Robinson Cano Just Has To Be Good
This is a bad article. Maybe that’s too mean. That is an article I don’t particularly care for. You can read it, if you like — the link’s right there. But you’re probably not going to learn anything, and you’re probably not going to think about anything in a different way from how you did before. In a lot of ways it’s substance-free commentary.
It’s about Robinson Cano and the Mariners and how the Mariners have been bad and how Robinson Cano can change that. The idea is that Cano ought to become the Mariners’ Derek Jeter. A reliable, high-level contributor who also serves as clubhouse leader and face of the team. Those other responsibilities come along with a contract the size of the one Cano recently signed. I’m not going to argue the fact that Cano will be expected to be a little more than an ordinary player. As an established veteran, he’s going to be looked up to by other guys in the same clubhouse. I don’t even like writing media criticism so I’m going to try to make this about more than just the one throwaway article.
But Felix Hernandez isn’t mentioned. Not even once. Not as Felix, not as Hernandez, not as the King, not as anything else. I didn’t find him upon the first read-through, so I attempted a second read-through. Then I searched the article for his name, specifically. Nothing. It’s as if Felix doesn’t exist; it’s as if Felix isn’t a superstar and an icon. It’s as if Felix isn’t the face of the Mariners, as he has been since Ichiro began his decline.
The Mariners already have their guy. Robinson Cano is another guy, but he isn’t the same, and he can’t be. Know why? Let’s stick with the Derek Jeter parallels. Jeter’s retiring this year, as a Yankee. He was drafted in 1992, by the Yankees. He’s spent his whole career in New York, loyally representing the organization and the city. Felix is entering his tenth(!) year in the major leagues. He was signed by the Mariners in 2002. He’s spent his whole career in Seattle, loyally representing the organization and the city, and he’s under contract forever. Robinson Cano was a free agent who crossed the country after his 31st birthday and took the offer that blew the other offer away.
Cano can fall in love with Seattle, and Seattle can fall in love with Cano. Just because the origin story is all about money doesn’t mean things can’t work out as a warm and mutual relationship. But Felix is already here, and he’s already bent over backwards for a team that has simply refused to surround him with enough good players to build a team worth watching. Felix’s unconditional loyalty is downright mystifying, and it was this way from the very beginning, when he signed with the Mariners as a teenager despite having a bigger offer on the table. Felix is already in love. Has been. And Felix is already loved. Has been.
The guy has his own god-damned rooting section, and it’s the best such section in baseball, with no competition from the rip-offs. Felix is the guy you’d pay to see even if it meant you were also paying to see the rest of the Mariners, and there’s never been any questioning his drive or commitment or desire to pitch this team, this very team, into the World Series. Every game, he’s visibly passionate, and he moved his family to Seattle, and he’s come to Safeco in the middle of winter for FanFest, and he’s volunteered himself to perform area services. He’s great and he’s vocal and he’s never in trouble. Felix doesn’t get bad press. Back in the day, he used to let little mistakes get in his head, but that’s because even from a young age he just wanted to win so badly. That feeling hasn’t waned, and every year Felix talks about how he can’t wait to see October, no matter what the rest of the team might look like, and no matter how the previous season played out.
The problem with the Mariners hasn’t been a lack of leadership. It hasn’t been a lack of a winning spirit. It’s been a lack of winning, due mostly to a lack of enough good players. Sure, there were some years that the clubhouse was in better shape than others, but the problem guys are gone and it’s hard to achieve clubhouse stability when the team’s losing since losing teams are sadder teams and teams vulnerable to roster shake-ups. The team’s had plenty of potential leaders, but at some point you just can’t lead a loser. You can lead a winner, which means a winner has to come first, which means good players have to come first. That, more than anything else, is going to be Cano’s main responsibility.
Cano needs to help the Mariners win, just like how Joey Votto helps the Reds win. Votto’s never going to be the vocal, fiery sort, but he can lead by example and he routinely fills up his line in the box score. The Reds paid Votto because Votto’s really good. The Mariners paid Cano because Cano’s really good. They wouldn’t mind if Cano stepped up to be a leader in the clubhouse, but there hasn’t been a void. The Mariners haven’t been faceless, on the inside or from the outside. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez, and Hernandez is literally everything you could want in a star player. Cano is just another star player, beside him.
Players can’t just become Derek Jeter, no matter how much you pay them. Say what you will about Jeter, but his status is undeniable, and New York has been undeniably blessed to have him on their side for two full decades. Jeter has been among the rarest of breeds. A lot like the King. Seattle’s also been blessed, in this particular regard, and we’ve been blessed for more than a handful of months. Cano isn’t Felix, not here, and he never can be.