No, there’s very little chance that Robinson Cano will resemble a $24 million player in 2023.
But at least he’s better than that now. In a world in which Jacoby Ellsbury is worth $22 million annually and middle-rotation starters get $10 million-$13 million per year, it’s hardly unreasonable to value Cano as a $30 million player.
Over the last five years, Cano ranks first in the majors in rWAR. He’s never been the game’s best player in that span, but he’s always been excellent and he’s never been hurt. He’s finished 17th, 3rd, 6th, 4th and 5th in the AL MVP balloting the last five seasons. During that span, his worst average is .302, his worst home run total is 25 and he’s never played in fewer than 159 games. In fact, he’s played in 159 games in seven straight seasons.
So, the Mariners are getting as much of a sure thing as there is in baseball, at least for the next few years. Cano will be 31 next season. He’s demonstrated no sign of decline so far, but it will come. The back half of his contract will be ugly. They usually are. But that’s acceptable. At least Cano is strong enough offensively that he should be a decent enough regular in his upper-30s, even if it’s as a first baseman.
What the Mariners can’t do, though, is stop with Cano. Second base wasn’t even a problem area for them. They would have let youngsters Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley battle for the position if Cano had gone in a different direction. Now those two are trade bait. Packaging one of them with right-hander Taijuan Walker might bring David Price from the Rays.
That’s a high price to pay, though. Better if the Mariners just sign a couple of more key free agents, especially now that their second-round pick is gone anyway. Ideally, they could bring in Shin-Soo Choo, too, though many suspect he’ll go to the Yankees with the money the Bombers were saving for Cano. A starter from the Matt Garza-Ervin Santana-Ubaldo Jimenez trio would make sense. Nelson Cruz is also a likely target. I’m not as taken with him — he’s an overrated hitter and a poor defender — but he would supply some pop. Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew and Corey Hart would be better targets.
Ideally, the Mariners need two more quality players out of this. Then they could be taken seriously as a 2014 contender. They still wouldn’t be the favorites in the AL West, but it would certainly be enough to get the fans excited again.