In a decision that many, including some in the organization, believed was inevitable from the moment they signed Robinson Cano to a $240 million contract, the Seattle Mariners on Saturday agreed to trade Cano and a good portion of the remainder of that money away.
Cano, 36, and Mariners closer Edwin Diaz were dealt to the New York Mets for five players, including outfielder Jay Bruce and reliever Anthony Swarzak and two high-end prospects. The Mets, 77-game winners last season, are better for it today. The Mariners, who included $20 million in the deal, hope it leads to a better tomorrow.
The trade is pending the completion of physicals and could be announced as soon as Monday.
With still five years and $120 million left on the 10-year contract, with three winning seasons and no postseason appearances to show for the first half of the contract, with Cano coming off a season cut in half because of a PED suspension, and with the franchise stuck in competitive limbo moving forward, the Mariners chose to make Cano part of their rebuild. By trading him.
They included Diaz, the 24-year-old reliever who had 57 saves and a 1.96 ERA last season, in part to convince the Mets to take on more of Cano’s salary. Diaz, an All-Star for the first time and eighth in the AL Cy Young voting in 2018, is a year from qualifying for salary arbitration. Five years ago, Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, then Cano’s agent, negotiated the terms of the contract the Mariners now find disruptive to their rebuild plans. A New York Yankee until he signed with the Mariners, Cano waived a no-trade clause in order to return to New York.
The Mariners are to receive from the Mets Bruce, who is owed $26 million over the next two seasons, Swarzak, who will make $8 million in 2019, but those players are incidental. The crux of the deal is:
Jarred Kelenic, a 19-year-old outfielder. Chosen sixth overall in the June draft, he was among the Mariners’ favorite players in the draft. They picked 14th.
Justin Dunn, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher. A first-rounder in 2016, Dunn this summer reached Double-A. He struck out 105 batters in 89 2/3 innings.
Gerson Bautista, another 23-year-old righty. He throws hard, and has had mixed results in the higher minor leagues and in a short stay in the big leagues.
From an 89-win team that ran third in the AL West, general manager Jerry Dipoto in mid-November traded the club’s best starter, James Paxton, to the New York Yankees for three prospects, and No. 1 catcher, Mike Zunino, to the Tampa Bay Rays. The deals fed the belief many of the Mariners’ top players – outfielder Mitch Haniger, shortstop Jean Segura, Diaz, even Cano – would be available from a roster whose 2018 payroll was a team-record $160 million.
Cano, whose contract is tied for fifth all-time in total value, equal to Albert Pujols’ and behind only Giancarlo Stanton’s, two of Alex Rodriguez’s and Miguel Cabrera’s, performed well in his five seasons in Seattle. His batting average (.296), on-base percentage (.353) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.826) were within range of his average seasons in New York, where he’d spent nine seasons with the Yankees. He was three times an All-Star and twice in the top 10 in AL MVP voting. He also continued to grade well defensively.
Cano played at least 150 games in his first four seasons with the Mariners, as he had seven times with the Yankees. The streak ended with the mid-May news Cano had broken his hand and required surgery, then hours later when MLB announced Cano had tested positive for a diuretic known to mask banned substances in urine tests. Cano claimed he’d been prescribed the diuretic – furosemide — by a Dominican Republic doctor and did not realize the consequences. Cano was suspended for 80 games and did not appeal. He returned in August and batted .317 for the rest of the season.
The Mariners finished 14 games behind the Houston Astros and eight games out of the AL wild card. The team wasn’t getting any cheaper. The Astros weren’t getting any worse, it appeared, and neither would the horses in the rest of the league, in New York, Boston and Cleveland. Felix Hernandez’s prime had passed. His ERA over three seasons had risen from 3.82 to 4.36 to, in 2018, 5.55. He has one season left on the seven-year, $175-million contract extension signed before the 2013 season, in a career that has come and almost gone with Hernandez never throwing a postseason pitch. The Mariners have not been to the playoffs since 2001.
All of which, of course, led to Dipoto’s decision to jettison payroll and rework a roster and buy time.
“There’s no reason for us to start from scratch,” Dipoto told reporters in November. “But we do need to reassess where this roster is, and take a look at not just 2019, but how we catch the teams that are in front of us because I don’t think the Astros, the Yankees, the Red Sox or the Indians are going anywhere, and, frankly, the Tampa Rays and Oakland A’s just showed us that they’re real, and we have to consider that.”
What remains to be seen is how many productive years remain in Cano, who for 14 seasons posted Hall of Fame-like numbers. And, of course, whose candidacy likely was fouled last spring with the PED suspension. He presumably will benefit from leaving pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, a few years earlier than he may have once believed.
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