Editor's note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Seattle Mariners.
2013 record: 71-91
Finish: Fourth place, AL West
2013 final payroll: $91.1 million (19th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $91.8 million (25th of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason rank: 19th
Mariners in six words: Robinson Cano still needs more help.
The Seattle Mariners instantly made themselves relevant in baseball again by digging into their pockets and ponying up $240 million for 10 years of second baseman Robinson Cano.
Cano was, by far, the biggest free agent on the market this offseason, and the Seattle Mariners being the team that showered millions upon millions upon millions on him was a franchise-altering move. It wasn't the Yankees or the Dodgers or the Phillies paying all that money over all those years, it was the Mariners, a team that hasn't won its division since 2001 and finished in last place in seven of the past 10 seasons. It would have been eight had the Houston Astros not been added to the AL West last year.
Signing Cano proved the Mariners weren't going to sit idly by while the Texas Rangers continued to get better, the Los Angeles Angels added a few more pieces, hoping things finally click, and the Oakland Athletics tinkered with their roster in that dangerous way they do. Sometime soon, maybe sooner than many people think, the Houston Astros will be good again, too.
So what were the Mariners to do? Waste the prime years of Felix Hernandez? With Hisashi Iwakuma becoming almost a second ace, the Mariners decided now was the time to strike and Cano was their guy.
It's not often you get to go out and buy the most expensive product on the open market. But the Mariners got their Lamborghini. They made a splash. Jay Z, Cano's rap superstar agent, showed up for the player's introduction to Seattle. The Mariners' Twitter account romanced us with their "Hello Cano" campaign. The Mariners were back, we thought.
Soon rumors swirled about other moves that would push the Mariners closer into contention – a David Price trade? Jumping in the Masahiro Tanaka bidding war? Bringing Nelson Cruz to Seattle? None of those happened. Not yet at least. Instead, they added Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.
They Mariners went, in effect, from the luxury car dealership to the thrift store. And while "hoping for a come up" has worked for rapper/Seattle native son Macklemore, the Mariners looked a lot better when we thought they were poppin' tags. Now, beyond Cano's steady production, they're depending on two guys coming off injuries who essentially play the same position to complement him.
Hart comes to town with plenty of power – 87 homers from 2010-2012 with the Milwaukee Brewers before missing all of 2013 with a knee injury — and Morrison has always been thought of as a player with more potential than he's produced. The Mariners also added John Buck as their back-up catcher and utilityman Willie Bloomquist to their bench. Solid pieces, sure, but they're not going to make Cano's old Yankees teammates envious of his new digs.
Tasked with making the $240 million Cano gamble work is another of the Mariners' key additions: New manager Lloyd McClendon, who replaced Eric Wedge. McClendon spent recent years alongside Jim Leyland on the Detroit Tigers' bench and will be looking to improve on the five seasons when he managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 336–446 record. McClendon has seen success being the man next to the man, but he's in a similar position to Cano, who did so well alongside so many other stars in New York. They both have to be The Man now.
Here it is: The clock is ticking in Seattle. That might not be conventional wisdom when you think about a 10-year deal. That's a long haul, but Cano is 31 already. The Mariners have a few years before he's 35 or 36, starts to decline and becomes another overpaid star.
Felix Hernandez, who must be thrilled to have another legitimate star in town, is 27 and he's in a good place right now. He's about to hit his peak. His arm isn't worn down. He's ready to excel like an ace of his stature should.
Iwakuma is 32 and under contract for this season, and the club has an option for 2015 that the Mariners would be stupid not to activate if he's even 75 percent as good in 2014 as he was last season. That 2.66 ERA was no joke.
All this adds up to one fact: The Mariners don't have a huge window. They're not playing for 2019. Cano & Co. are fortunate to have some good young pieces – catcher Mike Zunino (22) and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (21) being chief among them. Walker projects so well that the Mariners didn't want to part with him in the various hypothetical David Price trades we spent early December talking about.
Kyle Seager, Brad Miller, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and maybe even Dustin Ackley should be better with another year's seasoning. And Nick Franklin, their young second baseman before Cano came to town, is probably more valuable as a trade chip if the Mariners want to make a charge up the AL West standings sooner than later.
The Mariners have their needs. The bullpen hasn't been addressed yet and it had the second-worst ERA in baseball last year. They need another experienced pitcher to help while the young guys come along. They really need another outfield bat.
Nelson Cruz is a rumored fit there and he could be a good addition for the Mariners if the Orioles don't get him first. But Cruz is another gamble, and we're talking about a team that already signed two gambles in Hart and Morrison. It's not time to gamble. It's time to cash in.
It's hard to believe the Mariners are done. But maybe we're giving general manager Jack Zduriencik too much credit. The fact remains, if Logan Morrison, Corey Hart and John Buck are the +1s Seattle is bringing to the Robinson Cano party, things aren't likely to turn around for the Mariners like they did for the football team that shares their city.
We all know it's Justin Smoak, right? Once you've stopped laughing we can move on. Robinson Cano will carry that "savior" role in Seattle for so long that someone might as well put it on his jersey. He's fit for the role. He's averaged a 7.4 WAR value over the last four years. There's a whole lot of nuance involved in Cano's success. As we've spelled it out, it depends on the team making other savvy moves and young players maturing, but when you sign a $240 million contract, nuance tends to fly out the window. Robinson Cano has to deliver in Seattle. Those are the expectations, plain and simple.
Call Richard Sherman
Or Beast Mode. You need some help,