My Thoughts on Robinson Cano and the Mariners

Dave · December 3, 2013 at 5:40 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

A week or two ago, Jim Bowden speculated that the Mariners could steal Robinson Cano from the Yankees with a massive offer. I think most of us shrugged it off as nothing more than conjecture. Today, though, speculation of what might be possible turned into a suggestion that the Mariners are actually attempting to sign Cano, as Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York reported that the Mariners had “emerged as major players” for the game’s best second baseman. So, let’s talk about Cano and the Mariners for a second.

Robinson Cano is a very good player, having been worth +5 WAR or more in each of the last four seasons. In fact, over that four year span, he ranks #2 in WAR behind only Miguel Cabrera. A decent defensive second baseman who can hit like a first baseman is an absurdly valuable thing. Robinson Cano is asking for a huge contract because he’s one of the game’s very best players. The Mariners need more talent than they have, and no free agent would inject more talent into the organization faster than Cano would.

So, yes, Robinson Cano is a fit for the Mariners, even though they already have one second baseman too many. If signing Robinson Cano for a reasonable price becomes a reality, you don’t bother worrying about what you’re going to do with Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley. The goal isn’t to find an outfielder or a #3 pitcher or a closer; the goal is to get better. Robinson Cano would make the Mariners a lot better.

And the Mariners have money to spend. Enough money to make Cano a big time offer. Enough money to offer more than the Yankees are reportedly offering. It’s an unusual situation, but the Mariners are in a position to outbid the Yankees. This is what happens when you have two players under contract. If the Mariners want to make Cano choose between money and geography, they can. And I’d imagine a lot of people will want them to do exactly that, noting that Cano would give the Mariners credibility again, and would signify to everyone that they’re not just perpetually rebuilding. I expect that there are a lot of people who are very excited about the idea of the Mariners pursuing Robinson Cano.

Personally, I’m less excited. Less excited because I don’t think Robinson Cano is actually all that likely to be interested in playing for Seattle. Less excited because I think the gap between the offer the Mariners would have to give him and what the Yankees are willing to make is likely going to have to be so enormous that any deal for Cano would automatically restrict the organization from upgrading at other positions. Less excited because part of the failures of the front office the last two winters has been the seductive possibility of paying big money for a star, and by the time they realized it wasn’t happening, better alternatives were no longer available.

Two years ago, it was Prince Fielder. The M’s waited around for Fielder’s price to come down, keeping their options open in case Scott Boras decided to engage them on a deal for a contract south of $200 million. Fielder stayed on the free agent market until January 26th, and the Mariners basically sat out most of the winter waiting to see what might happen with Fielder. They skipped out on other young players who could have helped both short term and long term — such as Jose Reyes and Yu Darvish — and waited too long to get into the trade market, eventually flipping Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero three days before Fielder signed with the Tigers.

Last year, it was first Josh Hamilton, then Justin Upton. They went after Hamilton first, using the winter meetings as a chance to make a run at the best power hitter on the free agent market. Finally, on December 15th, they learned that Hamilton would be signing with the Angels instead, so they switched gears and tried to make a big trade with Arizona to bring Upton to Seattle. They finally reached an agreement on the players with Arizona on January 10th, only to have Upton use his no-trade clause to block the deal. Again, they found themselves in January without their preferred options, and moved on to trading John Jaso for Michael Morse instead.

By all reasonable accounts, Robinson Cano’s free agency is going to take a while. The Mariners aren’t going to sign him this week, or even next week, most likely. He’s not going to just rush into changing teams without testing the Yankees resolve to keep him. Odds are pretty good that his preferred option is to re-sign with New York, so the only way the Mariners are going to convince him to come west is to make the financial difference so large that he can’t turn it down. But the size of that gap won’t be known until the Yankees make their last and best offer. And they haven’t done that yet. They probably won’t do that any time soon. The Yankees don’t need to get Robinson Cano resolved before they can move on with their off-season.

So, Cano’s representatives will keep flirting with the Mariners. If they’re going to get the Yankees to raise their offer, they need a reason to make them do so, and no other team has shown any serious interest yet. The Mariners interest in Cano is useful to Cano’s representatives, even if Cano has no real interest in signing here. It’s in their interest to drag this thing out; it is not in the Mariners best interest to be involved in another empty pursuit of a splashy signing.

