By Brent Stecker
For the first time in a long time, the Mariners have turned the heads of the MLB, reportedly agreeing to a contract with Robinson Cano.
Here’s what you need to know about the Mariners’ new star second baseman:
1. Cano is very, very good at playing baseball
Let’s just get the easy one out of the way. Cano is a five-time All-Star, one of the most consistent players in the game, and a perennial MVP candidate. He’s hit over .300 in seven of his nine seasons. He’s topped 100 runs scored four times and 100 RBIs three times. He’s hit at least 25 home runs in each of the past five seasons. He’s an OPS monster for a second baseman, leading the Majors at the position four years straight. And in the last five years combined, his total 34.2 Wins Above Replacement is the most in the MLB. His contract may be hard to justify, but it’s also hard to argue that he isn’t worth one of the biggest salaries in the game.
2. He’s not known for his glove, but he’s one of the best defenders in the MLB
Cano is a two-time Gold Glove winner and has posted a fielding percentage higher than .990 three times out of the previous four years. He had just six errors in each of the past two seasons, and only three in 2010. He’s not exactly the flashiest at second base, but he gets the job done and rarely makes mistakes. This will go a long way for the Mariners, whose team defense took a major dive in recent years after the defensive-minded signings of general manager Jack Zduriencik’s early years turned out to be busts.
3. His reported contract would be the third-biggest in the Majors
Cano will reportedly earn $24 million per year with the Mariners, which would rank behind only Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million) and would tie Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee on the list of MLB’s biggest contracts in terms of average annual value. Furthermore, it’s tied for third all-time in terms of total value given to a free agent behind only Rodriguez’s first giant deal with Texas and his second with the Yankees. Cano’s deal, which would be the first $100 million-plus contract given out by Seattle, shows how far the Mariners have come, especially when considering that both Rodriguez and Lee are former Mariners. Also indicative of what it means for the Mariners are the previous biggest contracts in franchise history. Adrian Beltre was the last big free agent to come to Seattle in 2005, but he earned under $15 million a year, a full $9 million less than Cano will reportedly make.
4. Cano is a winner
He has a 2009 World Championship with New York under his belt, and was the MVP of the Dominican Republic’s 2013 World Baseball Classic title. He’s played in the playoffs in all but two of his MLB seasons. He’s never been part of a team that finished a season below .500. This is foreign to just about every player on the Mariners’ current roster, since Seattle hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2001 or finished with a winning record since 2009.
5. Cano is as reliable as they come
He may not be an ironman like Cal Ripken, Jr., but it has been very rare to see Cano miss time throughout his career. In each of the last seven seasons, Cano has played at least 159 games, missing a grand total of just 10 games.
6. Contact is his game
Unlike most sluggers of the current era, Cano has never struck out 100 times in a season. That’s not to say he’s the most patient hitter in the world, either; his career-high walk total is 65 last season. He goes to the plate to swing, and with one of the prettiest left-handed strokes in the game, it’s easy to see why.
7. He was nearly a Ranger
When the Yankees acquired Rodriguez from the Rangers, New York gave Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named. After the 2004 season, the Yankees gave the Rangers a choice of five prospects, which included Cano. Instead, Texas selected infielder Joaquin Arias. Arias is now a utility player for the Giants. As for Cano, once he reached the Big Apple in 2005, it’s safe to say the idea of trading him was the furthest thing from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s mind.
8. The spacious confines of Safeco Field shouldn’t be a concern
The Mariners’ home stadium has never been friendly to hitters, but it’s been a lot easier on lefties than righties. And in that regard, Cano’s been just fine in Seattle. He’s hit four home runs in 162 at-bats at the Safe, which isn’t a huge number, but his .309 average and .837 OPS there are comparable with his overall career stats.
9. He’s a second-generation ballplayer
Jose Cano, Robinson’s dad, had a cup of coffee with the Astros in 1989. He bounced around the Yankees’ and Braves’ minor-league systems throughout the 80s before finally being called up by Houston. He made six appearances as a pitcher, including three starts, and finished 1-1 with a 5.09 ERA. Jose Cano pitched to both his son and Boston’s David Ortiz in the 2011 Home Run Derby, which Robinson won with a record-setting 12 home runs in the final round.
10. He’s a proud son of the Dominican Republic
Like many stars of the last decade, Cano hails from the Dominican Republic. In fact, he comes from the same hometown (San Pedro de Macoris) as a number of notable players, including Alfonso Soriano, Sammy Sosa, Tony Fernandez and Mariano Duncan.