John McGrath: Perhaps Cano can grow to love espresso and $230 million

December 6, 2013 

The once preposterous notion of the Seattle Mariners wooing free agent Robinson Cano to the Pacific Northwest has become, well, not so preposterous.

A few weeks ago, baseball insiders – and everybody on the outside, too – scoffed at rumors the Mariners were prepared to outbid the New York Yankees for the power-hitting second baseman. A certifiable superstar in the prime of his career thinks long and hard about ditching the gaudy stage of New York. And ditching it for that remote outpost that is Seattle?

As native New Yorker John McEnroe used to say when chiding umpires of a different kind: “You cannot be serious!”

But the Mariners are serious, possibly 10-years-at-$230-million-and-maybe-more serious, and Cano is in a mood to listen. The Yankees, who’ve already added outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million) and catcher Brian McCann ($85 million) to their payroll, apparently are exercising financial discipline in the post-Boss Era. They’re “limiting” an offer to retain Cano in the neighborhood of $175 million.

My take on this has turned. While I still believe guaranteeing at least $200 million to a great player is less prudent than spending $200 million on three very good ones, the time has come for the Mariners to rock the boat. Acquiring Robinson Cano, a five-time All Star who typically hits .309, with 24 homers and 97 RBI, rocks the boat.

Besides, I’m enjoying the sideshow of astonished observers. If America’s reaction

to Cano officially signing with the Mariners is anything like the build-up, it will be a hoot for the ages.

The pundits’ reasoning goes like this: Seattle isn’t cosmopolitan enough to occupy the attention of Cano, whose many baseball-related virtues don’t include a particularly extended attention span. Cano will allegedly regret accepting the Mariners’ offer about, oh, six innings into his Safeco Field debut, because there’s nothing to do in Seattle except sleep and drink coffee.

Furthermore, if Cano relocates to Seattle, he can forget about extra endorsement opportunities arranged by his new agent, Jay-Z.

New York Post columnist Joel Sherman sums up the perilous problems awaiting Cano in the Northwest:

“He will be trading in the community of friends and family he has created in Washington Heights for the state of Washington, which is the farthest away he could get on the Major League map from his Dominican home base,” Sherman writes. “He will join a team without a winning legacy. It will kill a legacy with the most important team with which to have a legacy.

“It will hurt his Hall-of-Fame chances by going to a park that diminishes offense,” Sherman continues. “It will take him to a place his pal, A-Rod, ran from because he wanted to be a star off the field, and at a time when Jay-Z is promising off-the-field pearls.”

Alex Rodriguez didn’t run from Seattle because he wanted to be a star off the field. He ran from Seattle because the Texas Rangers offered him a 10-year contract worth $252 million, making him the highest-paid pro athlete in history.

Uh, times two.

As for Seattle’s inherent limitations on providing exposure through advertising, I seem to remember Ken Griffey Jr. achieving a degree of fame. During the 1990s, thanks to his association with Nike, Griffey was the most popular baseball player in the world.

Then again, the Mariners of the mid-1990s are not to be confused with the Mariners of 2013, less known for their punch than as a source of punch lines.

Broadcaster Keith Olbermann devoted six minutes to a monologue the other night about the state of the Mariners (sorry) versus that of the Seahawks (exalted).

The Seattle baseball fan “can sit in a beautiful stadium and calcify and wither until his own bones turn to chalk as his team gets worse and worse and worse,” said Olbermann. “And when somebody starts talking about the team getting better by adding a superstar, everybody else laughs.

“Worse yet, if the last laugh isn’t ours, the Mariners will have committed at least $200 million in one new position player when they obviously need at least seven of them.”

Olbermann, in his inimitable Olbermann style – he can be hilarious and serious at the same time – theorized that the Yankees want the Mariners as Cano’s only option in free agency. The market for the second baseman will deflate, Olbermann predicted, when Cano realizes “the only place he can go is Washington state.”

In other words, Cano should be scared, very scared, of collecting at least $200 million from the Mariners until the age of 40. He should be scared of saying no to the Yankees, because the only avenue to the Hall of Fame runs through the Bronx.

He should be scared of ending up in a ghost town with no restaurants or dance clubs, no nightlife save the drive-through espresso stand occasionally open until 9 p.m., no local TV or radio stations, no billboards, no chance for a baseball player to gain endorsement deals that can be crucial for somebody trying to make ends meet on a meager $200 million.

Perhaps he will come to his senses. Perhaps he’ll realize that happiness is unattainable beyond New York.

Still, the idea of Robinson Cano anchoring a Mariners lineup for the next several years is teetering on the edge between possible and probable.

If it happens, I’m not sure who’ll have the last laugh.

I just know who’s having the first.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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