New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of-Chorus from "Empire State of Mind"
There's nothin' you can't do
Now you're in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let's hear it for New York, New York,
Here's what you can't do in New York: Get $240 million, at least if you are Robinson Cano. But Cano can get that kind of cash in Seattle.
It's hard to conjure up words about this move. It's so very, very strange yet in the end predictable. The Mariners outbid everyone else (possibly just the Yankees) by a stunning margin. That was the only way they were going to convince a free agent like Robinson Cano to come to Seattle, given the current state of the Mariners. Money won out.
Let's transport back to reality though. The Seattle Mariners just outbid the New York Yankees for Robinson Cano, a man rumored to love New York City. The whole context, from the teams to the people involved to the money, is insane.
There are plenty of strong articles analyzing Cano and/or the contract. My personal favorite is from Tony Blengino, whom the M's front office cut loose in the past year. In fact, Blengino is where I will start my analysis.
Blengino, clearly, is a sabermetrician at heart, and he is no longer a part of the Mariners brain trust. That may or may not say something about the M's priorities now. His analysis does not condemn Cano, but it falls well short of endorsing the deal (though in fairness he says the post isn't about trying to figure out if the deal is worth it). Blengino writes in his post. I wonder if Robinson Cano is a Mariner today if Blengino was still in the organization, because no reasonable statistical argument suggests Cano is worth 10 years, $240 million.
Then again, I wonder what Zduriencik thinks of this deal too. Mega-deals aren't negotiated by general managers. They are done directly with ownership, or in the Mariners case, the ownership representatives (Howard Lincoln and probably Chuck Armstrong too). In the end, I'm not sure there is much for Zduriencik to think about. His team now has the best second basemen in the game, and less to spend - though probably still quite a bit of room left in the budget.
However, to some degree, no deal the magnitude of Cano's is about cost efficiency. Robinson Cano certainly makes the Mariners better, and he is a game-changer, for better or worse. The Mariners immediately go into win-now mode. They are immediately more relevant, and probably have the ability to sign free agents that wouldn't have considered them before Cano's deal. One way or another, M's ownership must be banking on the classic Field of Dreams line, "If you build it, they will come."
Now the Mariners have to figure out what exactly they are building. Zduriencik job starts now that Cano is signed, and Z's fate will ultimately be decided by the pieces he places around Cano. The Cano contract has a chance to work if the M's farm system can fuel the team with lots of solid, league-minimum talent. There is a chance that happens with Kyle Seager, Brad Miller, Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and a handful of bullpen arms that could (should?) yield a few nice pieces this upcoming season. More free agents should be part of the plan too. It will also be interesting to see what the Mariners get from their now inevitable trade of Nick Franklin.
History isn't kind to deals like Cano's. Alex Rodriguez didn't work out in Texas. He isn't working out in New York at this point either. The Cardinals, sans Pujols, are in better shape than the Angels with him. The Rangers, who let Josh Hamilton join Pujols in cash-laden Anaheim, boast a similar success story. With that said, the Rangers do have Prince Fielder at this point, a $200-million man Detroit found some success with. Maybe Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez symbolize a shift as well, given they were albatrosses in Boston yet helpful contributors on the Dodgers squad that made the NLCS last year. Then again, the Red Sox transformed into World Champions once both of them were gone. So the circle goes with massive contracts.
The Cano deal brings the Mariners full circle. Cano's contract seems most similar to Alex Rodriguez's, when he left Seattle for the crazy money Texas gave him. The difference between Cano, A-Rod, and the rest of MLB's mega-contracts is that only Cano and A-Rod signed with crappy teams. Good teams reload in free agency or add the ever-mystical "missing piece," but it has been 13 years since a team made a mega-splash the keystone for a revival. This makes intuitive sense because an efficient open market would force bad teams to pay a bunch more for premium talent. Players should be less attracted to bad teams because the goal of baseball is to win. More money is the way to offset the negatives, and it seems reasonable to expect that the money it would take bad teams to sign the best players breaks their budgets.
So, at the very least, the Mariners are a legitimately interesting team for the first time in years. They have chosen a bold path, though whether it is a good one remains to be seen. History suggests it probably won't be, but history doesn't have much to say about what the Mariners are trying. The Mariners are attempting a turnaround in a way that only the Rangers with A-Rod tried before, and it did not work out for them. That's the entire sample size, for worse and for better.
What is unfolding, as of now, seems so surreal. Really, the Seattle Mariners are about to go hog wild in free agency? Or I guess they just did? It should have been predictable with all the money they had, and it is equally predictable that they would have to outbid others by gross amounts. Still...Robinson Cano took the money? And the Mariners offered it?
The magnitude of Cano's deal is what brings both terror and joy to my heart as a Mariners fan. Every analytic bone in my body tells me this is a very dumb deal and it will ultimately hamstring the franchise. However, I never thought the Mariners would extend themselves this far for anyone. How far are they willing to go? Really, the biggest problem with binge-spending in free agency is its inefficiency. It's even caught the Yankees, the most affluent franchise in baseball. The reason they don't have Cano is because they put a line in the sand, based on their budget, which is crushed by the money they pay Alex Rodriguez and a quickly declining CC Sabathia.
Free agent spending isn't just about the crippling distant future though. The Yankees milked a championship in 2009 out of free agents, and the Red Sox largely pulled the same feat (though with remarkable fiscal responsibility) last year. What if the Mariners keep overspending until they have a good ball club? It is a dumb idea mostly because it would take an unhealthy amount of money to accomplish. However, there are 240 million new reasons to wonder if the Mariners are both dumb enough to go this route and insane enough to make it work. They haven't done enough crazy things yet, but Cano is a heck of an opening act.