It’s 2013, hardly 90 days from 2014 spring training. It’s been nearly a decade since this team was relevant in a pennant race. In that time there’s hardly been a flicker of life. The long good-bye to the heroes 1995 and 2001 is a generation old.
Reactions are coming fast and furious to the Mariners’ signing of Robinson Cano. At a rumored $240 million, it is the third highest total contract amount behind A-Rod’s 2001 contract with Texas and Albert Pujols’ signing with the Angels. Lots of descriptors like overpay, desperate, and ridiculous appear willy-nilly among commentators and bloggers to describe this. Writers will compare dollars, analyze WAR, they will compare Cano to other second basemen and free agent signings, decline curves with many comparisons to Albert Pujols. Pointless.
There are only two numbers the dozen or so remaining Mariners fans need to remember: 71 and 92. 71 is the number of games the Mariners won last year. If Cano moves the Mariners higher on the win scale, it’s a worthwhile signing. New York fans are right to be angry about Cano’s defection to the Northwest. I know how I felt about A-Rod leaving for the bucks, and how I continue to feel about him. Hopefully our new second baseman won’t be quite so disingenuous in his comments to the press. Yes, they can be pissed, but don’t buy for a moment that Cano isn’t a great player and that he won’t help this team get better. He is a legit middle of the order hitter the Mariners have been missing.
92 is the other number fans should keep in mind. It is the number of wins both Cleveland and Tampa Bay won to win the AL wild card in 2013. The distance between 71 and 92 is vast, and Robinson Cano cannot help the M’s traverse that gap by himself. This team has much more work to do if they are to take advantage of Cano’s prime years to produce a winner. Cano will displace Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley at 2b. It is incumbent on Jack Zdurencik to use those trading chips he has to add to the offense and bring more pitching to this team. The Mariners have been associated with Matt Kemp, Mike Napoli, Carlos Beltran, and David Price. Whether through free agency or trade, the Cano signing must be the beginning and not the end. (Full disclosure-Napoli signed with the Red Sox, and Beltran signed with the Yankees as I was writing this. Curse them both.)
But it isn’t enough to just talk about wins and losses. Cano’s signing and those I presume will follow represent a gesture of good faith. It is a sign to other desirable free agents the Mariners management has removed their heads from their posterior and may be charting a path toward winning again. Maybe it will give other desirable pieces a sign that it’s worth listening to offers from the upper left corner. Just as importantly, it is a sign to we long suffering fans that management has awakened from its long slumber, have found their wallets in Ebeneezer Scrooge’s basement, and are now prepared to augment the mediocre talents of their team with proven veteran talent. If the spending ends with Cano, all bets are off. But if they build a real lineup around Cano, we’ll have something to cheer about.
The work isn’t complete yet, but nobody should suggest the Mariners’ haven’t taken a first step toward competition.