Look Past That Home Run Column, and You'll See Robinson Cano Changing Mariners

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistJune 23, 2014

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Robinson Cano, doncha know, has four home runs this year. Count 'em. 1-2-3-FOUR.

Know who else has four? The Phillies' Cody Asche, the Twins' Chris Colabello, the Royals' Omar Infante and the Astros' Jon Singleton, among many, many others.

Know who has more than four? A grand total of 177 other major league players.

There. Now that we have that out of the way…

"This guy," Seattle Mariners first-year manager Lloyd McClendon says, and don't get him started.

OK. I did.

"I look at things a lot differently than most fans on, quote, unquote, what's expected," McClendon continues. "Robinson Cano is having a tremendous year, and I don't give a [crap] what the numbers say.

"He's stabilized and solidified this lineup. He's given guys more oomph in their step, more pump in their chest.

"And that's something nobody outside this group can know."

The Mariners' new luxury second baseman is less than three months into his spiffy, new 10-year, $240 million contract upgrade, far too early to render any final verdicts, but not too early for Seattle to dig into its belief that Cano absolutely is the foundation piece needed in a Safeco Field resurrection.

"Oh, man, he's awesome," veteran starter Chris Young says, breaking into a wide smile. "It's unbelievable how, one, he brings it every day and, two, how talented he is."

McClendon points to Cano's lineup presence, Gold Glove defense and fierce leadership. Left fielder Dustin Ackley raves about how much the Mariners are learning from Cano by just watching.

As for those numbers, Cano is hitting .329, 19 points above his lifetime average. His on-base percentage is at a career-high .392. He's tied for third in the AL with 91 hits.

KANSAS CITY, MO - JUNE 20:  Robinson Cano #22 of the Seattle Mariners hits a RBI single in the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on June 20, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Yes, at $240 million, you expect home runs. So does Cano. So do the Mariners. And they say those will come.

"I wish I had all of my home runs," Cano says. "They will come."

Bottom line, there are two colossal reasons why Cano's homers are down:

He is not hitting in friendly Yankee Stadium.

He is not protected in the lineup by Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the veteran Yankees.

This is a sensitive subject with Cano, because he knew things would be way different when he signed, and the last thing he's going to do is blame his teammates for him not putting the ball over the fence.

"I'm seeing more pitches off the plate than what I've seen in the past," Cano says.

McClendon completely agrees that Cano’s homers are down because of the aforementioned two reasons.

"I think his [overall] numbers probably are more impressive because of that," McClendon says. "Is Robinson Cano going to finish with four home runs this year? No. Robinson Cano is going to get his home runs. When the weather heats up, good hitters heat up.

"And summer's right around the corner."

From the perspective of both a veteran and a pitcher, Young thinks there is no question Cano is simply approaching things differently this year because of the lack of meaty fastballs. Taking what he's being given, in other words.

"I think he's said, 'I don't have to hit for power for us to be successful,'" Young says. "I think he's said, 'I can stay up the middle and get my hits and help us.' He's a smart hitter. You'd have to ask him, but that's my take on it."

Cano says Young is on to something.

"Exactly," he says. "That's what I'm doing. Seeing pitches, and going more the other way.

"It's about team wins. It's not about my stats."

To that end, as the Mariners flirt with relevancy for the first time in years, McClendon raves about all aspects of Cano's game.

Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

The other day, the manager says, when Jesus Montero was at first base for the first time ever, Cano spent much of the game directing Montero, making sure he was in the right position with each pitch.

Not long before that, from third base, Cano was directing one of the Mariners' young hitters not to hook the ball, but to hit it the other way.

"He's a very good leader," McClendon says. "He’s been a very good power source.

"And I'm not talking about power as homers. I'm talking about a source of electricity."

Go ahead and argue that the Mariners overpaid for Cano, if that's your feeling.

But know this: From where Seattle has been, the serious building must start somewhere. And sometimes the best option—the only option—is to write a big check. Look at the Nationals with Jayson Werth. People thought they were insane. But he joined Ryan Zimmerman, and soon the Nationals added Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper through the draft, as well as others, and boom. Contenders.

PITTSBURGH - JULY 11:  Catcher Ivan Rodriguez #7 of the American League All-Star team removes his face guard during the 77th MLB All-Star Game against the National League All-Star team at PNC Park on July 11, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The American
Al Bello/Getty Images

"I'll give you one even better: Pudge Rodriguez," says McClendon, who joined Jim Leyland's staff in Detroit two seasons after Rodriguez signed with the Tigers. "Carlos Guillen soon followed, Magglio Ordonez.

"We kept building and building and building, and we had a hell of a run for eight years."

Something like that is exactly what these Mariners have in mind. And one vital step was finding or developing a face of the franchise.

What this guy brings the Mariners, McClendon says, "you don't put a price tag on it."

"I'm not insensitive to the money," the manager continues. "I know it's an enormous amount of money that Robinson Cano and all other superstars get. There are a lot of guys who have gotten 10-year contracts, or five-year contracts, or three-year contracts.

"For me, it doesn't make any difference if it's 10 years. I'll be dealing blackjack at the Hard Rock Casino or something by then."

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

He has a general manager, Jack Zduriencik, who is feeling the heat and needs to win soon anyway.

"The organization has done a good job of researching and knowing what he brings to the table," McClendon says of Cano. "For some reason, people deem it a failure because the Seattle Mariners didn't empty the vault. People want to know why did you spend all of this money on Robinson Cano and nothing else.

"You're damned if you do and damned if you don't."

McClendon has inserted young outfielder James Jones into the No. 2 hole in the lineup just ahead of Cano, hoping Jones' speed will cause rival pitchers to feed Cano more fastballs. If that doesn't work, the Mariners will try something else. The plan is in place.

Yes, the price tag was high. Yes, Cano remains stuck on four homers.

But if you can't see the forward progress in Seattle, you're staring far too long at that home run column.


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