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Numbers Game: Mariners sign 2B Cano

Scott Cullen
12/6/2013 4:46:12 PM
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For once, the New York Yankees lost out on the bidding for one of their high-priced free agents.

Numbers Game looks at the Mariners landing Robinson Cano.

The Mariners Get: 2B Robinson Cano.

Cano, 31, has been an elite second baseman, leading the offensive parade at the position. Sicne 2006, his 190 home runs ranks second, as does his .868 OPS and 36.9 fWAR. Clearly, he's been a top tier performer, so it's no surprise that he was able to command a lucrative contract as a free agent.

In addition to having a pretty sweet swing, Cano has been incredibly durable, missing a total -- total -- of 14 games in the last seven seasons, with more than 650 plate appearances in six of the last seven seasons.

Naturally, Cano won't remain this productive as he heads into his late thirties, but the more immediate concern ought to be about park effects, moving from a lefthanded-hitters' haven, Yankee Stadium, to cavernous Safeco Field. Over the course of his career, Cano has hit .309 with an .837 OPS in 40 games at Safeco, about the same as his career marks (.309/.860), but four home runs in those 40 games is below Cano's career home-run rate (which is one every 6.7 games).

While offence is his calling card, Cano has become an asset in the field as well. Since 2009, his 38 Defensive Runs Saved ranks fourth at the position and his Ultimate Zone Rating is above average for that span. The issue, of course, is that Cano is 31 and doesn't figure to be increasing his range as he gets olders so, at some point over the life of this deal, he's pretty much assured to be a liability at second base and then it could be a matter of finding him another position.

Where all of this leads is to a certain point of inevitability, that by the time Cano is 37, 38-years-old, on a contract that pays him through age 41, he's not going to be productive enough to warrant $24-million per season.

Since 1960, among second basemen that were at least 37-years-old, there are a total of four (Joe Morgan, Davey Lopes, Jeff Kent and Craig Biggio) that recorded a fWAR of at least 5.0, total, after that point in their careers, so it's asking a lot for Cano, even if he is going to be a Hall of Famer, to be overly productive through that age. That leaves the potential for 3-5 years of marginal production at the end of the deal. Given the annual cost, that's a pretty steep premium for the Mariners to pay.

With Cano in the fold, the Mariners have more moves coming. Nick Franklin, their 2009 first-round pick, showed some promise last season, hitting a dozen home runs with a .225 batting average and .686 OPS in 102 games. He's just 22 and hit .287 with an .819 OPS in five minor-league seasons, an indication that he should be able to hit at the major league level. Now that Cano is blocking Franklin at second base and Brad Miller is at shortstop, it seems likely that Franklin will be part of another transaction for Seattle, possibly to improve the pitching staff.

From the Yankees' perspective, they have signed Kelly Johnson, who offers respectable power -- his 79 home runs since 20010 ranks fourth among second basemen -- to a one-year deal and he's a fine stopgap solution.

If there is a benefit to be gained by losing the league's best second basemen, it's in the financial flexibility that is gained and how the Yankees might spend money they had earmarked for Cano. If that's merely the Jacoby Ellsbury signing, then it's hard to see this as a net gain, but if the Yankees turn around and add more pieces because they have room in the budget to do so, then it becomes easier to justify a fiscally-responsible decision, even if that's the last thing to expect from the Yankees.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.




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