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Robinson Cano signing only bad if the Mariners stop now

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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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.