The Seattle Mariners, picked by many to not only make the playoffs, but to win the World Series, came into the 2015 season with expectations arguably as high as ever in the history of the franchise.
Following an impressive playoff push that found them just one game short of October in 2014, Seattle seemed primed for even greater success this year. Adding slugger Nelson Cruz to an already solid core featuring Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, seemed foolproof. The Mariners were going to be an elite American League club, something they hadn’t been since their last playoff appearance in 2001.
Aside from Cruz’s MVP-caliber performance, next-to-nothing has gone as planned in the Emerald City. Sitting comfortably in fourth place in the AL West at 59-69, trailing the first-place Houston Astros by seven games and remarkably just as far behind in the Wild Card race, the Mariners seem to have begun pulling the plug on what was supposed to be an electrifying season.
On Friday, they announced the firing of general manager Jack Zduriencik, who at this time last summer had just been rewarded a multiyear extension for all that he had done to bring Seattle back to relevancy. The winter before that, he sat beside Robinson Cano at his introductory press conference after signing the superstar second baseman to a jaw-dropping 10-year, $240 million contract, which was supposed to usher in a shining new era of Seattle Mariner baseball.
Now with “Jack Z” gone and the M’s in disarray, it is unclear as to what the GM-less franchise will do next. Following the departures of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez at the turn of the century, coupled with the ineptitude of the team during Ichiro Suzuki‘s tenure, the Mariners had waited a long time to once again have a superstar [in Cano] that could lead them back to October.
Yet, Cano himself has contributed to the Mariners’ struggles this season, as he was batting .238 at the end of June before rebounding, hitting .337 since. He now sits at .278/.324/.429 on the year with 14 home runs and 58 RBI. Despite his struggles, Cano once again reached the 30 doubles plateau, which makes him the first player in history to record 30 doubles in each of his first 11 seasons.
Now 33 and two seasons removed from being a New York Yankee, Cano is not only having a bad year, but is on a bad team with a visibly blurry future. Amidst his struggles earlier in the year, there were reports that Cano is flat-out unhappy in Seattle. Besides the on-field issues like Safeco Field zapping him of the power he once had in Yankee Stadium, there is a laundry list of off-field struggles that Cano is dealing with. He’s as far away from the Dominican Republic as you can get in the United States, and therefore there’s only a minor Dominican presence out on the Northwest. He also no longer seems close with agent Jay-Z of Roc Nation, who some report Cano feels used by as the rapper recruited him to jumpstart his sports agency.
Of course, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to debate Cano’s future in Seattle. Yes, the team is out of contention, the GM was fired, the manager may be next and a rebuild could be on the horizon. However, that doesn’t always mean that the team’s expensive stars will just be unloaded for prospects because that’s how you would do business in MLB The Show.
Rationally, Cano is only in year two of his decade-long deal and there is still potential for Seattle to turn things around rather quickly. He also has turned things around for himself since the start of July, and overall he’s easily still one of baseball’s elite and one of the best second basemen in the game. The Mariners would be foolish to give up on him so soon.
On the flip side, the Mariners have struggled to market Cano as the superstar that he is. There was an attendance spike of close to 300,000 fans from 2013 to 2014, lifting Safeco Field attendance just over the 2 million mark for the season, but only good for 9th out of the 15 AL ballparks. Fewer people are buying tickets to see Cano than the Mariners likely anticipated, and despite good TV ratings, once September rolls around, the Seahawks become Seattle’s priority when it comes to the sports world, if they aren’t as soon as training camp begins.
When factoring in all of Cano’s problems with playing in Seattle, it’s hard to deny the potential of a trade. The marriage between Cano and the Mariners started off with your typical “honeymoon phase”, as most marriages do, but has since soured…as most marriages do. And with the franchise in flux after firing their general manager and coping with the tremendous disappointment of this season, it isn’t entirely ridiculous to envision Robinson Cano on the trading block come this winter. For the Mariners, it would offer more financial flexibility and guarantee a replenishing of the farm system. More importantly, it would offer a way out of Seattle for Cano, so that he can get back to being the player he was while in pinstripes.
Is that “way out” a flight back to New York? That too isn’t entirely farfetched. But there’ll be time to speculate further this offseason. As of now, Cano is still a Seattle Mariner. For how much longer, however, can’t be said with certainty.