And really, it might not even be in their best interest to sign Cano. The Yankees reported first offer was for $160 million over seven years, with reports suggesting they’d push up to $175 million, which would put them at $25 million per season. For the Mariners to convince Cano to leave New York, they’re not going to get him for $180 million or $190 million. He’s not going from New York to Seattle for an extra $2 or $3 million per year. If they’re going to get Cano to really consider leaving New York, they’re going to have to guarantee those last few years where New York is saying no. They’re going to have to go to eight or nine or maybe even 10 years. They’re going to have to come in well north of $200 million, maybe even pushing towards $250 million. That’s the kind of offer that would turn this from a flirtation into an actual possibility.

But Robinson Cano is not worth $250 million. Last month, I wrote a piece about long term deals at FanGraphs, and used an example of a nine year, $225 million contract for Cano to illustrate the changing value of the deal over the life of the contract. For the estimate, I started Cano as a +6 WAR player, and a $225 million contract still came out to $7 million per projected win, a little higher than the going rate for free agents right now. But, in reality, Cano’s probably more of a +5 WAR player than a +6 WAR player in 2014, and it’s more reasonable to start him from a lower threshold. If we repeat that table but lower the estimate of his performance a bit, we get this.

Year ? Salary Projected WAR $/WAR
2014 $22,000,000 5.0 $3,666,667
2015 $24,000,000 4.5 $4,363,636
2016 $25,000,000 4.0 $5,000,000
2017 $25,000,000 3.3 $5,813,953
2018 $25,000,000 2.6 $6,944,444
2019 $25,000,000 1.9 $8,620,690
2020 $25,000,000 1.2 $11,363,636
2021 $26,000,000 0.5 $17,333,333
2022 $28,000,000 0.0 $35,000,000
Total $225,000,000 23.0 $9,782,609

Simply shifting Cano from the starting spot of a +6 WAR player to a +5 WAR player drives the price from $7 million per win to nearly $10 million per win. And that’s without the 10th year, which would be projected to be a total waste at this point. If they had to go to 10/250 to get him, you’d be looking at $11 million per win, almost double what other teams are paying. You can argue that the Mariners have to pay more to get free agents to sign here, but they shouldn’t have to pay double. When a free agent is costing you that much of a premium, you’re better off just reallocating your dollars to players who don’t have that kind of leverage and will take something closer to market rates to play here.

For $200+ million, Cano might make the Mariners better by five or six wins next year. But they could also buy five or six wins for a whole hell of a lot less than $200 million by pursuing players who don’t require crazy overpays to leave the Yankees. I’m not arguing that the Mariners shouldn’t sign Cano because I don’t want the M’s to spend money; I just want them to spend their money well enough so that it’s not Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and 23 piles of crap.

I’d write more, but news is breaking that the Yankees are about to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, so now i have to go write about that. So here’s a very brief conclusion. Mariners, I get why you like Robinson Cano. I get why he’s pretending to like you back. Don’t fall for it, though. Don’t be the nerd doing the pretty girl’s homework in hopes that she’s going to realize that the jocks are stupid and you’re the one for her. You’re just going to end up in the friend zone. Go find someone who is actually into you for you, and not someone who wants to use you for your money.


42 Responses to “My Thoughts on Robinson Cano and the Mariners”

  1. jeffs98119 on December 3rd, 2013 5:57 pm

    Wait, wait, wait–Yankees signing Ellsbury is like the jock marrying a different hot girl, meaning hot girl Cano now might need to marry someone else, right? I mean, it’s not like he and Ellsbury are going to be sister wives (i.e. teammates) on the Yankees, is it?

  2. Westside guy on December 3rd, 2013 5:58 pm

    Man, a lot is happening awfully early this off season.

    Question is – if the Yankees have indeed signed Ellsbury, do they take their offer to Cano off the table? That might change the calculus a bit… not that I think Jack is smart enough to take advantage of that.

  3. JasonJ on December 3rd, 2013 5:59 pm

    100% agree. This off season is turning out remarkably similar to the previous two years. The Yanks signing Ellsbury certainly does add a twist but I have a feeling that some mystery team will swoop and grab Cano out from under Jack’s nose just like the Tigers and Angels did — and it will be a blessing.

  4. MrZDevotee on December 3rd, 2013 6:50 pm

    And Willie Bloomquist is our Raul this year. A loathesome move, not for who he is– a really nice guy, with great work ethic, and not the world’s most terrible skillset– but for what he represents… Selling the fans a box of air and cooing about it’s healthy benefits.

    Or in Dave’s analogy above– the nerdy girl with a great personality, a limp, coke bottle glasses, but from a family with money (ie, he’s “cheap” in baseball terms).

