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Matthew Leach

For Yanks, losing Cano not worth the risk

Second baseman proving he's indispensable to only organization he's known

For Yanks, losing Cano not worth the risk

NEW YORK -- Just pay the man already. Seriously, just get it done.

Yes, Robinson Cano is 30 and will be 31 at the start of his next contract. Yes, he plays second base, a position that seems to see more than its share of drastic declines. Anything else? Because if those are the counterarguments, they're not enough. Cano is the Yankees' best player, their most indispensable and their most durable -- the latter no small thing this year.

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In Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cano reached base three times, hammered a three-run homer and was generally the most essential cog in the Yanks' offensive machine -- which, in general, is what Cano does. He drives this offense. As he goes, New York goes, regardless of when Derek Jeter or Mark Teixeira or Curtis Granderson comes back.

"Robbie got going and we got going," manager Joe Girardi said. "Big three-run homer tonight, ends up being the game-winning hit. It seemed like when he started to get hot, our offense took off a little bit."

To the enormous credit of a cast of fill-ins and stopgaps, the Yankees have actually managed one of the league's most effective offenses this year. They're one of three American League teams averaging more than five runs per game. That's thanks in large part to hot starts from guys like Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis, but it's especially due to Cano's brilliance. Girardi knows it, and anyone watching this offense knows it -- even if Cano won't say it himself.

"It means a lot when you hear it from your manager," Cano said. "That's what you want. You want to be part of the team and a guy that they can count on to win."

Unlike Wells, Hafner and Youkilis, Cano isn't all that far off his expected levels. He's simply one of the game's best hitters, and his .327/.389/.653 (average/on-base/slugging) line is only a little bit out of character, and only in the power category.

Without Cano right now, the Yankees might well be scoring enough runs to be in the thick of the AL East race. Without him over the course of the season, it would be ugly. Without him after 2013, it's a bit frightening.

It certainly seems the Yankees are open to seeing Granderson play somewhere else in 2014. Jeter turns 39 in June, and it's hard to shake the notion that his halting recovery from offseason left ankle surgery is in part a factor of age. Teixeira's numbers have been trending in the wrong direction since his first year wearing pinstripes.

Cano charges on. His 2012 season was, by some measures, the best of his career. He's finished sixth or better in AL MVP voting in each of the past three years. He hasn't played fewer than 159 games in a season since '06.

If there's an argument against signing Cano at virtually any cost, it's actually that list of aging, ailing Yankees. The case is that contracts like those of Teixeira (owed nearly $90 million more) and Alex Rodriguez (more than $110 million to go) should serve as cautionary tales. Older players get hurt. They fade.

That is, in fact, true. And for most other organizations, it would be a problem. For the Yankees, it isn't really. They're looking to get under the luxury tax threshold for 2014, but they'll actually have quite a bit of room under that $189 million number next year. And after that, they're free to get back to their old ways again.

There's room in the payroll to take risks on some mistakes. And if you're not going to take a risk on a player like Cano, then there's not much reason to carry a high payroll in the first place. He's a special player, perhaps on his way to a special year. He's the man that makes the lineup go, the player without whom the Yankees would be in the most trouble.

They need him, and he showed it again on Tuesday night. Get it done.

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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