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Getting Robinson Cano to MLB's All-Time 2B Home Run Record

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2017

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 18:  Robinson Cano #22 of the Seattle Mariners bats in the first inning during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 18, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

On June 17, 2016, the Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano sent a Heath Hembree fastball over Fenway Park's Green Monster.

It was the 258th home run of Cano's career and his 247th as a second baseman, which moved him ahead of Joe Gordon for tops all-time in the American League.

"To be able to have that kind of record is something I take a lot of pride in," Cano said at the time, per Ian Browne and Greg Johns of MLB.com. "That's something that I've [worked] hard for every single day. All the great second [basemen] that have played this game, to be able to accomplish that, especially here at Fenway, one of the greatest [parks] in baseball, it's special."

Here's something that would be even more special: setting the all-time record for home runs by a second baseman in either league. 

That mark belongs to Jeff Kent, who hit 351 home runs as a second baseman and 377 overall. (Alfonso Soriano hit 412 career homers, but only 193 of them came while playing at the keystone sack.)

As he enters his age-34 season, Cano has a shot at breaking the record and padding his Hall of Fame resume.

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Cano set the AL record for home runs by a second baseman in June 2016.
Cano set the AL record for home runs by a second baseman in June 2016.Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

What would it take? Let's drill down.

Once a rising star with the New York Yankees, Cano has been something of an enigma since signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners in December 2013.

He hasn't fallen flat. His 13.2 WAR between 2014 and 2016 ranks 20th in the big leagues, per FanGraphs, and he's made two All-Star teams and had two top-10 AL MVP finishes.

Still, his 2016 campaign felt like a comeback, as he clubbed a career-high 39 home runs to go along with an .882 OPS and 103 RBI. That's as much a reflection on the expectations that follow Cano as on his performance.

Entering the 2017 campaign, Cano has hit 266 home runs as a second baseman and 278 overall. That puts him 86 shy of passing Kent's second base total and 100 from besting Kent's career output.

If Cano replicates last season's power surge, he could accomplish the former early in the 2019 season and the latter by the summer of 2020.

That's unlikely, considering he's surpassed 30 home runs only one other time in his career, when he hit 33 in 2012.

Steamer projects 24 home runs for Cano in 2017, which is a reasonable estimate. Let's say he averages 20 a season for the next three years after that.

That would put him at 362 career homers entering his age-38 season. From there, he'd need only 16 to eclipse Kent's all-time total. Considering the M's will be paying him $24 million annually through his age-40 season, it's almost a certainty Cano will leave Kent in his dust, barring a catastrophic injury.

The only question is whether Cano will hit enough of those homers as a second baseman. There, too, the outlook is good. 

Cano set a career high with 39 home runs last season.
Cano set a career high with 39 home runs last season.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Cano has defined durability, starting at least 149 games at second every season since 2007. He'll see more time at designated hitter as he ages, but second base isn't catcher or center field. Plenty of players have capably manned the post into their late 30s. Just ask Chase Utley.

If we stipulate Cano will someday pass Kent as the all-time home run king at second base, what does that say about Cano's Hall of Fame odds?

Kent, after all, has languished on the ballot. The former National League MVP got a measly 16.7 percent this year from the Baseball Writers' Association of America—enough to stick around, but nowhere near the 75 percent needed for induction.

The biggest knock against Kent is his fielding, as Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe outlined:

Kent didn't really add any extra value with the leather relative to other post-expansion second basemen. ... Via Baseball-Reference.com's combination of Total Zone and Defensive Runs Saved, he's 42 runs below average for his career, with a Defensive WAR (dWAR) of -0.6 once positional adjustments are accounted for.

Cano, on the other hand, has a career 7.9 dWAR. Even as his skills erode, he'll finish his career with a deserved reputation as a plus defender.

That and his offensive prowess should be enough to punch his ticket to Cooperstown. He's already a borderline case, as I previously argued

A few more productive seasons married to the home run high-water mark for second basemen will seal it.

The biggest remaining question, as Jaffe noted, might be whether he "winds up making a case to wear a Mariners cap instead of a Yankees one come induction time."

Go ahead, Cano haters. Take aim. Just know your path to a coherent argument is more daunting than the Green Monster itself. 

   

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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