Ten years ago today, the Yankees signed Robinson Cano as an amateur free agent out of San Pedro de Marcoris in the Dominican Republic. Then a shortstop, Cano’s signing was unheralded at the time. In fact, a search of Google’s newspaper database reveals that the first print mention of the young infielder didn’t occur until September 9, 2001, when the Brooklyn Cyclones met Cano’s Staten Island Yankees in the New York-Penn League playoffs (there was one prior report that stated Cano had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers).
From the day he signed until his major league debut on May 3, 2005, Cano was really never considered a blue chip prospect. Baseball America never included him in their top-100 prospect lists, and most published reports referred to him in less than glowing terms. In fact, it seems as if even the Yankees weren’t very impressed, which might explain why he was rumored to be included in just about every deal the team considered in the early part of the decade.
The first mention of Cano’s name in trade rumors was in the New York Post on July 27, 2003. At the time, the Yankees were reportedly discussing a deal with the Reds that involved Ken Griffey Jr. The rumored cost was struggling right hander Jeff Weaver along with a prospect from among a group that included Cano, Alex Graman, Jorge De Paula and Juan Rivera. The validity of the rumor was rendered moot when Griffey sustained an injury on July 17 that ended his 2003 campaign.
After Aaron Boone sustained a serious knee injury while playing basketball in the 2003 offseason, Cano once again found his name bandied about in several trade rumors. Almost immediately following the injury announcement, Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune wrote of a rumored three way deal between the Yankees, Angels and White Sox that would have sent Troy Glaus to New York. In exchange, the Yankees would have sent Cano and fellow infield prospect Joaquin Arias to Chicago and Anaheim (who would also have swapped Paul Konerko and Jose Valentin for Jarrod Washburn and Darin Erstad). That deal apparently fell through, which was a good thing for the Yankees because less than one month later the team acquired Alex Rodriguez in a blockbuster deal with the Texas Rangers. In exchange for Arod, the Yankees sent All Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano to Texas, and also allowed the Rangers to select from a list of prospects that once again included Arias and Cano. Luckily, the Rangers selected the younger Arias, and Baseball America’s scouting reports at the time seemed to agree with that decision.
Although Cano survived the offseason, his name remained a fixture in trade talks throughout 2004. The most persistent rumor involved Cano being part of a package for Kansas City Royals’ centerfielder Carlos Beltran, who was eventually traded to the Houston Astros. As early as June, the New York Daily News reported that Yankees had moved Cano to third base at the request of Royals’ scouts, who wanted to watch the potential trade target play that position. Around the same time, the Daily News also reported that the Mariners might be scouting Cano for a potential deal that could include either Freddie Garcia or Jamie Moyer. However, the Mariners rejected a Yankee offer that included Cano and instead opted to trade Garcia to the White Sox for Miguel Olivo, Jeremy Reed and Michael Morse. Finally by the end of June, the newspaper had Cano being evaluated by the Atlanta Braves in a deal for Russ Ortiz.
With just about every team scouting Cano in the summer of 2004, it’s a wonder he remained with the organization past the trade deadline. During that timeframe, Cano was also rumored to be part of a trade with the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson. So, when the two teams resumed negotiations after the season, it seemed all but assured that Cano would finally be packing his bags. However, after months of contentious discussion, the Yankees evenutally agreed to send Javier Vazquez along with prospects Dioner Navarro and Brad Halsey to Arizona for the Big Unit. Once again, Cano managed to stay put.
Despite failing to trade Cano in the offseason, the Yankees still seemed reticent to give their 22-year old prospect a chance to make the team. So, instead, they signed Tony Womack to play second base, one of the team’s more ill advised decisions under Brian Cashman’s tenure as GM (which is saying a lot considering that same offseason included lucrative deals for pitchers Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright). Ironically, however, Womack’s utter futility eventually forced the Yankees to promote Cano to the major leagues by May 2005, after which there was no looking back for the young second baseman.
Within days of Cano’s ascension to the majors, talent evaluators around the game were suddenly praising his abilities. The scouts that once seemed to doubt his defense or patience at the plate were now heralding his smooth swing, strong arm and athletic ability. Privately, many in the Yankees’ organization expressed gratitude that the team had been unable to trade their burgeoning new star.
Thank God we didn’t trade him. Imagine if he was doing this for someone else? We’d never hear the end of it.” – Anonymous Yankees’ official, New York Daily News, July 29, 2005
I’m so happy they didn’t trade me. I love this team.” – Robinson Cano, New York Daily News, July 29, 2005
Before truly breaking out with an MVP caliber season in 2010, Cano had his ups and downs along the way to stardom. In fact, after a disappointing 2008 season, the second baseman once again found himself at the center of trade rumors, which this time had him going to the Dodgers for centerfielder Matt Kemp. As in the past, Cano remained with the Yankees and returned to his All Star form the next season.
Cano is the epitome of the old adage that states the best trades are the ones you don’t make. With Cano, however, that old bromide has been taken to an absurd extreme. Not only should the Yankees consider themselves fortunate that they never dealt away a man who is now arguably their best player, but countless teams around baseball should also be kicking themselves for failing to snatch him from New York.