When Robinson Cano chose to sign a $240 million free-agent contract with the Seattle Mariners, his career as part of the New York Yankees organization ended. At the time, it was easy to assume that the 31-year-old second baseman would soon miss the consistent winning, high profile and attention that came with success in New York.
Nearly six months since the blockbuster deal in Seattle, narratives have changed. While the steady contenders in New York may still ultimately win more than Cano over the next decade, it's time to acknowledge that Seattle may have been the right fit for the star hitter.
Although it's clear that Cano chose Seattle's offer because it trumped anything New York was putting on the table, there's now more to the story than just finances. After a 10-2 victory in the Bronx on Monday evening—capping off the delayed gratification of a series sweep that was interrupted by rain in April—the Mariners are looking like a stronger team that Cano's old group.
Through 56 games, the Yankees reside at 29-27. Considering injuries suffered by expected contributors like Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda, New York deserves credit for staying afloat and within four games of the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
Yet, with a minus-23 run differential, the Yankees don't look like a team poised for big things in the short-term future. According to ESPN's playoff odds, the Yankees ended play on June 2 with a 19.5 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason.
That mark is worse than teams like Cleveland, Boston, Miami, Colorado and, yes, Seattle. Cano's new team, despite a payroll more than $100 million less than the Yankees, currently owns a plus-21 run differential and 41.6 percent chance to make the playoffs.
Basing strong convictions on a small sample size can be a fool's errand, but it's apparent that the discrepancy between New York and Seattle isn't as large as some chose to depict when Cano fled for the serene backdrop of Safeco Field.
Although the potentially Cooperstown-bound infielder isn't putting up typical power numbers—two HR, 11 2B, 14 extra-base hits—the Mariners likely aren't worried about a player with a .341 wOBA (weighted on-base average), .327 batting average, .376 OBP and .993 OPS with runners in scoring position.
Beyond the numbers and early-season win totals, Cano's second act looks to be the proper choice, especially considering his unwavering belief in a young, ascending team.
Outside of Felix Hernandez and Fernando Rodney, the Mariners don't boast a 25-man roster full of veterans with long track records of success. Despite the unknown, Cano thinks the team can sustain success and remain in the race all summer long, per Bob Dutton of The News Tribune (membership required).
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Cano said, “I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to be there at the end of the season."
The root of that confidence? Pitching and an underrated offense.
“We’ve got pitching. I think we have the best bullpen in the league," Cano said. "And our rotation…we’ve got what you need. We’ve got pitching. That’s what you need to win.”
Following the June 2 victory, Seattle's pitching staff owns a 3.52 ERA. That mark is good for second in the American League and remarkable considering time missed by Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker's season-long absence.
Even without the protection and name-brand value surrounding Cano in the Mariners lineup, the highest-paid second baseman in history sees enough to be excited about in the order, per Dutton.
“You’ve got (Kyle) Seager,” Cano said. “He can rake. He can get the big hit at any time. You’ve got (Justin) Smoak. He can be pretty good. And (Dustin) Ackley. He’s quiet, so you don’t notice him a lot."
After the 10-run outburst in the Bronx, Cano's intuition about the hitting prowess of his teammates looks prescient. With 238 runs scored, the Mariners have outscored the Yankees (232) and are on pace to score 676 runs on the season, a mark last reached by the franchise in 2007.
From an aesthetic perspective, Cano looks happy in a Mariners uniform, far away from the New York media, over-the-top expectations and misguided criticism. Despite strongly encouraging statistics, a soon-to-be fifth consecutive All-Star Game nod and winning baseball, Yankees fans would surely be highly critical of a .418 slugging percentage for a $200-plus million player.
In Seattle, fans are just happy that Cano chose to join Hernandez as a face of the franchise. With runs actually crossing the plate more than four times per game and the team above water in a highly competitive AL West, Cano's first year in Seattle is looking like an overwhelming success.
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