There’s been a lot written about Seattle Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano lately. First, there was the hyperbolic rant of a fired coach that spurred a media frenzy. A few days later, the New York tabloids speculated that he’s not happy in Seattle and would welcome a return to the Yankees. Since those reports surfaced, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto and Cano’s agent have both shot down the notion that the veteran wants out of Seattle
Now that both player and club are publicly on the same page, should the Mariners consider moving their all-star second baseman? I’m not talking about a trade. Rather, a relocation to another position on the playing field. Specifically, first base.
I’m sure that some will criticize the suggestion of moving a two-time Gold Glove second baseman who’s played all but one fielding inning at that position during 11 seasons. If now isn’t a good time to ask, when should the question be posed?
Considering Cano will be entering his age-33 season, wouldn’t it behoove the team to at least contemplate a transition plan for their most expensive player? Doing so might help keep him healthy and productive until his contract expires, plus improve the team’s second base defense.
It’s true that the Mariners’ second baseman has been very durable, averaging 159 games-per-season since 2007. But, the six-time all-star is on the wrong side of 30 and bound to show signs of decline during the latter years of his 10-year/$240 million deal. It’s possible that his defense is already showing signs of decline.
During his first two seasons with Seattle, Cano posted a combined -9 DRS and ranked 13 of 15 qualified second basemen in that category. The eyeball test says that Cano has superb hands and a strong, accurate arm. He makes it look easy on the balls that he reaches. But, does the reduced DRS signal that his range is decreasing?
To be fair to Cano, he had zero DRS in 2014 and actually accumulated the -9 last season while suffering with stomach issues and a sports hernia. Hopefully for the team and player, his health issues were the prime reason for his below-average DRS in 2015 and he’ll bounce back next year. But, what if he doesn’t improve in 2016 and last season was actually a preview of what’s to come?
Cano – who’ll be age-40 during his final season with Seattle in 2023 – wouldn’t be the first to be a regular second baseman at that advanced age, but several historical comparisons suggest that his fielding will continue to decline and be a detriment to his team.
Take a look at two Hall of Famers and a Hall-eligible player who were everyday second basemen during the latter years of their respective careers. Even in their late thirties, Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, and Joe Morgan were still capable of contributing at the plate. But, the defensive prowess of the trio had declined significantly.
Biggio registered -32 DRS during his last three seasons, while Kent was at -40. Advanced fielding metrics weren’t available when Morgan played. But, two standard fielding statistics shed light on his decline. The Hall of Famer’s fielding percentages during his final two seasons were below his 22-year career average, plus he totaled 27 errors in those years after having 30 miscues in the four previous seasons.
The decline of Biggio, Morgan, and Kent doesn’t mean that Cano will fade as badly in the field. But, he’s human and bound to falloff at some point between now and 2023. So, wouldn’t it be prudent for the Mariners to at least explore the option of moving Cano in 2016?
Let’s just suppose for a moment that Seattle relocated their star second baseman next year. It’s not likely, but doing so would make it easier to part ways with Mark Trumbo, who’s expected to make an estimated $9.1 million in 2016 and will be a free agent at the end of next season. Trading the slugger would not only give the Mariners a more athletic player at first base, but also give the team added payroll flexibility to address other roster needs.
Moving Cano to first base would also present the Mariners with the option to shift shortstop Ketel Marte to second base and assign a more consistent fielder to play shortstop. Yes, I know that Marte had a great run during his brief stay in Seattle last year. But, his throwing has been suspect throughout his professional career and he’d likely become a superior fielding second baseman.
Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill briefly discussed the possibility of moving Marte to second base during the 2015 prospect rankings. The 22-year-old has played second base at each level of his professional career, including in Seattle. So, he has experience. If the team did opt to change Marte’s position, Chris Taylor could be an internal option to man shortstop or the club could look outside the organization.
I’m not necessarily advocating that Cano become Seattle’s full-time first baseman in 2016 or even moving Marte next season. But, it’s worth considering. Perhaps, having Cano play 15-20 games at first base next season is worth trying, especially if his defensive metrics don’t bounce back like his offense did during the second half of 2015.
Changes may not occur in 2016, but Dipoto is a disciple of sabermetrics and isn’t likely to accept below-average fielding from the second base position for the next eight seasons, regardless of the stature of the player manning the position. Starting to transition Robinson Cano to first base makes sense to me. Perhaps, the Mariners GM will eventually agree.