December 7, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Jerry Green

Robinson Cano's 10-year, $240M contract underscores folly of baseball free agency

Will Robinson Cano be another over-valued flop with the Mets? (Kathy Willens / Associated Press)

Free agency in big league ball is about as chancy as buying a lottery ticket — or playing craps in Las Vegas. Or roulette.

A ballclub shells out an obscene amount of money for a ballplayer with proven skills; the hometown media becomes histrionic with proclamations of a guaranteed World Series; and the fans go gaga with expectations.

Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Prince Fielder had acquired legendary status when they placed themselves on Major League Baseball’s auction block. And they turned into over-valued flops.

Now this year’s prize had been acquired by the long-struggling Seattle Mariners. They presented Robinson Cano with a $240 million contract the other day to cover the next 10 seasons. The Mariners outbid the Yankees, Cano’s team over the past nine seasons.

Completing the math — Cano is due to turn 41 by the time of the expiration of his new contract.

His contract terms matches what Pujols signed for two years ago when after 11 years of excellence with the Cardinals, he jumped to the Angels.

Cano is a nice ballplayer. He plays stylishly at second base. He is a decent hitter with moderate power. He made the All-Star team five times.

But Robinson Cano is no Albert Pujols. He is no Derek Jeter.

Indeed, for my buck, Cano is the most overrated player in Major League Baseball.

He never won a Most Valuable Player Award in his nine seasons in New York. His highest placement was third, once.

He never won a home-run title. His career best is 33 homers, hit in 2012.

He never won a batting championship. He has been a constant .300 hitter. His best was .342 in 2006, the season the Yankees went belly-up to the Tigers in the pennant playoffs.

On Saturday morning, I read some New York articles that rapped Cano for his lack of hustle. Not running hard on routine ground balls.

Perhaps, Cano just does not run very fast. A revealing number is in the stolen base column. In nine seasons, Cano stole 38 bases — a low number for a middle infielder. And he was caught stealing 28 times — a high failure ratio.

If Cano had played in Pittsburgh and not New York for nine years we might be comparing him to Omar Infante. Not Albert Pujols.

We the media make a huge deal out of these annual free-agency auctions because it means the wealthier clubs are bidding for already wealthy star players. Rumors are rushed all over. The negotiations are conducted in secrecy. And the results are leaked out before the athletes put ink to paper.

That all happened with Cano the past few days.

What team would win the bidding for Cano was the mystery question of the current offseason. With Cano now joining the Mariners, the media speculators now must find something else exciting to juice up the annual winter meetings this week in Florida.

Two years ago the meetings were spiced by all sorts of gossip about Pujols, who was placing himself into self-exile from the Cardinals as the hot free agent.

In the middle of the rumor-fest, amid ample secrecy, Pujols signed with the Angels. The figures were $240 million for 10 years — a nifty coincidence.

The Los Angeles media extolled the Angels for their shrewdness in making the deal for Pujols. The 2012 American League pennant was a formality, according to the stuff that I read and heard.

There were solid reasons for the media marvels jumping overboard.

Pujols had been a genuine superstar for 11 years in St. Louis. Never over-rated.

He won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards.

He won two home-run titles.

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.

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