The Seattle Mariners made some noise at the trade deadline, acquiring Austin Jackson from the Detroit Tigers as part of the blockbuster three-team deal that sent David Price to the Motor City. But by far the most significant acquisition for the Mariners—the one that will determine whether they make the postseason for the first time in 13 years—happened over the winter: Robinson Cano.
Before the ink was dry on Cano's jaw-dropping 10-year, $240 million contract, expectations in the Pacific Northwest were already higher than the Space Needle. He was the cavalry, the superstar, the bat that would finally support the Mariners' superlative pitching staff.
The M's are having a surprising season; entering play Sunday they stood at 57-53, two games off the pace for the second Wild Card. Considering that Baseball Prospectus picked them to finish ahead of only the Houston Astros in the American League West, that's a modest coup.
And Cano has been a big part of Seattle's success.
His .330 batting average is second-best in the AL. He made his sixth All-Star team. And he's anchored a lineup that, aside from third baseman and fellow All-Star Kyle Seager, has been pretty punchless, scoring the fewest runs in the AL, per ESPN.com.
"I've said all along," skipper Lloyd McClendon told The New York Times' Michael Powell. "This club is challenged offensively."
That's exactly why the Mariners need Cano to be more than good. They need him to be spectacular.
It'd help if he found his power stroke. The hits have been falling, but they haven't been leaving the yard.
Part of that is moving from Yankee Stadium to Safeco Field, which ranks as one of the most extreme pitchers' parks in the game, according to ESPN.com. But Cano has actually hit as many home runs in Seattle as he has on the road.
Noting that Cano's ground-ball rate has gone up significantly this year, FoxSports.com's Jeff Sullivan offered this take:
Right now [Cano is] a hitter with a lot of low line drives, enough to make him not a major cause for concern, yet enough to make one wonder. The most amazing thing about Cano has always been his stability. It's not clear now if he's changing, nor is it clear that would be for the best.
"I know my game," Cano told MLB.com's Tracy Ringolsby when asked about his lack of thump. "If I try to do too much, I'm going to cause problems. I have to take what I am given. I can't force things to be different."
Certainly Cano can be valuable without the long ball. He's never been a true slugger, despite the robust home run totals. And it's unfair to say he's even close to part of the problem. Clearly he's the best hitter on the team, as advertised, and he's picked it clean on defense, posting the third-best fielding percentage among AL second basemen.
If the Mariners have visions of October, though, they're going to need their star—their quarter-billion-dollar man—to go on a legitimate tear.
But here's the rub: He can't start pressing. If a player feels the weight of a team on his shoulders, it can make him stumble.
McClendon is well aware of that risk.
"We've had a couple conversations to remind him, 'Take your walks, don't try to force the issue,'" McClendon told Ringolsby. "We had one funk in Miami where he was going outside the zone, and he did it maybe one other time at home, but other than that, he's been great."
He added, "I've seen this guy hot. He's getting there."
For the M's to shock the baseball world and make a playoff push, he'll have to get there soon. And stay there.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.