The news broke Tuesday with a vengeance. Trades, free agent signings and even a report out of New York that the Seattle Mariners were legitimate, major players for free agent Robinson Cano. Some have been saying it for weeks, simply because it’s well known that each team has an additional $20-25 million coming to them via the league’s new TV deal, and the Mariners, having just two guaranteed contracts on the books to boot, negotiated a majority control of their regional sports network, improving their annual revenues greatly, starting next year.
Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com reported Tuesday afternoon that the Mariners had emerged as a prime suitor and cited sources that suggested the M’s might be willing to go where the New York Yankees reportedly say they will not — eight years and $200 million.
Let’s break this down, issue by issue.
Legitimate or not?
I have no doubt that the Mariners have the kind of interest in every significant free agent to pay the market rate. With Cano, that likely means $200 million guaranteed, maybe more. I believe the Mariners are willing to pay that. What I don’t believe is that Cano would take it.
Even with the news coming out that Jacoby Ellsbury has agreed to a deal with the Yankees worth $153 million and knowing that Brian McCann is under contract with the Yankees for at least $85 million, it’s difficult to believe that the Yankees would low-ball Cano to the point where Seattle, of all teams and places, is the best fit.
Even if the M’s are the best money, it’s difficult to believe they will be the overwhelming high bid; are the Yankees now only willing to offer Cano, say, $165 million? If so, and if the M’s are willing to go $200 million, is the $35 million enough to sway Cano? I don’t think it is. He can make up that difference in endorsements as the Yankees’ lead superstar, playing in the postseason.
And if the bidding were to remain around or under $200 million — which is $100 million less than what was originally suggested for Cano — might that entice the interest of the Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers? It would only take one of those to trump the Mariners.
The Ellsbury factor
I don’t believe the Ellsbury signing is a factor at all. The Yankees, clearly, have given up on the idea of remaining under the luxury tax threshold so they can earn the kickback payment, and it does seem as if they are expecting a ruling in their favor in the Alex Rodriguez case, which would save them $189 million in total.
Yes, the Yankees also need starting pitching, too, but again, this is the Yankees we are talking about, and they clearly mean business this offseason. While there appears to be no reason to believe they will cave and give Cano what he really wants, there’s also no reason to think they won’t spend another $40-50 million on Cano than they did to sign Ellsbury, an inferior player.
Sensible for Seattle?
Then there is the question of whether or not it would even make sense for the Mariners to give Cano eight years and $200 million. The easy answer is yes. Even if you believe such a deal is an overpay, this is the Mariners we are talking about, and Cano is exactly the kind of breakthrough addition the franchise needs.
Remember, the money only hurts a club if they let it bog them down in their attempts at continuing to improve their club every single day of the year. It’s a decision organizations make. It’s not about $200 million payrolls, either. It’s about spending on the right players, maximizing the value of those making the big money and continuing to develop your own talent so huge contracts aren’t regularly necessary.
Adding a player like Cano would do more than just give the club it’s first true No. 3 hitter since Edgar Martinez 10 years ago, his presence adds instant credibility to the Mariners brand. Getting that next free agent wouldn’t be quite as difficult. “Hey, you, free agent shortstop. Come play with Robby Cano and behind Felix Hernandez.” That’s an easier sales job than currently exists.
Forget payrolls and what adding a $25 million per year player would do to a team’s self-imposed salary cap. We have absolutely no idea what the Mariners’ limits are, if there truly are any in such a scenario. As long as their next move is just as aggressive and they keep that ball rolling, the money simply does not matter. It’s not like they have never spent on payroll before — they just didn’t spend wisely.
Cano would be a much wiser spend than Prince Fielder two years ago and Josh Hamilton last year.
Eight years? So What
Cano would be 38 by the end of such a deal, but this is an easy one, people. He’s such a good hitter that once he’s deemed unfit for second base, he can easily move to third, first or designated hitter, and be very valuable. And it’s not like there is any reason to think he’ll have to do so before he’s 36 or 37, anyway.
The Matt Kemp factor
The Mariners have been linked to Kemp for weeks now and it’d be a huge statement if they spent on Cano and landed Kemp via trade. Jon Morosi’s report Tuesday night suggests it’s one or the other, however.
The Mariners can certainly fit both into their plans for 2014, though, and adding Kemp, and perhaps a starting pitcher and a veteran closer, may change Cano’s view of the Mariners enough for him to truly consider them.
Kemp is a risk, a discussion for another day, and is earning $21 million per year, through 2019. He’s had one huge year, was solid in 2012 and hurt a lot in 2013. He’s been playing center field, but belongs in right. The keys to such a trade being a success for the Mariners include using Kemp properly on defense, but for me Taijuan Walker is off limits in a deal for Kemp, and the Dodgers must help out a little with the contract burden, especially if they want three or four quality young players in return.
I have no idea what the chances of the Mariners landing Kemp are, but if they want a real shot at Cano, pulling the trigger on other significant deals before the Cano decision is made can only help. It’s worth noting that Kemp does not have a no-trade clause and that Kyle Seager isn’t likely to be involved in a trade with the Dodgers, since it appears they plan to use Hanley Ramirez at third base and signed Alex Guerrero to a 4-year, $28 million deal to be their second baseman as early as 2014.
I mentioned a veteran closer above, and while the Mariners would love to have Brian Wilson, that doesn’t seem very likely. A cheaper arm such as Joaquin Benoit or Fernando Rodney may be an option. The club does not want to start 2014 without a proven commodity added to their young bullpen, and may be trading Tom Wilhelmsen, anyway.
If the season started today, Danny Farquhar would be the closer. It’d be nice if a veteran were added to the mix, and the club clearly agrees.
No, I do not think Cano ends up signing in Seattle. And chances are, Kemp either stays put or is traded elsewhere, though I do see some matches between the two clubs in terms of talent and dollars. The Dodgers may prefer to get a true, clear-cut shortstop and a young starter, and the M’s don’t have the shortstop to move. I’m not sure any team has both, though, which in my opinion gives the Mariners a real shot, and they certainly appear to be the most intent club on that front.
The M’s have been linked to Carlos Beltran, too, who reportedly was offered a 3-year, $48 million deal this week. Many believe that offer to be from the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees or Kansas City Royals. If it’s the Royals, the domino effect may be that Billy Butler could be shopped, so the club can use the DH spot for some of their regulars, including an aging Beltran. The cost on Butler last offseason was ridiculous, but that has to have changed dramatically and Seattle could be a fit. I’d prefer the M’s pass and re-sign Morales or add Nelson Cruz — not for four years and $15-18 million per, of course — to use at DH.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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