    Much like Raul, the poor guy will be the brunt of much disdain from the hardcore guys, and will have no idea why.

  5. MrZDevotee on December 3rd, 2013 6:58 pm

    I think when I deal with realistic terms, the most disappointing news today is that Dexter Fowler is a Houston Astro– and he cost stuff we had… They basically got him for Michael Saunders and a minor league starter.

    He would have really been a nice fit for us (as Dave mentioned awhile back).

  6. bookbook on December 3rd, 2013 7:28 pm

    I get this argument, but think I disagree. Signing Hamilton was a bad idea. Massively overpaying the massive former vegetarian was worse. Overpaying Cano by some moderate amount to be the face of the franchise for the next eight years? He’s an elite enough talent that a team like the M’s with much more money than legitimacy may well come out ahead on the deal. I’d rather get Cano for $200 than Ellsbury for $150.

    Disclaimer: I’ve been wrong about Pujols thus far, so my preference may be wrong.

  7. Bryce on December 3rd, 2013 7:38 pm

    More fundamentally, what prominent free agent *doesn’t* put the M’s in the friend zone?

  8. mksh21 on December 3rd, 2013 7:42 pm

    As a resident of NY State and a Mariners fan, I’m guessing if it comes down to strictly money…. 190 Million is worth a lot more in Washington.

  9. IHaveALittleProject on December 3rd, 2013 7:44 pm

    I’m totally fine with it as long as they’re pursuing all the other options too, and willing to drop this pursuit if a bird in the hand comes along.

    This is incredibly different than Josh Hamilton or Prince fielder since Cano is actually a legitimate, high performing star who should age relatively well.

  10. mksh21 on December 3rd, 2013 7:53 pm

    It would be nice to see them do SOMETHING. But Cano doesn’t feel right, mostly cause of his age. With the starting rotation the M’s could have this year and beyond, 200 million bucks could buy a lot of slightly above average bats.

  11. killeverything on December 3rd, 2013 8:11 pm

    Mksh21 has it right. I wish Seattle would get good role players and a coaching staff that knows how to use them to their strengths ( think Scosscia’s 2002 – 07 Angels ).

    The 300 million ( probably plus ) it would take to convince Cano to come to Safeco could be so much better spent.

  12. californiamariner on December 3rd, 2013 8:22 pm

    I’m not saying I want Cano (and the massive contract especially), but it seems like with every player people say he will cost too much. Maybe the reality is that to get someone to come to Seattle at this point in time, you will have to pay too much. Just a thought.

  13. dantheman on December 3rd, 2013 9:11 pm

    Given the state of the franchise, what would it say about Cano if he were, in fact, willing to come here solely for a very large amount of money?

  14. killeverything on December 3rd, 2013 9:31 pm

    That Cano really really wants as large as a payday as he can get ( nothing wrong with that ) and doesn’t care where he goes or perceived “loyalties” to get it.

    The difference between Cano and other free agents that left for more money ( sometimes only a couple million more ) is they went to teams that have a shot to win ( Damon, Pappelbon, Ellsbury, McCann, Pujols, etc. ). Seattle will probably have to pay a billion.

  15. Westside guy on December 3rd, 2013 9:48 pm

    “Starting at second base tonight… Please welcome the Mariners new President of Baseball Operations, Robinson Cano!”

  16. Gritty Veteran Poster on December 3rd, 2013 10:01 pm

    Until I see something different I can’t believe the Mariners are anything more than suckers being used for leverage by every agent trying to squeeze more money out of legitimate MLB team.

    “No? Well, we’ve got an offer from Seattle! We’ll take it! I swear we will!!”

    Beyond that they’re a last ditch repository for every player who’s main selling point is “he was pretty darn good four years ago.”

    Nelson Cruz anybody? Maybe Michael Young? Travis Hafner? Jason Giambi? Hey! Let’s bring Freddy Garcia back!

    Sodo Mojo baby!!

  17. PackBob on December 3rd, 2013 11:03 pm

    The problem with passing on Cano to get a number of less costly players for more overall talent is that there needs to be a GM who can make it work. Willie Bloomquist, Morales, Cruz, and Ibanez won’t make it work.

  18. Woodcutta on December 4th, 2013 12:57 am

    If the M’s do sign Cano does this mean they will have a trade involving Ackley/Franklin lined up? I would think Cano would want some insurance that the entirety of the M’s offseason activity doesn’t consist of signing him and Bloomquist.

