'Awful' Robinson Cano ready to lead Mariners in 2016

Tim BrownMLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

PEORIA, Ariz. – The most awful player Andy Van Slyke has ever seen reported for more baseball here Thursday.

Robinson Cano (AP Photo)
Robinson Cano (AP Photo)

He’ll play, as it turns out, for an organization that has been overhauled from the general manager down, something else the most awful player Andy Van Slyke has ever seen is responsible for, according to Andy Van Slyke. That gutting included … first base coach Andy Van Slyke.

He’ll play with the scars from surgery done to repair his left and right core muscles, a procedure that followed the end of the regular season by a couple weeks and presumably fixed some of the discomfort that perhaps led him to become the most awful player Andy Van Slyke has ever seen.

Robinson Cano barely mustered a sigh.

“Honestly it doesn’t hurt me,” Cano said, meaning the words and not the surgery. “Coming from a guy like him, doesn’t bother me at all.

“Andy? It doesn’t even bother me.”

This all started, probably, with the Seattle Mariners turning what was projected to be a break-through season into a lot more of the same, only worse. The only American League franchise to never play in the World Series won 76 games in 2015, which not only was not break-through, but 11 fewer than they had the season before. A little more than a month after the general manager was fired, the manager and his staff were shown the door, and maybe none of that happens if Robinson Cano hadn’t just had the worst season of his career, an event that also coincided with him making $24 million in the second year of a 10-year, $240-million contract.

So, as we’ve become a society that must at all times identify the best evers and worst evers, even a 55-year-old baseball lifer who ought to know better is granted a few minutes to register his foolishness. In a radio interview that aired about a month after Cano’s surgery, Van Slyke — the former Mariners first base coach — chopped Cano — the Mariners current and future second baseman — to pieces.

That Cano is in Seattle at all still seems somewhat odd two years later, that owing to the fact he’s taken up a quarter to a fifth of the Mariners’ payroll, along with the fact that a reasonable part of Cano’s game was/is power, and Safeco Field routinely swallows power hitters whole. Yet, Cano was a very productive player in 2014, the first year of his contract, and clearly was not himself physically in 2015, when he was merely an above average player. In spite of that, Cano played in 156 games, a huge number that also was his lowest total since 2006.

Cano, at 33, remains a glider, which means the beholder gets to decide if he is elegant or half-assed. He plays as he did in New York, so we conclude — based on the $240 million — the Mariners opted for elegant.

Even those purists who moan at the sight of Cano’s low-three-quarter throws from second base or “I’m pacing myself, Sarge” gallops down the first base line, however, read Van Slyke’s criticism and had to think, “Whoa, hey, that might be a little over the top.” Along with, “You know, maybe there are just too many microphones in the world.”

Hacked at being fired, unaware Cano was playing hurt, steadfastly in the half-assed camp or something, Van Slyke announced, “He was just the most awful player I have ever seen.” There was more. Like a good scout, Van Slyke broke down Cano’s game defensively (“The worst defensive second baseman ever.”) and offensively (“He couldn’t drive home Miss Daisy if he tried.”), and three months later Cano arrived in camp to find a new GM, a whole new coaching staff, and a roster he wouldn’t recognize.

It is true, the defensive metrics do not love Cano. It’s also true he batted .327 with men on base and carried a .923 OPS in 66 games in the cleanup spot, so if he wasn’t driving in runs it probably was because Miss Daisy couldn’t be bothered to get her sorry butt into scoring position.

And then he had the double hernia surgery, that after enduring terrible stomach discomfort that muted the first half of the season.

Seattle is banking on a healthy Robinson Cano in 2016. (AP Photo)
Seattle is banking on a healthy Robinson Cano in 2016. (AP Photo)

“There were times I couldn’t sleep,” Cano said. “But I’m the kind of player that doesn’t like to look for excuses. It was a hard time for me and only my family knows that. There was a day I just told the trainer, ‘I can’t do this anymore. We have to find a way, because my body feels like 40. Sometimes I’m on the field and just run to first base and I feel so tired.’”

On Thursday he declared himself at 98 percent go, with these six weeks left before opening day. The Mariners are expected to be better. The roster turnover is startling but likely beneficial, and the man who will lead them — Scott Servais — has never done this before.

The Mariners have been one of those hazy and complicated franchises for the good part of a generation. There has been talent in Seattle. They should have won at times. And still they have lost more than they’ve won five times in six years. They either can’t stop themselves from overreacting or, based on Servais being their eighth manager since 2007, keep making the same mistakes. The upshot is the Mariners haven’t won the AL West or played a postseason game in 15 years.

Maybe that changes here, where a sign on the clubhouse’s back door, which leads to the fields, asks — demands, really — “Are you ready?”

Like in a lot of other clubhouses, plenty will have to go right. More right than wrong, maybe. But an upright, hale and repaired Cano is a reasonable start. Because he’s a really good hitter. Because those don’t come along so often, especially the ones who can play a little second base too. And because at that price the Mariners really, really need the 2014 version of Cano, and not the most awful player one man has ever seen.

“I’m happy to be here,” Cano said, contradicting an offseason report that said otherwise, “and happy to get my chance here to be able to play to the end of my career and have fun with the guys and [in] a city that has treated me so nice.”

The rest of it? Eh, just another microphone.

What to Read Next