The 28-year-old Cano earned heavy consideration for the American League Most Valuable Player Award, but a stellar campaign wasn't enough to overtake Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton, who received 22 of 28 first-place votes to bring home the honors.
Cano finished third in the MVP balloting behind the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, who received five first-place votes. Cano placed second on the most ballots (12) and finished ahead of the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, who received one first-place vote.
"I would like to congratulate Josh Hamilton on winning the MVP," said Cano. "He is a great player and deserving of the award. I am very proud of my season and expect nothing less of myself. I will continue to work hard and play hard, and along with my teammates, do everything I can to help the Yankees get to and win the World Series."
Hamilton had a total of 358 points in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, with Cabrera receiving 262 points, ahead of Cano's 229 points.
All 28 voters listed Cano on their ballot in some place, coming after a season when he excelled both offensively and defensively, solidifying his place among the game's top all-around talents.
"He's growing up right in front of our eyes," Alex Rodriguez said. "He's slowly but surely become one of the elite players in our league. Everyone talks about hitting, but what he's doing, power-wise, in big situations and defensively, there's no question he's the best second baseman in baseball."
The sweet-swinging Cano batted .319 while setting new career highs with 29 home runs and 109 RBIs in 160 games for the AL Wild Card winners, playing all but three of his games at second base.
His 200 hits were the second most in the Majors, finishing behind only Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki (214), helping him earn his second career AL Silver Slugger Award after having earned the honors previously in 2006.
Among American Leaguers, Cano ranked fifth in batting average, tied for sixth in runs (103), was seventh in RBIs and slugging percentage (.534), was ninth in on-base percentage (.420) and tied for ninth in doubles (41) and home runs.
"Everybody in the league would want to have a guy like that on their team," the Yankees' Curtis Granderson said. "He's got one of the most dangerous bats in the game."
Defensively, Cano was honored this month with his first career AL Gold Glove Award, leading the league with a .996 fielding percentage at second base and committing just three errors in 776 total chances.
Cano set a Yankees record with 81 consecutive errorless games from April 23 through July 26, and few second basemen have approached his smooth range and strong arm.
"Yes, there are some guys that have had a little bit better years offensively, but I don't think they make the same defensive impact that Robinson Cano does," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said this year. "When you look at the whole picture, to me, he's the MVP. Robinson Cano has been a beast."
But Cano's case was not enough to push him past compelling arguments for Hamilton -- who led the Majors in nearly every percentage-based offensive stat despite missing almost all of September with a cracked rib -- and Cabrera, who led the Majors in RBIs and scoring while driving in more than 26 percent of the Tigers' total runs.
CC Sabathia appeared on six ballots, no higher than eighth place, and three voters listed Alex Rodriguez, no higher than sixth place. But the Yankees might not have been able to stay so close to the top of their division without Cano.
The two-time All-Star enjoyed a scorching start at the plate, batting .400 in April -- when he was the AL's Player of the Month -- and following it by hitting .336 in May and .333 in June.
His help was crucial while the Yankees endured slow starts from both Mark Teixeira (who received one 10th-place vote and finished tied for 19th) and Rodriguez. There was some discussion this spring about who would bat fifth for the Yankees, but the decision to go with Cano in that slot might have been Girardi's best all year.
"We all knew he was going to hit in the middle of the lineup," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "We all knew he was going to win batting titles here and there. But turning into an MVP player the way he has done it, putting him in that fifth spot from the get-go, has made him the player he is.
"He really is a special kid. He's a Gold Glove winner, and he has been able to take on that challenge and made it what everybody is talking about. He is that good."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.