Did you know that 2023 is the final year of the 10-year, $240 million contract that Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners in December of 2013? Furthermore, did you know that we’re still on the hook for another $3.75 million, even though he hasn’t played for us since 2018? I mean, it’s a far cry from the $20.25 million the Mets have to cough up for someone who likely won’t even crack a Major League roster this year, but that’s neither here nor there.
As you can read here right after it was announced, I was doing somersaults and backflips trying to talk myself into the Mariners turning around the ship. Check out the weirdly prescient crack about Cano’s bat being legally pronounced dead in 2021 (when he was actually suspended the entire year for steroids). But, I still contend that if they’d listened to me – spending money on the proper complementary veterans, and trading Taijuan Walker for David Price – maybe the 2014 Mariners would’ve broken the playoff drought.
For the TL;DR crowd, in short we were all excited the Mariners were finally spending money on a bigtime free agent, while at the same time understanding that there was no way Cano would be worth $24 million per season at the tail end of the contract.
Robbie Cano is an interesting figure in Seattle sports history. I don’t see him as someone who was particularly well-liked by fans, but he’s also not someone who’s loathed. He made the majority of his money in Seattle, but he’ll forever be associated with the New York Yankees (where he had the bulk of his success). That being said, it’s not like he dropped off the face of the earth when he came here. His numbers – while not quite as elite as they were in the Bronx – were still relatively on par with his prior production (especially when you consider he had to battle our marine layer in half his games). Predictably, his five years in Seattle were his best years of this deal; it wasn’t until after he went back to New York (this time with the Mets) where he fell off.
In that respect, Cano’s tenure here is kind of miraculous! We got the absolute best we could’ve possibly hoped for out of him (including his 2016 season where he hit a career-high 39 homers), then we got out from under his deal with a relatively low penalty (Edwin Diaz and just under $14 million in total, thanks to the 2020 COVID-shortened season, and his 2021 suspension), while still holding onto the lottery ticket that is Jarred Kelenic (who could be a valuable starter/platoon outfielder as early as this season). Granted, Cano was never able to lead us back to the playoffs, but I’m hard pressed to blame any one guy for that result (maybe Jack Zduriencik).
So, what’s Cano’s legacy here? I think that’s complicated. We got to see a Hall of Fame-calibre talent play every day for five years … but he probably cheated his way out of Hall of Fame contention thanks to his multiple steroid suspensions. You can choose to appreciate him for his abilities on the field, but at the same time it’s hard to ignore the behind-the-scenes rumors of him not trying hard, not getting along with segments of the team, and generally projecting an annoyingly laissez-faire attitude that may or may not have rubbed off on the younger players around him. It’s hard to build a culture of accountability when you’ve got such a significant presence undermining you at every turn. But, a lot of that stuff is conjecture; none of us can speak with any certainty to how he was as a teammate.
The bottom line is: the Mariners never won with Robinson Cano. Not enough to make the playoffs anyway. There were a couple years where we contended into September, but nothing really worth getting worked up about. His legacy ultimately boils down to being on the last Mariners teams before this current rebuild (which started the year after he was traded away), that ultimately led to our being a Wild Card team in 2022. And you can’t really even attribute THAT to getting rid of him, because none of the players we received in that package did anything to get us there (unless you count Justin Dunn, who we eventually flipped with other prospects in a separate deal to the Reds, netting us Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker; but that’s kinda grasping at straws).
My lasting memory of Robinson Cano in a Mariners uniform is one of half measures. We would eventually go on to sign Nelson Cruz, but not until the 2015 season, where they both played together in the lineup side-by-side for four years. But, Cruz VASTLY outshined Cano as far as contract value – decidedly earning the entirety of his money – while also allowing us to get out from under him a year too early (rather than a year too late). There’s nothing but positive vibes coming from our collective memories of Cruz. Other than that, though, the Mariners never quite spent enough or did enough to get over the hump. That era of Mariners baseball was good-not-great, and ultimately led to the decision to blow the whole thing up and start over from scratch.
It’s been much more hopeful ever since. Under Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners have drafted better, developed better, and forged a unified front with the field management. We’re no longer churning through managers every two years; Scott Servais has set the tone and the players have responded. At all levels, you can feel the difference. It’s a whole new culture with the Mariners’ organization. In that respect, Cano represents the last death knell of the previous culture. The losing culture. The bloated, ineffectual, rudderless culture. Hopefully lost to the sands of time, never to be thought of again.