Thursday, December 12th, 2013 was a momentous day for the Seattle Mariners. While I was blowing out candles on a cake in Miami, they equalled the third-largest deal in Major League Baseball history by signing New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year $240 million contract. Then-M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik may have thought it wise to get the deal done before Friday the 13th. Unfortunately, he didn’t think to send me birthday wishes for my 50th, thereby failing to avoid cursing the deal.
In the four since-completed seasons with Cano in the lineup, the club hasn’t improved noticeably, finishing third, fourth, second and third in the American League West. When you make a signing of that magnitude, you expect to win. Or you should.
Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 turned out to be the second momentous day in the marriage between the Mariners and their high-priced second-sacker. Cano was suspended 80 days by Major League Baseball for a positive result to a drug test.
You wouldn’t imagine the Mariners would take the news positively. Not the fans, not Cano’s teammates, not manager Scott Servais or current GM Jerry Dipoto. While Cano had only hit four home runs on the season, he had contributed 24 rbi and 23 runs in 39 games, projecting him into the 90s for both over an entire season. His basic numbers as a Mariner suggest the team was faced with replacing 12 hr, 45 rbi and 40 runs. That isn’t a pleasing prospect.
The Mariners were their typical third in the AL West on May 14th, a game-and-a-half behind the Angels, with the World Series champion Houston Astros nestled in between. Seattle’s suddenly looked like another lost season. How could they stay close until Cano returned?
Only, they’ve gone far beyond staying close. After chasing Dallas Keuchel last night, the Mariners are in first place. In the first 20 games sans Cano, they are 15-5. That’s a .750 winning percentage. With Cano, they were 23-17, or .575.
Former Yankee teammate Mark Teixeira, now an ESPN analyst claimed he wasn’t surprised by the suspension.
Alex Rodriguez got popped by Biogenesis, and Melky [Cabrera, also with the Yankees for a time] got popped. They were best friends.
Cano accepted responsibility for the failed test although he claimed it was prescribed in the Dominican for a medical issue rather than to cheat the system. Nevertheless, it has to create a trust issue within the organisation. When he left New York, former hitting coach Kevin Long lamented his habit of not running to first on sure outs.
When you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception. But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time.
Cano will be eligible to play again for the Mariners’ 121st game, on August 14th in Oakland, ten weeks from now, assuming the club don’t first send him down to the minors for a conditioning assignment. Will Scott Servais be eager to plug him right into the lineup if the Mariners are still rolling along atop the division? How could he ignore an elite power hitter? If the M’s begin to slide with Cano back in the clubhouse and the batting order, what then?
It’s difficult to sit a $240 million player. It’s even harder to trade him when he has a PED suspension on his record. Seattle managed to rid themselves of the original Alex Rodriguez before he went bad. Now, too late, they may have to divorce ARod’s protegé. That’s the Emerald City for you. It never rains but it pours.
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.