The picture looks much different with Cano in the fold. I'd say the Mariners should shoot more to acquire 25 WAR (with Cano included), and the budget should swell to meet the demands. The roster's best days are no longer ahead of them. Cano is as good as he will ever be right now, and his contract probably won't age well. Moreover, the Mariners have some young talents (like Kyle Seager and Brad Miller) who are as cheap as they will ever be right now, and are good enough to fill some starting slots. Therefore, it now makes sense to go gangbusters.
So how do the Mariners add 25 wins?
Let's start with the ones they hopefully don't have to add as of now:
- Wins #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6: Robinson Cano - The M's got about 0 cumulative WAR from second base last year when the Robert Andino and Carlos Triunfel's 100+ at-bats are thrown in. Cano has been worth 25.4 WAR over the last 4 years, for an average of a bit above 6.3 WAR. I'll pencil him in for 6 WAR in hopes that he remains in his prime for at least one more season.
- Win #7: Mike Zunino - Zunino was worth 0 WAR in 52 games last season. However, the seven catchers the M's used last year combined for -0.1 WAR overall. Any sort of development from Zunino will make the M's better than last year. He has no sort of shoes to fill.
- Wins #8 and 9: Brad Miller - Miller ended up being the second most productive offensive player on the M's, behind Kyle Seager...despite playing in only 76 games. That says something about Miller, and something about the Mariners offense. A full year of Miller's offense (replacing Brendan Ryan's -0.7 WAR first half) could go a long, long way.
- Win #10: Taijuan Walker - Walker could explode on the scene, a la Michael Pineda a few years back, but I'll go conservative with him. He's a young gun with an explosive fastball and inconsistent curveball. That doesn't spell instant stardom to me, but it does spell some production beyond his 0.5 WAR from this past September.
- Win #11: James Paxton - See above.
- Win #12: Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, Carson Smith, and Dominic Leone - Danny Farquhar was worth an absurd 1.9 WAR out of the M's bullpen last year. I think that will sink. However, overall, the quartet of arms I just listed seem poised to take steps forward and usurp the 0 WAR arms that have hung around the M's bullpen. As long as the M's (Lloyd McClendon?) doesn't fall in love with someone irrationally, I think the cream will rise to the top and the M's will have themselves a decent little bullpen one way or another.
That leaves a couple obvious holes in the outfield, a spot in the rotation, and maybe a spot in the bullpen if you want a veteran closer. Here's who could fill those holes:
- Wins #13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18: Shin-Soo Choo - The Mariners have holes in the outfield and Choo is easily the best outfielder left on the market. He will cost lots of money, but the Mariners have money to burn and can't let money be much of an object now that Cano is aboard. I've got Choo penciled in for 4-5 WAR, but I think he is worth 6 WAR to the Mariners because he mostly replaces the 800 plate appearances of -2.7 WAR suckitude that was Endy Chavez, Mike Morse, and Jason Bay. Choo almost has to happen to make the Cano deal work, because the outfield is an easy place for the M's to improve and the gap between Choo and every other outfielder on the free agent market at this point is rather wide. Choo would become the everyday right fielder.
- Wins #19, 20, 21: Ubaldo Jimenez - If not Jimenez, Matt Garza or maybe Ervin Santana. The Mariners don't need an ace, but stashing Erasmo Ramirez as the sixth starter and handing the reins to the 4 and 5 spots to Walker and Paxton makes more sense for a contending ball club. Jimenez becomes the number three starter.
- Wins #22, 23, 24: Matt Kemp - Kemp is owed way more money than he's worth, and I wonder if the Mariners could get him for Nick Frankin straight up if they take on all the money he's owed. It's another risky move, but one that trades out of an obvious surplus for the Mariners. Plus, if Kemp can rebound to his MVP form, the Mariners could be scary good. Kemp is the left fielder on this roster, and I slide Michael Saunders to center field. If this plan doesn't work, I'd target one of the Blue Jays center fielders, Colby Rasmus (preferably) or Anthony Gose. Nick Franklin remains the key trade chip.
- Win #25: Trade deadline acquisition to be named later - The roster still has holes, but will hopefully be good enough to contend. The holes left are ones that typically can be filled at the trade deadline for reasonable prices.
Obviously, we are talking about a ton of money with these three moves. Matt Kemp will earn $21 million next year. Jimenez and Choo combined might cost $35-40 million. Let's project they earn a total of $60 million as a group. That, along with Cano's $24 million and the existing M's contracts, brings the payroll up to roughly $120 or $130 million. However, the Mariners budgeted $95 million for payroll last year, and only used $84 million. There is a good chance that the M's have saved money several years running by missing out on the Prince Fielders and Josh Hamiltons of the world, plus the Root Sports money starts flowing in. That's all to say that $120-130 million might be reasonable. I'm not even convinced it would result in a projected loss, and I think the Mariners should be willing to operate at a loss for the next few years to make the Cano acquisition worthwhile.
Here's my theoretical 2014 roster:
- Shin-Soo Choo, RF
- Matt Kemp, LF
- Robinson Cano, 2B
- Kyle Seager, 3B
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Michael Saunders, CF
- Jesus Montero, DH
- Mike Zunino, C
- Brad Miller, SS
- Dustin Ackley, OF
- Abe Almonte, OF
- Willie Bloomquist, INF
- Kurt Suzuki, C (or another veteran free agent catcher that doesn't cost much)
- Felix Hernandez
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Taijuan Walker
- James Paxton
- Yoervis Medina
- Tom Wilhelmsen/Carson Smith/Dominic Leone
- Carter Capps
- Oliver Perez
- Stephen Pryor
- Charlie Furbush
- Danny Farquhar
The lineup still worries me, particularly at first base and designated hitter. The bullpen might be a little green to feel comfortable with too. However, these seem like areas that can be upgraded for a modest price at the trade deadline, assuming the Mariners are in the playoff hunt. That roster, as is, has a legitimate shot to win 90 games on paper, so trade deadline acquisitions should be a reality.
The main point to take away: there's a contender that can be built now that Robinson Cano is in the fold. It needs to be built though. The talent isn't there yet. The Mariners are probably aware of this. Can they make the moves happen, and just how deep are their pockets?