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NEW YORK – No matter what happens over the next month – whether the New York Yankees bomb out of the postseason as the American League's top team or win their 28th championship – their single most important priority reminded them Wednesday of what they must do.
Break the bank.
Break whatever is necessary to sign Robinson Cano and make him a Yankee for life.
Whether it's a leg (ouch), a mirror (bad luck) or some wind (ugh), Cano is worth it – and that includes breaking a tried-and-true rule that the Yankees do not negotiate with players in the middle of their contracts. What Cano is doing right now is edging toward historic. His 4-for-4, two-homer, six-RBI piece de resistance in Wednesday's AL East-championship-capturing 14-2 win against the Boston Red Sox capped a nine-game run in which he has gone 24 for 39 with 10 extra-base hits, 14 RBIs and just three strikeouts.
Forget Miguel Cabrera, fresh off his Triple Crown. At this moment, there is no hotter hitter on the planet than Robinson Cano.
"He's the one guy that needs to be here," Yankees third baseman Eric Chavez said. "He's the one player you can't afford to let go."
When Chavez played in Oakland, he saw player after great player leave. He understands excellence. And in Cano, he and so many others see the heir to Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, whose careers may wind down by 2013.
Cano wants to get capital-P paid, and it's understandable why: He'll hit free agency after next season coming off one of the team-friendliest deals around, a four-year, $30 million pact with two options at $29 million total. And he knows no team has the capacity to throw around big bucks like the Yankees. The figure floating around among executives is $200 million, and with the influx of local and national TV money and Cano's agent, Scott Boras, readying the hyperbole train to launch from Penn Station, that might be the floor of what it costs.
"I haven't thought about anything," Cano said. "I'm just going to wait for the moment."
The Yankees must make sure they never reach that moment.
There will be reticence from both sides. The Yankees have seen how humongous contracts that take players deep into their 30s can turn from asset to albatross. They're wary paying players before the market can bear their true value, since the Yankees often are the ones who pay the most anyway. And while Boras has negotiated extensions for Carlos Gonzalez and Jered Weaver before their free agency, he prefers to leverage teams against one another and extract top value, something done only by hitting the open market.
It's s tricky situation, what with Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson slated to be free agents at the same time, and enormous commitments to A-Rod, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira each at least another four seasons. At the same time, the Yankees' conservative approach has left the latter part of the decade completely free of big-money deals, and Cano's would be the sort around whom teams like to build.
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His 33 home runs are a career high. So is his .550 slugging percentage. He has walked more than ever. Over the last six seasons, he has missed 12 games. He's a legitimate up-the-middle player, with Gold Glove-caliber defense at second base and a body that doesn't show the signs of aging and slowing down as he turns 30 this month.
Certainly his age is a factor, especially if he expects a 10-year deal like the one Albert Pujols and A-Rod got at 32. The Yankees will want him to compromise on one aspect of the contract – years or dollars – and with enough teams craving an elite second baseman, he won't have to. Someone will placate Cano, especially when he can bat .615 with such nonchalance over the last nine games of a heated pennant drive.
"It's remarkable what he's done," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think it's nine straight days with multiple-hit games. That's pretty amazing."
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He's right: 3, 2, 3, 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 4. The record for consecutive multihit games is 13 by Rogers Hornsby in 1923. Tony Perez had 11 in 1973. Nine is silly, the sort of thing that can raise an OPS almost 50 points over the last week and change of the season.
"When you're doing good," Cano said, "everything looks easy."
The tough part will be getting this contract done. Cano can't take offense when the Yankees try to lowball him. The Yankees can't allow him to hit free agency over what to them amounts to chump change because of principle, not with their standard bearers almost gone. This is not going to be easy. Important things often aren't. It has to happen anyway. The Yankees must break whatever is necessary. Well, everything except for one thing.
Just don't break up.
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