    Also, is anyone else just fed up with the “reporting” and “analysis” of the MLB network? I’m especially annoyed by Harold Reynolds’ lack of intelligence. Just this past week he tried to make the case that a catcher hitting 20 HR (Arencibia) is more important than his .194 AVG and .227 OBP.

  19. just a fan on December 4th, 2013 1:49 am

    Why not. Take the gamble. Cano is a great hitter. Those projections are just projections. Nobody’s career tracks to the projections. Either Cano will be worth it, or he’ll be a disaster. Or he’ll be worth it then a disaster.

    What else are the Mariners going to do. They’re the Mariners, and nobody wants them. So it’s time to accept that the Mariners are going to have to pay somebody to do it.

  20. djw on December 4th, 2013 4:41 am

    Given the state of the franchise, what would it say about Cano if he were, in fact, willing to come here solely for a very large amount of money?

    That the Mariners offered him a job at a competitive salary and he took it.

  21. Mustard on December 4th, 2013 6:45 am

    Sadly, the M’s are being used in order to get the Yanks to step up.

  22. AdamN on December 4th, 2013 7:50 am

    The mariners don’t have to offer him a whole lot more than the Yankees to pay him a lot more. New york city has an income tax rate of 3.9% and New York state has a income tax rate of 8.97%. What this means is if the Mariners and Yankees offered him 200 million, $25.74 million more with the mariners. This is not chump change. If the mariners offered him 210, he’d make 35 million more. I know taxes don’t get discussed on these boards, but there is a reason why Lebron, Wade, and Bosch went to Miami instead of another team, 0% income tax just like washington.

  23. Eastside Suds on December 4th, 2013 7:57 am

    Just so you know, I am at school today with a Seattle Mariner’s shirt on in a crazy attempt to send some positive mojo their way. I pray it works. With every passing day, I get more depressed. Am I the only one who thinks that by waiting until the Winter Meetings next week, all the pretty girls will have already been asked to the homecoming dance?

    Sadly….our original thoughts of being used and abused were right. No one takes us seriously unless they are A) former Mariners who are no longer relevant or B) 35+ guys looking to play out the string or C) damaged goods looking for any attention whatsoever.

    Here is a quick look at what has transpired:

    Nearly 30% of the Top 50 Free Agents have been taken.

    Veteran Catchers….Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Brian McCann, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Pierzynski (all 2.0 WAR or more) have all been taken.

    Pitchers…..Haren, Soto, Vargas, Johnson, Nolasco, Kazmir, Wilson, Smith, Humber have all been taken.

    A number of trades have occured. Andy Beane was busy this week and the A’s are getting better. The Rangers have gotten better.

    We have WFB!!!! My mind keeps playing that old “This is your Brain on Drugs” commercial, where the egg is in the frying pan. All I see is a Mariner baseball cap smoldering in a stinking trash heap.

  24. ChrisFB on December 4th, 2013 8:18 am

    If the M’s actually manage to get Cano, I would hope we’d apply our all observations about the Angels getting Pujols a couple years ago, or Hamilton last year, to the M’s getting Cano.

  25. Justin on December 4th, 2013 8:31 am

    With Ellsbury going to the Yankees, should the M’s pursue Granderson?

  26. evolvingcaveman on December 4th, 2013 8:53 am

    It seems that Choo, Granderson and Beltran are the last three free agent OF’s good enough defensively to be called that and if we whiff on all three it’s looking ugly.

  27. Westside guy on December 4th, 2013 9:28 am

    Veteran Catchers….Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Brian McCann, Dioner Navarro, Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Pierzynski (all 2.0 WAR or more) have all been taken.

    Jack Z has already stated Zunino will be our starting catcher in 2014. Hoping for the team to make a common sense move at that position is just wishful thinking – we’re probably going to see Sucre as the backup.

    Yeah it’s stupid… but we have a crappy GM.

  28. Westside guy on December 4th, 2013 9:34 am

    It seems that Choo, Granderson and Beltran are the last three free agent OF’s good enough defensively to be called that and if we whiff on all three it’s looking ugly.

    Choo and Beltran are pretty awful defenders now. Granderson is really the only one whose defense hasn’t completely tanked.

  29. nickwest1976 on December 4th, 2013 9:53 am

    Of the three Granderson is the guy I would target. He is 32 years old and his injuries last year where more of a freak variety in terms of being hit by pitches. His pull lefty swing would work well in Safeco and as a corner OF he wouldn’t be terrible defensively. Sounds like a 3 year, $45 mil deal is the market or thereabouts…again, doesn’t break the bank in terms of years or dollars and at 32 years old he could still have 2-3 good years left.

