WHAT IF ... Texas had taken Robinson Cano in 2004?
Today’s question is one that hits home perhaps harder now than it would’ve before because Robinson Cano is now gone to Seattle…but What If the Texas Rangers had chosen Cano, and not Joaquin Arias, as their second player in the Alex Rodriguez-Alfonso Soriano deal?
As history goes, the Yankees and Rangers made the epic A-Rod/Soriano swap on February 16, 2004, with Texas also getting a player to be named later, whom they would select from a short list of prospects provided by the Yankees. The number of names on that list is debated, and most of the list is unknown, but what we do know is that Cano was one of the names passed over when Texas selected Arias on April 23.
Like the Derek Jeter scenario presented earlier this week, there are then three things to consider when projecting what would have happened if Cano was chosen: what happens to him, what happens to the Yankees, and what happens to any players who may or may not have been “blocked” by Cano.
Here’s what we know did happen on the Yankees side, Miguel Cairo played second base in 2004 and Tony Womack started 2005 in that spot, but Cano took over in May and never looked back; he averaged a ..309-23-91 line over nine seasons before signing with Seattle, with five All-Star nods, five Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, and a quartet of Top 6 finishes in MVP voting.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Soriano played second for two seasons before being shipped to Washington, at which point Ian Kinsler made his debut and posted a .273-20-67 average line over eight years before being traded to Detroit earlier this offseason.
Oh, and as for Arias? A Class-A prospect when acquired, he debuted as a utility player in September 2006, played sparingly over four-plus seasons in Texas before being traded to the Mets in 2010, and finally landed in San Francisco in 2012, where he has hit .270 in 214 games as a utility infielder over the last two seasons and won a World Series ring three years after Cano got his.
So what might have happened if Cano took his place?
Starting with Cano and Kinsler, there could have been a very different result, but it’s entirely possible that both of them could still be All-Stars. Sure, on the surface, Cano wasn’t an “elite” prospect per se while Kinsler (and Arias, to be fair) landed in Baseball America’s Top 100 prior to the 2005 season. – and in 2003, Cano, then 20, hit .277 with six homers and 63 RBI in 133 games between Tampa and Trenton, while Kinsler posted a .277-1-15 line with 11 steals in 51 games at Short-Season Class-A Spokane after being drafted in the 17th round that June.
Still, though, there was a chance, because when the trade was consummated, Kinsler was actually a shortstop and Cano has just moved off the position less than a year earlier; Cano played 79 of his 146 games over his first two seasons at short and only switched full-time to second base in 2003, while Kinsler played shortstop exclusively his first two years and didn’t move to second base until reaching Triple-A in 2005.
So, in 2006, Soriano could still have been traded and the Rangers could have either given Kinsler another year (moving Michael Young back to second base in the process) or had an alignment similar to what they did at times last year, with five infielders rotating between the four spots and designated hitter – or, they could have just moved Soriano to the outfield as was rumored (and eventually happened in Washington) and kept all five of their infielders plus their star first baseman named Mark Teixeira in the lineup that year.
Given Cano’s sweet lefty swing and the eventual health concerns that pushed Hank Blalock into a designated hitter role, we project that Texas would have entered 2006 one of the above two alignments…but what about the Yankees?
As Yankees fans have seen over the last decade, range and arm aren’t issues with Cano, so his move to second base came partly because of lack of depth in the system and mostly because of a guy named Derek Jeter under a long-term deal. If he’s gone in 2003, then Cairo and Womack keep their jobs in 2004 and 2005, but then what?
MLB.com asked the same question a few years back, and here’s what they said:
Without Cano there to force him off of second the Yankees may have had to live with Womack, who had his worst career year in 2005. After the 2005 season there was a minimum amount of talent available at second in free agency, so the starting second base job possibly would have been a spring training battle between Minor Leaguers Andy Cannizaro, Caonabo Cosme, Felix Escalona, Russ Johnson, and Andy Phillips.
Not a bright outlook there, either; Phillips, who hit .253 in 203 games with the Yankees from 2004-07, was the “best” of that bunch, as the rest of the crew were a 32-year-old journeyman with a decent average and little power (Johnson), a 27-year-old utility guy who never saw the Majors again after a 2005 cup of coffee with the Yankees (Escalona), a guy who got his only MLB experience with a 2006 cup of joe (Cannizaro), and a guy in Cosme who never made it.
Phillips ended up playing a lot of first base in 2006, so there still would have had to be a stopgap somewhere, perhaps a second year of Womack (who retired following that season) – but with one-year signee Daniel Garcia (.242 in 123 games at Triple-A Columbus in 2006) and fringe prospect Gabe Lopez (.263 in 127 games at Double-A Trenton) the best options in the system for the following year, it likely would have meant second base in 2007 would have been an expensive free agent or trade acquisition if not Phillips.
Just some perspective for those who think a 2014 platoon between established veterans Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts is a let-down after a decade of Cano.