How Robinson Cano Signing Impacts Mariners' Drawing Power, Plans for 2014

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How Robinson Cano Signing Impacts Mariners' Drawing Power, Plans for 2014
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Welcome to Bizarro World. Robinson Cano is a Mariner.

Here we have the makings of a familiar situation involving the New York Yankees, a superstar player taking the money and grand implications. 

But no. Wait. It's all wrong. For in this situation, we have a superstar player leaving the Yankees to take the money to the tune of grand implications. 

The weirdness is this: Robinson Cano is a Seattle Mariner now. And in leaving the Yankees for the Mariners, one easily pictures Cano as an interest- and attendance-booster who will be the first rolling stone in an avalanche of transactions.

If you're not yet up on the latest, yes, this is a thing that's actually happened. As first reported by Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportes.com, Cano is joining the Mariners on a 10-year, $240 million contract. The New York Daily News says that things got messy between the two sides on Thursday night, but not messy enough, apparently.

I'll quickly give you my two cents on the deal. If there's one thing nobody should be freaked out about, it's the dollars. An average annual value of $24 million is less than the AAV of Zack Greinke's and Josh Hamilton's contracts, and frankly not an outrageous amount of money for a player with Cano's talent. At best, he's a top-five player. At worst, shoot, he's still a top-10 player.

The more freakout-y part of the deal is the years. At 31 years old, there's no way Cano has 10 good seasons left in him. His deal would have had albatross potential no matter what, but 'tis obviously better to sign up for a seven- or eight-year albatross rather than a 10-year albatross.

That the Mariners went to 10 years to reel in Cano speaks to how desperate general manager Jack Zduriencik and the organization as a whole were to do SOMETHING BIG. The writing was on the wall all along that they were going to have to blow Cano away to convince him to leave New York for Seattle, and the Mariners clearly decided that doing so was worth it.

And you know what? As risky as the 10 years are, that the Mariners were willing to go that far is understandable. There's just no ignoring that the organization needed something, anything that could reverse a growing trend of irrelevance and general blandness.

To this end, well, mission accomplished. And in doing so, the Mariners should find themselves back in the good graces of a fanbase that has clearly gotten more and more disillusioned over time.

While it should be granted that attendance figures aren't a complete picture of a fanbase's passion level, here's where Baseball-Reference.com provides us with some pretty telling figures about Mariners fans:

Seattle Mariners Attendance Since 2001
Year W L Attendance Attend/G AL Rank
2001 116 46 3,507,326 43,300 1st of 14
2002 93 69 3,542,938 43,740 1st of 14
2003 93 69 3,268,509 40,352 2nd of 14
2004 63 99 2,940,731 35,863 3rd of 14
2005 69 93 2,725,459 33,648 4th of 14
2006 78 84 2,481,165 30,632 6th of 14
2007 88 74 2,672,223 32,588 6th of 14
2008 61 101 2,329,702 28,762 7th of 14
2009 85 77 2,195,533 27,105 7th of 14
2010 61 101 2,085,630 25,749 8th of 14
2011 67 95 1,896,321 23,411 8th of 14
2012 75 87 1,721,920 21,258 11th of 14
2013 71 91 1,761,546 21,747 11th of 15

Baseball-Reference.com

Just look at that 2001 season. It was only the Mariners' second year in the beautiful Safeco Field, and it was the year Ichiro Suzuki took Alex Rodriguez's spot as the team's brightest star and helped lead the team to one of the great regular seasons in baseball history. 

After enjoying that, the fans came back in 2002. But since then, it's sadly been all downhill.

But imagine you're running the Mariners. What you see when you look out at the city of Seattle is a population that once made Mariners baseball the hottest ticket in the American League, and what you know is that those times aren't ancient history quite yet. 

The next thing you do is look at your books and realize A) you've got a $2 billion TV contract coming, B) a share in the $1.5 billion-per-year national TV deals going into effect in 2014 and C) only one player (Felix Hernandez) signed long-term for big bucks.

Add it all up, and what you're looking at is an open invitation to do something big for the sake of a big reward. The Mariners, obviously, have responded to that invitation.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Now, the knock on Cano—or one of the knocks on him, anyway—is that he's not the kind of transcendent superstar who can fill a ballpark on his own. In fact, the Yankees saw their ratings and attendance plummet in 2013, a year in which Cano was the only superstar they had on the field most days. 

“They’re selling him as Michael Jordan, not as a baseball player,” an MLB official (infamously) said to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. “As a guy that’s going to be a big rock star and bring all these fans in. Last year, that wasn’t the case."

Was this criticism well-founded? To a degree, yeah. It's not like anybody was making stuff up. The numbers were down.

But is it fair to pin it on Cano? Hardly. Yankees fans are used to star-stuffed rosters that play exciting baseball every day. Alas, the organization seemed to go out of its way last winter to put a boring roster together.

As expected, the result was boring baseball. Regardless of the fanbase, nobody wants to watch boring baseball.

The one thing that can be said, however, is that the Yankees were fools if they expected Cano to drive interest in the team all by himself when they were wheeling and dealing last winter. The organization should have been aware that, if we're being honest, its fans had long taken Cano for granted.

That's partially because of how he'd spent his entire career to that point surrounded by the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, and partially because Yankees fans tended to dwell on Cano's apparent lack of heart and hustle at least as often as they would dwell on his talent.

