Shocking as was the hire of Cano, it is equally dismaying to Mariners fans that the club didn’t upgrade elsewhere before the start Monday of the 2014 season.
When last we left the Mariners, the manager, after quitting during a days-long public rant, later slaughtered his bosses in a news story, ownership went nuts on its own with an outlandish player contract, and the Seattle sports market finally experienced a major national sports championship.
Other than that, it’s been quiet. Which is, of course, the problem.
The offseason tumult obscured the fact that, aside from hiring closer Fernando Rodney, 37, for two years and $14 milion — a dubious move, based purely on the belief that big investments in closers are a poor use of resources, given their relative availability — the Mariners did little to supplement from the outside their $240 million investment in Robinson Cano.
In the off-season to help Cano, they invested in three position players: Willie Bloomquist ($2.8 million), Corey Hart ($6M) and Logan Morrison ($1.75M). Together, that’s $10.55 million. Based on spring training results, that investment might get them one starter, if Hart is healthy enough to be DH, which he hasn’t been — 5 for 38 (.132 BA) with one extra base hit. He won’t play Monday as the Mariners open the season in Anaheim against the Angels.
Amazingly, Bloomquist — at 36 in his 13th season and filling the annual roster spot of “Mariners retread” after the loss in free agency of Raul Ibanez — is the Mariners’ sixth-highest paid player. And he hasn’t had more than 350 at-bats in any of his previous four years with three teams.
I get the value of a veteran role player, which the Mariners have had from Vince Coleman to Mark McLemore, but they are more useful backing up a solid lineup. The Mariners basically hired three of them, and Hart and Morrison, both coming off knee surgery, can’t play much defense.
It’s the kind of roster awkwardness that helped drive manager Eric Wedge out of the Mariners dugout after three seasons. Even before his acid takedown of club management in a Dec. 7 Seattle Times story, Wedge at the end of season told reporters he and top management were in disagreement.
“It’s where they see the club,” he said Sept 28. “They, being Howard (Lincoln), Chuck (Armstrong) and Jack (Zduriencik). And where I see the club and my vision for the future and theirs, it’s just different. And that’s about as plain as I can make it.”
Wedge never spelled out the different views, but his successor, Lloyd McClendon, may soon understand. The hires of Bloomquist, Hart and Morrison continue the trend of misshaped rosters — top- and bottom-heavy — with too few mid-level producers. It’s often been that way since the last playoff team since 2001. Yet GM Jack Zduriencik continues to insist that the roster was ripe for the infusion of a big-time, big-money talent such as Cano.
“I was happy for the city, I was happy for the organization,’’ Zduriencik told the the New York Post last month. “It was gratifying to say to the fans, ‘We told you we were going to do this when the time was right.'”
Of course, the time was supposedly right a couple of years ago when the Mariners went after Prince Fielder, then Josh Hamilton last year. Skeptics doubted the sincerity of the Mariners’ pursuits, figuring it was for show. But there’s no doubt about their motivation this time to get Cano — they offered three years and $65 million more than his old club, the Yankees, usually the industry standard for reckless disregard when it comes to financial sense.
As colleague Steve Rudman points out in a previous post on the site, Zduriencik is counting on the farm-raised talents of Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders to finally become the mid-level, mid-career contributors so sorely lacking in Seattle, yet so prominent in well-run franchises such as the Cardinals in St. Louis.
Should youngsters Brad Miller and Mike Zunino also have solid second seasons, the Mariners can get beyond .500 and into contention. But that also supposes that young pitchers James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Erasmo Ramirez hold their own in the rotation.
And then there’s Abraham Almonte, a 24-year-old rookie with 72 major league at-bats who hit .182 this spring, yet will start in center field.
Every MLB team begins a season with some ifs — the Dodgers, a National League favorite, have five pitchers on the disabled list — but the Mariners have ifs like sharks have teeth. That has been obvious throughout the off-season and through an 18-12-3 spring record that offered yet another cruel tease.
For a team with 11 winning seasons in 37, it’s remarkable an uptick has yet to happen. Then again, as was pointed out here recently, Zduriencik and his predecessor as GM, Bill Bavasi, have identical records through five seasons: 359 wins and 451 losses. That kind of relentless commitment to mediocrity is a hard thing to sustain.
Without knowing that history, Cano nevertheless knows what he sees on field. Barely having buttoned up his Mariners jersey for the first time in February, Cano weighed in on the fact that the Mariners were way short on offense and starting pitching and needed to get better. Before even losing his first game as a Mariner, he was recommending the hires of Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana and others, causing murmurs in the national media that Cano was already lamenting his escape from New York.
That doesn’t appear to be the case yet. Neither does it appear yet that the Mariners have surrounded Cano with a team worthy of contention. Cano mildly disputed his label as the face of Mariners.
“I wouldn’t say it’s only going to be my face,” Cano told reporters. “You’re going to talk about Felix (Hernandez). He’s a guy who has been here a long time, and he’s one of the best in the game.
“Me, myself? There’s nothing that I can do by myself. This is about the team. It’s not about one player. We win as a team, and we lose as a team.”
True. Sadly for Mariners fans, it’s true. And they now see a fine example of that in the Seattle market. Not to add to the pressure, or anything.
Mariners estimated 2014 payroll of $92,081,943, via Associated Press: