Commentary

Cano has chance to carry Yankees

With A-Rod out, the second baseman must become more consistent in the second half

Updated: July 12, 2011, 1:30 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

PHOENIX -- Robinson Cano can start to fulfill Scott Boras' $300 million dreams. He can clean up in place of the injured Alex Rodriguez. He can lift these New York Yankees on his back in the second half.

Here at the All-Star Game, he already was the centerpiece Yankee even before putting on a Home Run Derby show Monday night.

A-Rod is in Miami recovering from being scoped. Derek Jeter is being criticized but is prioritizing the second half of the season over his baseball ambassadorship. Mariano Rivera is resting with his family after his arm acted up at the end of the first half.

[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesRobinson Cano has a chance to become the face of the Yankees' franchise.

But the age that slowly shows on the Yankees' greats makes it more apparent that Cano can grab this franchise and make his name the first one associated with its success.

With A-Rod out, the 28-year-old Cano is the man who must lead this Yankees offense from the cleanup spot.

On Monday, a smiling Cano put on a spectacle, looking like he is ready to bat fourth in the second half, nailing 32 homers in total, some nearly 500 feet.

With his All-Star teammates -- Curtis Granderson, David Robertson and Russell Martin -- waving towels, and his father, Jose, a former major leaguer, throwing pitches to him, Cano beat the Red Sox's Adrian Gonzalez with 12 long balls in the finals. Then, just like Jeter, he dished out the credit.

"It was my dad," Cano said.

After Tuesday's All-Star Game, though, is when Cano must really honor his talent.

Even after an unspectacular first half for him, he is a deserving All-Star. But still, as always with the uniquely talented second baseman, even when you see a lot, you expect so much more.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman already admits Cano is the best player on his team, but that is not good enough for Boras.

"Let me go a little further; Robinson is in a position with what he is doing for second basemen that is historic," Boras told ESPN New York. "He is so far ahead of everybody."

Boras and his corporation will produce a book, due out in the winter of 2013, that will coincide with Cano's free agency and explain how Cano is a once-in-a-lifetime second baseman. Boras thinks Cano is the man to succeed Jeter as the face of the Yankees.

"Derek Jeter, he has been the face of the Yankees," Boras said. "Certainly, you have to say whenever that time is the heir apparent is Robinson because he has the component of being a perennial All-Star, the person who is best at his position, a person who is integral to the success of the Yankees. That formula was built by Jeter. He took the mantle of players who preceded him. Robinson aspires to that level."

So will Boras try to top A-Rod's 10-year, $275 million-$300 million deal?

"I don't talk money," Boras said.

He will eventually -- and it will be measured in hundreds of millions for Cano, who will have just turned 30 in 2013.

For now, in 2011, Cano must be the Yankees' cleanup hitter with Rodriguez out, maybe until September. Cano feels as if he is at another stage of his career. He is not the up-and-coming player anymore. He is an established All-Star.

But to lift the Yankees on his back and eventually make Boras' job easier, Cano needs to go to the next level, which really means consistency.

Cano's first half felt strange, which is not odd because of how Cano plays. Cano's game looks so easy it appears he is not trying his fullest at times.

In the past, looks haven't always been deceiving. In September 2008, this forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to sit Cano for a day.

Cano's season is All-Star-worthy, but he has not taken that dominant step or even built on last year yet.

"It was not the way I wanted, but it was great," Cano said, pointing to the Yankees' 53 wins, which puts them a game back of the Red Sox.

Power-wise, Cano is on the same pace as last year. In 2010, he had 16 homers, 23 doubles and two triples at the break. This season, he is at 15 homers, 21 doubles and five triples. His slugging percentage is close (.534 in 2010, .521 now).

His average -- especially and strangely against right-handed pitching -- has dipped this season. Overall, he is hitting .296. Last year, he was at .319 at baseball's intermission. For his career, he is a .308 hitter.

Cano is not as patient this year, which combined with the downturn in his average is why his on-base percentage went from .381 at this point last year to .342 now.

The Yankees have given Cano data to show that if he is more selective, he eventually will be paid more. Last year, he listened, walking once every 12 plate appearances. This season, he is taking first for free every 22 plate appearances. If he keeps it up, he will have just 31 total walks. Cano had 27 in the first half last year.

Cano is seeing only 3.26 pitches per at-bat, which is the third lowest in all of baseball. But the drop in Cano's average against righties is strangest of it all. In his career, he pounds righties at a .311 average. Last year was .337. He is hitting just .277 against righties. The only season he was under .300 against righties was in his disappointing 2008 when he hit .263.

Cano is crushing lefties, hitting .340 with a .560 slugging percentage, which dwarfs last year's .285 and .514.

But now, with A-Rod out, Cano will bat fourth, while Boras waits in the on-deck circle for 2013.

"Nobody can fill those shoes," Cano said of A-Rod.

Maybe, maybe not, but Cano has a chance to do it. If he does and can add consistency to his résumé, Boras' 2013 book could come with a lot of zeroes.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

EDITORS' PICKS