The Seattle Mariners spent $240 million this winter to lure the best second baseman in baseball away from the New York Yankees. When Robinson Cano chose to depart from New York during free agency, the 31-year-old didn't just select a new team, he embarked on a new life.
That new life and career began with an exhibition game in Peoria Stadium against the San Diego Padres.
For the first time in Cano's baseball life, he played a professional baseball game—albeit in spring training—wearing a uniform without pinstripes.
If the Mariners are going to contend in 2014, they'll need Cano to come close to duplicating the value he's provided since 2010. Over the last four years, Cano has been worth 29.8 bWAR or roughly 7.5 wins per season.
On the eve of the first game, Seattle's newest star seemed comfortable with a new franchise, teammates and surroundings, per Greg Johns of MLB.com.
"It's fun here," Cano said. "You see all the young kids and everybody gets along. Felix is always joking around. It's amazing. It's better than what I thought. I'm getting along with these guys. We have great talent. We can have a pretty good team. We just need to stay together and go out and play hard every day."
How did Cano fare during his first game in a Mariners uniform? Here are updates and takeaways from the debut of Seattle's newest star.
According to a December report in the New York Post, Cano didn't take kindly to Yankees manager Joe Girardi batting him in the No. 2 hole in the batting order last season.
If Seattle's Cactus League opener is any indication of how Cano will be used in his new lineup, there's little reason to expect a rift between the $240 million second baseman and manager Lloyd McClendon.
During Cano's career, the natural slugger owns an .864 OPS when batting in the No. 3 hole. His OPS drops to .793 when hitting in the No. 2 spot. In 2013—during Cano's reported discontent with his lineup placement—the OPS difference was actually flipped in favor of batting Cano higher in the order.
#Mariners lineup: Almonte CF, Seager 3B, Cano 2B, Morrison DH, Smoak 1B, Saunders RF, Ackley LF, Brad Miller SS, Zunino C w/ Ramirez SP— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) February 27, 2014
Last year, Cano's OPS was .955 when batting second, compared to .886 when hitting third. Despite his reluctance to the switch, Cano was a more prolific offensive performer when batting closer to the top of the order.
Regardless, expect to see Seattle's new second baseman penciled into the third spot in the Mariners order during most contests during the Cactus League slate.
Due to the star-laden nature of New York's roster, Cano's profile was overshadowed during his tenure with the Yankees. Since the start of the 2010 season, it was clear that Cano was the best player on the Yankees roster.
Yet, despite that distinction, the presence of veterans, future Cooperstown-bound stars and overwhelming personalities, Cano didn't receive that treatment.
Furthermore, the jury remained out on Cano's leadership abilities. When he fled for the riches of Seattle's offer, New York didn't get to answer a career-long question about the talented player: Can he become a leader?
FWIW, 2B Robinson Cano was first #Mariners player out of the dugout when club took field in the first inning.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) February 27, 2014
Judging by the reaction of the Mariners and Cano leading the team out of the dugout in the first game of the Cactus League season, it would seem that the superstar is embracing that question. With a young roster surrounding him, Cano's bat won't be the only story in Seattle.
Leading, by both performance and example, could vault Cano into a special and revered status among stars in Mariners history.
Over the next 10 years, Cano's place in Seattle's lineup will fluctuate. Fair or not, his leadership skills and ability will be critiqued and scrutinized.
The only thing the free-agent arrival can truly control: Performance.
If the smooth, consistent bat of Cano can translate his skills from New York to Seattle, the AL West will be forced to account for one of baseball's most skilled and pure hitters.
On day one of his Mariners career, Cano picked up where he left off in New York.
Robinson Cano singles to center on the first pitch he sees as a Mariner. It's just so natural to him.— Jorge L. Ortiz (@jorgelortiz) February 27, 2014
After making a routine defensive play in the first inning, Cano laced a single—on the first pitch he saw—up the middle. Eventually, he came around to score as part of a very productive first inning for Seattle's lineup.
During his second plate appearance, Cano worked a four-pitch walk. Although this moment may be forgotten as spring rolls along, keep an eye on Cano's ability to take pitches, work a walk and reach base at a high clip.
Robinson Cano is done after 2nd AB (a walk). Replaced by Carlos Triunfel. #Mariners— Tim Booth (@ByTimBooth) February 27, 2014
Last year, Cano posted a 9.5 percent walk rate. That mark was the highest of his career, helping him to finish the season with a career-best .383 on-base percentage. Despite injuries and lack of protection in New York's lineup, Cano showed discipline throughout the season.
Clearly, the Mariners signed Cano for production, but he'll be an unstoppable offensive force if his walk rate rises above 10 percent.
Cano's final stat line against San Diego: 1-1, R, BB
If the first spring training game was any indication of the season Cano will have in 2014, the Mariners will be rewarded for their significant financial commitment. As long as Cano is healthy, Seattle will boast one of the best hitters in the world.
The performance—in just a few innings—was good, but the potential impact Cano can have on this franchise is even greater.
Cano pleased with his day said it was important he set the example. Impressed w/Smoak's swing on the double that drove him in. #Mariners— Shannon Drayer (@shannondrayer) February 27, 2014
From Seattle's radio broadcast team to the roar of the crowd when the team's newest star strode to the plate, it's clear that the second chapter of Cano's career will be vastly different than the first.
The Mariners didn't just sign a great hitter, they signed the new face of their franchise.
What were your impressions of Cano's first game in a Mariners uniform?