Cano's impact on Mariners running deep, and growing
Halfway through first season in Seattle, All-Star providing more than just stats
When the Seattle Mariners made the 10-year commitment to free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano, it was about a lot more than just stats.
Oh, they were looking for a legitimate middle-of-the-lineup bat. They wanted a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman. There's no doubt about that.
They also, however, wanted a veteran player who knew what it takes to be a part of a winning team, who understood the trap that frustrations could set for a player wanting to do well and who could help an inexperienced roster get a grasp of how winning is so much more than the accumulation of gaudy stats.
The Mariners have gotten just that.
Only a half season into the first year of that $240 million deal, Cano has avoided the trap of so many free agents before him. He has accepted what he is capable of being, ignored frustrations from not putting together a better-than-ever statistical season and has been a critical factor for a Mariners club getting ready to open the post-All-Star portion of the season in control of their own postseason destiny.
Seattle may not be in first place in the American League West, which features the two teams with the best records in the big leagues -- the A's (59-36) and the Angels (57-37) -- but the Mariners do have a 2 1/2-game edge on both Toronto and Kansas City in the race for the second and final AL Wild Card spot.
Cano? Well, he did just get done playing in the All-Star Game for the sixth time after being voted to the starting lineup by the fans for the fifth year in a row.
And Cano has provided a stability that has been missing from Seattle. When the Mariners lost eight in a row early in the season and found themselves at 7-13 after back-to-back losses to Houston, at home, there wasn't a panic that sent them into oblivion. No, they responded by winning nine of the next 11, which included winning a two-game series vs. the Yankees in Yankee Stadium and the first three of four games in Oakland.
Cano learned his lessons well -- spending the bulk of nine seasons in the Bronx alongside Derek Jeter in the Yankees' infield -- and at the age of 31, he has assumed that guidance role on a Mariners team on which he is the only everyday player older than 27.
"I don't think I'm at that level," Cano said of being mentioned in the same breath as Jeter, "but it's nice to be a considered a mentor along those lines. It means I've done something good.
"I was a young player. I dealt with the same concerns others had. No matter how talented you are, you are going to question things. I hope I can pass along to the young kids [in Seattle] like he did for me."
And along with what Cano says, it is also how he goes about his job that has an impact on his team.
Cano is leading the Mariners in runs scored (49), batting average (.334), on-base percentage (.393) and OPS (.855). He is second in both RBIs (57) and slugging percentage (.462) to third baseman Kyle Seager, a first-time All-Star who has driven in 63 runs and slugged at a .493 rate.
But Cano's seven home runs are only tied for fourth with Justin Smoak -- who has 130 fewer at-bats -- and behind Seager (15), Mike Zunino (13) and Brad Miller (eight). And this comes after five consecutive seasons with at least 25 home runs with the Yankees.
Concerned? Cano isn't.
"I know my game," he said. "If I try to do too much, I'm going to cause problems. I have to take what I am given. I can't force things to be different."
Cano is, after all, the biggest threat in the lineup. And he does, after all, play his home games at Safeco Field, one of the most challenging parks to hit home runs in the Major Leagues. There is nobody behind Cano in the lineup who will force teams to challenge him.
It has been a nightmare for power hitters in the past, including Richie Sexson -- who never did recover -- and Adrian Beltre, who found life after Safeco better with the Rangers in Arlington.
They wanted to beat the elements, unlike Cano, who has accepted the reality and remained productive, even if it's not with a power game like it has been in the past. He knows he's the target, home or road, and deals with it.
Cano has hit .333 at home with four home runs in 171 at-bats, compared to .335 on the road with three home runs in 182 at-bats.
The Mariners' brass not only understand that, but it also appreciates the professional approach Cano has shown, knowing it has allowed him to still have success. And more important, it has become a learning point for younger players that the key is to take advantage of what Safeco has to offer, not use it as a convenient excuse for failure.
"We've had a couple conversations to remind him, 'Take your walks, don't try to force the issue,"' said manager Lloyd McClendon. "We had one funk in Miami where he was going outside the zone, and he did it maybe one other time at home, but other than that, he's been great."
McClendon claims the best is yet to come for Cano.
"I've seen this guy hot," McClendon said. "He's getting there, but he's not quite there yet. He can do some things that leave you scratching your head and saying, 'Wow, how did he do that?' He's getting there."
And Cano already has been plenty good.