cano leaving impact the Yankees?
How would Robinson Cano leaving impact the Yankees? (USATSI)

More: 2014 MLB Free Agent Tracker

As of 9 a.m. ET on Thursday, players eligible for free agency officially became free agents. Their teams hold exclusive negotiating rights for the next five days, but starting at 12:01 a.m. ET on Tuesday, free agents will be able to sign with any team.

The best and most notable player on the market this year is second baseman Robinson Cano, who the Yankees figure to make a very strong push to retain. We're going to conduct daily roundtable discussions regarding the free agent market in the coming days, starting today with Cano, the Yankees, and the possibility of him leaving New York.

Cano was unable to figure out an extension with the Yankees this year and then fired Scott Boras in favor of Jay-Z. I think we all agree he's going to stick with the Yankees eventually, but the question must be asked: What do the Yankees do if he walks? He was one of the few things holding that patchwork offense together last season.

Mike Axisa: The Yankees seem to be stuck in the middle of needing to rebuild and being a serious contender. They're too good to do the former but not good enough to be the latter. I think Cano is the key to their offseason. If they re-sign him, they can contend next year with a few other moves. If he walks, they might be best off focusing on getting younger and looking more long-term. He's crucial to their success. They have a pair of interesting enough MLB ready second base prospects in David Adams and Corban Joseph, so they could give one of those two a shot rather than spending more money for a marginal upgrade like Omar Infante. There's no way to replace Cano. It's not possible.

Dayn Perry: Timing is going to be key. The Yankees can certainly improve enough at other positions to somewhat mitigate the loss of a superstar like Cano. But what if Cano signs elsewhere only after guys like Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury and others who would be a fit in the Bronx are off the market? Since Cano is the undisputed top free agent this offseason, it's entirely possible that he'll take his time and let the market crystallize. I'm guessing a lot of worthwhile names are off the board by the time Cano signs his next contract. If the Yankees are somehow going to contend post-Cano, then they'll in essence need their pick of other top free agents, and they'll need three or four of them. That seems unlikely, to say the least. In other words, if Cano walks, I expect a rebuild to the fullest extent that the fan base and Yankee ownership will allow, which is to say a "soft" rebuild.

Matt Snyder: Is there something to the Red Sox approach from this season? Are there enough lower priced quality guys to add upwards of five on low-end deals? I know it's blasphemous to ask the Yankees to emulate the Red Sox, but it's worth a discussion.

The problem here, though, is the Yankees don't have a good enough core sans Cano to pull it off, I think.

Axisa: I think many teams will try to copy the Red Sox model of targeting multiple mid-range free agents, but I'm not sure the Yankees are disciplined enough to do it. They're almost certainly going to re-sign Cano to massive contract, and they still have CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez making huge bucks for the next few seasons. They are still the Yankees -- they target big names and like to make big splashes even if it's not also the most sensible move.

I'm interested to see how they approach that $189 million luxury tax threshold, which is really $177 million or so when you remove the player benefits every team has to pay. That $177 million doesn't even include saving money for mid-season pickups either. It's not like they're going to open the year with a $188.9 million payroll, it doesn't work like that. Targeting three or four or five mid-range free agents sounds like a great idea but might not be realistic for this team.

Perry: I think the Red Sox's approach works only you have a David Ortiz/Dustin Pedroia-quality baseline from which to start. Do the Yankees have that in the absence of Cano? Absolutely not. The Red Sox's approach, which I like quite a bit in light of the new free agency landscape (i.e., the diminished market linked to the trend of buying out free agency years early in a player's career), doesn't work for a roster like the one a Cano-less Yankees would have.

Snyder: So, basically, we're saying they pretty much have to retain Cano? That's where I am.

Axisa: If they want to have a realistic shot at contention in 2014 (and maybe 2015 and 2016 as well), yes.

Perry: Yeah, I can't imagine their contending without Cano. He did so much of the heavy lifting in 2013 that if you remove him from that roster, they'd have no prayer in a division like the AL East, regardless of what else they did this winter.

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