The distance between Safeco Field in Seattle, Wash., and Yankee Stadium in New York is approximately 2,862 miles. After migrating from New York to Seattle during the offseason, don't blame second baseman Robinson Cano if that distance feels even greater.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Cano—months after signing a franchise-record contract of $240 million—wants the Mariners to spend more, add pieces and field a more complete team around him during the 2014 season.
"I'm not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat," Cano said. "We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don't want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters."
When broached about the subject of pitching—a concern in Seattle due to spring injuries to projected starters Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, per The Associated Press (via ESPN)—Cano campaigned for free-agent starter Ervin Santana.
"He's great," Cano said. "The guy's always pitching; he never gets hurt."
On the surface, Cano has legitimate reasons to critique Seattle's offseason strategy and long-term payroll might. Last April, Forbes reported a long-term agreement between the Mariners and DirecTV that was worth close to $2 billion. When the Mariners made Cano a $240 million offer, the franchise used its impending financial clout to acquire a franchise-changing player.
Despite that expenditure, the team hasn't spent much more. After flirting with Nelson Cruz, offering a one-year qualifying deal to Kendrys Morales and keeping tabs on the David Price sweepstakes, Seattle was absent from the top end of the free-agent market until a late-winter signing of closer Fernando Rodney.
Thus, Cano's gripes and personnel suggestions are far from ridiculous. Yet the mere mention of adding payroll, taking on risk and showing a willingness to win at all costs simply isn't in Seattle's playbook.
A quick look at Seattle's current payroll sheet shows a pair of big-market expenditures: Cano's 10-year deal and Felix Hernandez's seven-year, $175 million pact.
Beyond that, the Mariners look like a small-market team. As the Cactus League schedule rolls along in Arizona, Seattle's projected payroll sits at $74 million. For 2015, Seattle just has $54.7 million committed to players' salary.
To put those numbers in perspective, consider the difference in payroll structure from Cano's former team to his present employer.
|Year-by-Year Payroll (2005-2013)|
|Cot's Baseball Contracts|
Unlike the business formula Cano experienced during a highly successful nine-year run in New York, the Seattle Mariners won't go above and beyond to field a team capable of winning a World Series.
During the mid-'90s, the Yankees and Mariners were alike in their pursuit of October glory. They both valued power throughout the lineup, and they faced off in a memorable American League Division Series during the 1995 postseason. Over the years, however, the franchises and their respective business models have drifted far apart.
Since Cano arrived in the majors in 2005, he's never played for a team with a payroll under $189 million. Over that time frame, the Mariners' payroll has averaged $94.8 million per season.
Furthermore, the Yankees have $71.6 million already committed to the 2018 payroll. Before fielding a full team, cultivating a farm system or adding any payroll over the next three years, New York's future payroll is nearly the same as Seattle's current allotment.
As always, winning and losing is the overriding theme for an athlete on the field.
When Cano signed his deal, it would've been hard to imagine his concern with long-term payroll flexibility, Seattle's business structure or how the M's would field a competitive team around him in 2014.
In theory, with a lucrative television deal, the Mariners should be able to put complementary pieces—like Morales or Santana—around Cano and Hernandez. Along with a core of affordable pre-arbitration-eligible contributors, the Mariners would profile as a team with the potential to compete this summer.
If those pieces don't arrive, penciling in the Mariners for anything better than 80 wins and a fourth-place finish in the richly talented AL West would be a fool's errand. Despite Cano's greatness, Seattle can't jump from a 91-loss disappointment to winner overnight.
Over the last four years, Cano has averaged 7.5 bWAR per season. It's possible Cano could lift Seattle to respectability without any help, but simply winning 81 games would be stunning for a player who has done nothing but win since his rookie season.
Cano's Yankees averaged 94.4 wins per season from 2005 to 2013. Even last year's version of the Yankees (85-77) trump the product likely to accompany Cano in Seattle this summer.
In fact, unless Seattle's front office heeds Cano's warnings and procures talent before the season begins, it could be a 2013 redux for the slugging second baseman.
Last season, an inordinate number of injuries in New York forced Cano to carry an undermanned unit. Despite his brilliance (145 OPS+), the Yankees scored just 650 runs. That figure represented New York's lowest output in two decades.
Based on Seattle's current roster projection, Cano's new lineup doesn't look much more promising than the one he left behind.
|Lack of Support: 2014 M's vs. 2013 Yankees|
|Order||Projected 2014 Mariners||2013 Yankees|
|1||Dustin Ackley||Brett Gardner|
|2||Kyle Seager||Ichiro Suzuki|
|3||Robinson Cano||Robinson Cano|
|4||Corey Hart||Lyle Overbay|
|5||Justin Smoak||Vernon Wells|
|6||Logan Morrison||Travis Hafner|
|7||Michael Saunders||Eduardo Nunez|
|8||Mike Zunino||Chris Stewart|
|9||Brad Miller||David Adams|
Robinson Cano is a great baseball player, on the path to Cooperstown and undoubtedly correct in his assessment of what the Mariners need to do to ensure meaningful baseball at Safeco Field this summer.
He's also misguided and ignorant if he expects reinforcements to arrive at the drop of a hat.
Until the Mariners begin to support annual payroll figures above $100 million, Cano and Felix Hernandez will be forced to carry an undermanned unit to mediocrity in the AL West.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Arbitration numbers and projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors. Roster projections courtesy of MLB Depth Charts.
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