  30. bubba_gump on December 4th, 2013 9:58 am

    “you’re better off just reallocating your dollars to players who don’t have that kind of leverage and will take something closer to market rates to play here.”
    You mean like Morse and Ibanez?

    “Go find someone who is actually into you for you”
    That list consists of?:
    1)Jason Bay 2012
    2)Present day WFB

  31. bookbook on December 4th, 2013 10:06 am

    Sure. But Cano’s younger than Pujols and an athlete likely to age better. Hamilton profiled as a major risk for several reasons. Cano may be a bad deal, but the price where I feel it’s worth the risk is higher than $200 million

  32. kinickers77 on December 4th, 2013 11:26 am

    Early rumors say 8-years at $200 million. That’s less than what you’re thinking, Dave. Is that low enough to make it worth it to you?

    My thought is if they made this deal, they would then go hard at trading either Ackley or Franklin in a package to land Kemp. Maybe Franklin and Paxton for Kemp. I could see that. No? LA needs a second baseman.

  33. nickwest1976 on December 4th, 2013 12:20 pm

    I have a feeling that the grand plan is to sign Cano and trade for Kemp. M’s have been strongly connected to both Kemp and Cano. I agree kinickers77, I bet if they land Cano they would then take surplus 2B and something else to go after Kemp.

    Kemp is a major risk but if the Dodgers include enough cash he could be a major addition if he can stay healthy. Kemp might be the highest risk/reward player out there right now.

    Other thing to consider is Kemp isn’t a good defensive CF by UZR standards. Ideally he plays a corner OF spot which would also reduce wear and tear on him a bit. Still wish we could get a great defensive CF. Bourjos would have been ideal.

  34. sawsatch on December 4th, 2013 1:02 pm

    Since the M’s can’t offer a chance to win, they have to offer money.

  35. Logan Davis on December 4th, 2013 1:55 pm

    “But, in reality, Cano’s probably more of a +5 WAR player than a +6 WAR player in 2014, and it’s more reasonable to start him from a lower threshold.”

    Huh? Why would you dock the guy 1 WAR going from age 30 to 31, then .5 WAR every year from 31 to 33, then .7 WAR every year for the rest of his career? That’s one funky aging curve.

    A 5/4/3 weighting of Cano’s three most recent years puts out 6.4 WAR; dock him 0.5 for aging and you get 5.9. Which is basically what you did in the Fangraphs article – and which indicates that 9/225 is only a slight overpay. In fact, starting from 5.9 WAR in 2014 and going all the way down to 0 WAR in 2023, a 10/250 contract would be paying about $8.1M per win, which is an overpay but not a particularly egregious one for a team in the Mariners’ position. If you take the Steamer projection of 5.4 WAR instead, he’d produce 26.4 more wins over the rest of his career, which would leave the Mariners paying just under $9.5M per win. That’s worse, of course, but neither looks as terrible as the 5 WAR figure – which I’m not sure how you got.

  36. californiamariner on December 4th, 2013 2:25 pm

    Was just looking at Cano’s profile on Fangraphs. What the hell happened to him in 2008? Does anyone recall an injury or something?

  37. kinickers77 on December 4th, 2013 4:28 pm

    “Since the M’s can’t offer a chance to win, they have to offer money.”

    Haha, I Lol’d at that one sawsatch.

  38. currcoug on December 4th, 2013 4:41 pm


    How long do you think Cano can play at second base?

  39. OregonMariner on December 4th, 2013 8:32 pm


    It’s a little thing but you did lower the numbers in “projected WAR” in the table but forgot to change the numbers in “$/WAR” accordingly.

    I almost always appreciate what you write and learn a lot from it, but I have a question about the part, “Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, and 23 piles of crap.” I hope you are not counting Kuma as one of the piles just because his FIP and SIERA are not that good.

  40. jimbob on December 4th, 2013 10:12 pm

    It’s amazing the anyone could question the value of someone performing at the highest level, feeding off of the fame of others. I guess this is always the nature of criticism.

  41. Woodcutta on December 4th, 2013 10:52 pm


    If you are referring to people wondering if signing a player for $150-$200 million is worth it, then yeah they have every right to question if that deal would be worthwhile. Especially when the history of such deals isn’t so good for the team. There is no question Cano is a great player that is potentially HOF bound but how much a team should be willing to sign him for is certainly up for debate.

  42. currcoug on December 5th, 2013 1:31 pm

    The M’s have allegedly offered $ 230-240 million over 10 years to get Cano.

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