Since signing a monster contract prior to the 2014 season, Robinson Cano has performed relatively well in Seattle, slashing .300/.358/.450 (not a great deal lower than his career line) for the Mariners. The one thing he can’t slash, however, is team’s ballooning payroll. With the 33-year-old second baseman owed $24 million for each of the next eight (!) seasons, a team that broke the bank to sign him as a free agent may be looking to get a refund, restocking fee be damned.
You can buy a lot for $240 million, but what no one pays attention to in such a deal is the free gift that comes along, like the travel-size deodorant shrink-wrapped to that new stick of Old Spice (I can never decide between Bearglove or Wolfthorn). And when you agree to a monster deal, the included-at-no-extra-cost novelty is a giant spotlight. It’s eleventy billion candlepower beam exposes all flaws while also casting a shadow of resentment in which many around you are forced to stand.
Looks like maybe B.I.G and Diddy – with a little help from Ma$e – got it right after all.
Cano came to Seattle with a bit of a reputation for failing to hustle on routine plays, a foible Yankee fans bemoaned but tolerated. After all, when you’ve got a guy putting up MVP-type offensive numbers from a middle infield spot, you’re going to cut him a little slack. What’s more, he was a homegrown talent who had come into his own right there in the Bronx. But shift that frame of reference, and the gripes are magnified right along with the paycheck.
Mercenaries don’t get the benefit of the doubt. Just ask former M’s hitting coach Andy Van Slyke, who shared his thoughts on Cano with 920-AM in St. Louis recently:
Your highest paid, supposedly best player – I mean Robbie’s not a bad guy, let me say that before I say anything bad about how he played. But Robinson Cano was the single worst third-place, everyday player I’ve ever seen – I’ve ever seen for the first half of a baseball season,” Van Slyke said. “He couldn’t drive home Miss Daisy if he tried. He couldn’t get a hit when it mattered. He played the worst defense I’ve ever seen at second base. I mean I’m talking about the worst defensive second baseman ever – I’ve ever seen in 20 years in the big leagues. He couldn’t catch the ball. No, I take that back. Any ball that was hit to him was an out. Any ball that he had a chance to turn a double play, he’s still maybe the best in the game today. He’s got a great arm.”
“The hitting coach got fired because of Cano. And the manager and the coaches got fired because of Cano. That’s how much impact he has on the organization. He was the worst player and it cost people their jobs in the process. [all emphasis mine]
Talk about scorched earth. While Van Slyke was clearly speaking through a megaphone of scorn and bitterness, his sentiments do echo some of those being murmured by many more with smaller voices. The situation in which Cano and the Mariners find themselves is fast becoming intractable, both financially and personally. Zachary Rymer of Bleacher Report wrote about the albastrossity of the monster contract both parties (regrettably) agreed to and John Harper of the New York Daily News reports that “one long-time friend who spoke to [Cano] recently says the second baseman is not happy in Seattle, especially with a new regime in charge there now, and that he’d love to somehow find his way back to New York.”
Therein lies the ultimate danger of making a decision based solely upon money. Sometimes all the dollars in the world still don’t make sense, a fact Cano is now learning the hard way. He went from being a lights-out All-Star to guy who’s now unable to turn off the spotlight. And it’s going to mighty difficult for either him or his ballclub to extricate themselves from this mess.
The Mariners’ $123 million payroll last year was the team’s highest ever, and, with nearly $95 million already committed to just nine players for 2016, they’re going to need to look for ways to get creative. Might that mean swinging a deal with New York to take back the aging slugger? I know it’d be out of character for the Yankees to take on post-prime player with a massive contract, but bear with me.
Even at his reduced capacity, Cano has posted 7.3 WAR (5.2 in 2014 and 2.1 in 2015) in the Emerald City. And hampered as he was by nagging injuries this past season, you can imagine that he could still be a three-WAR player for a least the next couple seasons, if healthy. Given the FanGraphs’ estimate of just over $8 million in value for each win, that’s enough to make Cano’s annual salary worth the cost. And when you consider that Yankee second basemen have combined for -1.1 WAR since Cano left town (-1.1 in 2014, 0.0 in 2015), the deal actually makes even more sense. Well, inasmuch as anyone taking on a guy who will be owed such a significant sum over the next eight seasons makes sense, anyway.
When Cano saw that $240 million figure, he thought he was getting a ticket to Wonderland, but it turns out he was just getting a one-way voucher into a rabbit hole. Or perhaps it’s better to liken him to Dorothy, given his current city’s nickname. Or, given the fact that he’s somewhat marooned, maybe Robinson Crusoe is more appropriate. Fictional characters aside, it’ll take a little wizardry to unstick the situation in which Cano finds himself and to get him home.