Had the Yankees re-signed Cano, the appreciation for him probably wouldn't have skyrocketed all that much. If anything, it would have been dampened even further. The Yankees would have kept a vital part, sure, but at a much larger cost. Imagine the stigma of having to live up to a huge contract being added to a generally cool vibe between Cano and the Yankee faithful. 

But now that Cano's a Mariner? Yeah, things should be different.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Pictured: Forgettable times for Mariners fans.

It's true that adding Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre back before the 2005 season didn't end up increasing attendance. But Cano's a far bigger star than either of them were at the time, and the Mariners have a fanbase that's much more starved for a superstar player.

Mariners fans had Ichiro Suzuki still at the height of his fame when Sexson and Beltre came aboard. Ichiro declined sharply in 2011 and was gone midway through 2012. For the last couple years, the only superstar in Seattle has been King Felix. And he only appears once every five days, and 15-ish times at home throughout an entire season.

Now the Mariners have a superstar who will be out on the field every day, one that they stole from the Yankees—the Yankees!—to boot. Here's me going out on a limb in thinking that people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

The Mariners, however, can't stop now. All they've done is nudged their fanbase. If that's all they do, some minor stirring is all they're going to get. Getting it to wake up will require more effort.

Star players are great and all, but the Mariners' attendance track record is one of many that can vouch that what fans like watching on a daily basis even more than stars is winning baseball. And while Cano's a great player, he's not great enough to make the Mariners a winning team all on his own.

We can keep it simple. According to FanGraphs, Cano's best performance came last year when he was worth 7.7 Wins Above Replacement. The Mariners won 71 games in 2013. Some overly-simplistic math says they'd need a 20-WAR player to take them from 71 wins to, say, 90 wins. That's two Mike Trouts, not one Robinson Cano.

In other words, the Mariners need more. Just a hunch: Now we'll go and see them get more.

We mentioned earlier that the Mariners have a ton of money coming their way and only one player signed long-term. Even now that they have two players signed long-term, well, Rany Jazayerli of Grantland has the right of it:

Indeed, and the flag is up now. Whatever players are left on the free-agent market just got a message in big, bold letters that the Mariners have money to spend and that they're serious about going for it. It's likely that Cano will not be the last star player drawn to Seattle this winter.

The Mariners have plenty of avenues they could pursue next. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently reported that the club's wish list included Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Mike Napoli. All four of them are still out there, and all four of them are logical targets from both a financial perspective and a needs perspective.

Cruz's right-handed power would fit the Mariners well in right field and as a complementary piece for Cano's left-handed power. As it is, the Mariners need right-handed power anyway. They hardly got any in 2013.

Beltran's a switch-hitter with power who could also play right field and also complement Cano. And while Cano's certainly been there and done that, Beltran's veteran experience would be icing on the cake for a largely young Mariners team.

Choo's another right field-type, not to mention a guy who could fix the .296 on-base percentage the Mariners got out of the No. 1 spot in their lineup in 2013. A lineup with him at the top and Cano at the middle would be a lineup unlike any seen in Seattle in quite a while.

Napoli owns a powerful right-handed stick and a great glove at first base, and maybe the corresponding move to signing him would be putting Justin Smoak, who quietly had a decent season in 2013, in right field.

What's the Mariners' next move?

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In addition to bats, the Mariners could certainly pursue another arm. Their next move might even be a pursuit of Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka, if the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles choose to post him even despite their reservations to the new posting system, of course.

The Mariners have a strong tradition of acquiring talented Japanese players. Think Ichiro, Kazahiro Sasaki and now Hisashi Iwakuma. Imagine them following up the Cano signing by bringing in yet another Japanese superstar, one that would join King Felix and Iwakuma to form a deadly pitching trio.

Or maybe the Mariners will choose to go big on the trade market instead. Jon Morosi of Fox Sports reported earlier this week that Seattle was an "aggressive suitor" for Matt Kemp. Or they could go for the big one: David Price.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Mariners are a serious suitor for the 2012 American League Cy Young winner, "especially" if they were to sign Cano first. With that done, the club's next move could be to base a package around Taijuan Walker to get a deal done with the Tampa Bay Rays.

For what it's worth, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times has heard some relevant whispers:

Avenues, avenues and more avenues. They were there for the Mariners from the very start of the offseason, but they all look a bit more realistic after the Cano signing.

Missing out on him would have resulted in the Mariners having to choose. Settle for other moves, play it conservative and go with youth in 2014, or a mix of both? That last one is what the Mariners did last year after failing to reel in Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton. It might have come to that again this winter.

But it hasn't. The Cano signing is done, and, well, there are the avenues.

I don't have a prediction as to which one (or ones) the Mariners are going to choose, as I believe they have the ability to pursue any of them and that they eventually will go through with at least one more big move. They still have money, they still have trade chips, and they still have holes to fill. 

When the dust clears, we're bound to be looking at the Cano signing as the linchpin. It's going to be the defining transaction of Seattle's offseason one way or another, but it's hard to imagine it being a standalone. It's easier to imagine it as the big thing that led to additional big things. The 2014 Mariners should look mighty different from the 2013 Mariners, and in a good way.

In 2011-12, it was the Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins who built superteams via winter transactions. Last year, it was the Toronto Blue Jays. With the Cano signing, the Mariners look like the next team to give it a shot.

Here's sincerely hoping that they have better luck. Seattle's a great baseball town that is owed some great baseball.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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