Whether he re-signs with the Yankees or takes his talents elsewhere following the 2013 season, Robinson Cano is about to become an absurdly wealthy man. Cano's blend of contact, power and durability, coupled with new TV money swelling owners' pockets, could make him the game's highest paid player this winter.
Is Cano, 30, a good bet to keep producing as he ages?
To explore that question, I found some players comparable to Cano using Baseball-Reference's Play Index tool and charted their career paths in their thirties. I considered Expansion-Era second basemen who had at least a 110 OPS+, a .280 average and 50+ home runs during their twenties. While you can quibble with those cutoffs, they give us a sample of keystone players who produced at the plate with both contact and power (Cano has a career 123 OPS+ to this point, with a .308 average and 177 homers).
The results are mostly positive, but Cano's comps also include a pair of players who declined dramatically and one active guy who's still great -- when he's capable of taking the field.
Here's the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to Cano's possible post-twenties career path.
- During his 20s: 5,394 PA, 110 OPS+, 37.3 WAR
- During his 30s: 4,573 PA, 125 OPS+, 34.1 WAR
Sweet Lou was the rare player who was every bit as productive in his thirties as in his twenties. He remained a power threat deep into his thirties, actually hitting far more homers after age 29 (151) than before (93). He also stuck at second base for the duration of his 19-year career with the Tigers, saving a collective 13 runs compared to an average second baseman after age 30, according to Baseball-Reference. Whitaker represents the best-case scenario for Cano: he raked, remained relatively healthy and retained his range.
- During his 20s: 5,385 PA, 112 OPS+, 36 WAR
- During his 30s: 3,897 PA, 118 OPS+, 28.9 WAR
Ryno emerged as a huge power threat at second base, leading the league with 40 home runs during his age 30 season and finishing with the career home run record among players at the keystone (since broken by Jeff Kent). Sandberg racked up a ton of value from age 30 to 33 (135 OPS+, 24.5 WAR), then got off to a poor start in 1994 and retired. He sat out his age 35 season but returned to the Cubs the following year, producing modestly through age 37.
- During his 20s: 6,232 PA, 119 OPS+, 40.9 WAR
- During his 30s: 4,168 PA, 112 OPS+, 22 WAR
Alomar hit for average during his early Padres years, but he became an offensive dynamo during his mid-twenties as he combined excellent contact skills, a good eye and ample power, all while collecting a cabinet full of Gold Gloves. He remained a major threat at the dish through age 33, posting a career-best 150 OPS+ and hitting 20 homers during his last year in Cleveland, but his power plummeted upon a trade to the Mets that winter (90 OPS+, 11 HR). He was done as a regular after another sub-par season at age 35 (80 OPS+) and retired after his age 36 season.
- During his 20s: 3,126 PA, 128 OPS+, 33 WAR
- During his 30s: 2,014 PA, 123 OPS+, 20.3 WAR
Utley was the gold standard among second baseman prior to his injury issues and Cano's ascension as an all-around offensive threat. Now, we're not really sure what to expect. Utley is still darned good when he's on the field, but his knees are held together with Super Glue, Big League Chew and platelet-rich plasma injections from the Philadelphia Phanatic. He could be an MVP candidate in 2013, or he could play 50 games. I placed Utley in the "good" here, but would the Yankees really be pleased if they inked Cano to a megadeal and he provided intermittent, injury-plagued excellence? Thankfully, Cano has been just about the most durable player in the game to this point. But predicting durability can be a fool's errand -- Utley averaged about 675 plate appearances as a full-time player from age 26 to 29.
- During his 20s: 5,279 PA, 112 OPS+, 38.9 WAR
- During his 30s: 2,108 PA, 91 OPS+, 3.1 WAR
Knoblauch batted nearly .300 during before his 30th birthday, and he ramped up his power production as he reached his mid-to-late twenties (he belted 50 homers and slugged .453 from age 26-29, compared to 10 homers and a .373 slugging percentage from age 22-25). After that, the wheels came off. Knoblauch had a good age 30 season at the plate (118 OPS+), but he fell apart in the field as he struggled to make even the most routine throws to first base. Baseball-Reference estimates that he was 15 runs worse than an average defensive second baseman that year. He was even worse the at age 31 (-10 runs in just a half season's worth of games), and he was a full-time left fielder/DH by age 32. After one wretched season in Kansas City, Knoblauch retiredly
- During his 20s: 3,895 PA, 113 OPS+, 15.5 WAR
- During his 30s: 1,813 PA, 96 OPS+, -0.6 WAR
Vidro never reached the heights that Cano has during his career, but his post-20s playing record represents every fear talent evaluators have about second baseman declining sharply coming true. Vidro routinely hit double-digit homers and produced scads of contact, batting .304 with 101 homers through age 29, yet he never topped seven homers and hit a hollow .284 in his 30s. Knee, ankle and hamstring injuries made him a statue at second, and he mostly DHed after being traded to Seattle before his age 32 season. Suffice it to say, his bat didn't play at the position. Vidro was done at age 33.
I excluded Alfonso Soriano because he was moved off the position at 30 and sent to Wrigley's outfield.