Robinson Cano sat at Safeco Field with music mogul Jay Z nearby. They arrived in Seattle that mid-December day in 2013 after completing Cano’s mega deal of 10 years, $240 million to leave the New York Yankees for the Seattle Mariners.
The presumed future Hall of Fame second baseman was supposed to change Seattle baseball and its national perception. He’d be the one. Of all the Mariners’ horrendous trades and free-agent signings since their last playoff appearance in that 116-win 2001 campaign, Cano would be different.
Five years later, the Mariners had to include star closer Edwin Diaz and $20 million just to part with the rest of Cano’s massive contract.
Oh, and the Mariners still haven’t made the playoffs, and they aren’t expecting to until at least 2020, but probably more like 2021.
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That’s the reality of an agreed-to blockbuster trade, according to multiple reports, between the Mariners and Mets on Saturday after rumors swirled the last couple of days. Cano returns to New York where he played nine seasons for the Yankees, only this time without pinstripes, and he’s accompanied by the 24-year-old Diaz.
The Mariners have not yet officially announced the trade and aren’t expected to until Monday. Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports first reported the agreement and MLB Network’s Jon Morosi confirmed it.
The deal is pending physicals. Morosi also reported that Cano agreed to waive his no-trade clause.
In return, the Mariners receive 31-year-old outfielder Jay Bruce (far removed from his three All-Star appearances) and 33-year-old right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak. But the real Mariners’ prizes are three prospects: outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-handed pitchers Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista.
Kelenic was the key. He’s 19, the Mets drafted him sixth overall in June and he’s the No. 69 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list. One New York columnist said two scouts told him the Mets were making a big mistake trading Kelenic to the Mariners.
“He’s still young, but he has a chance to be a superstar,” one scout said.
But that’s just a chance. Diaz already is a superstar. Cano isn’t anymore, but he’s still a very productive player even though he just turned 36.
Here she what we know about the agreement:
▪ Robinson Cano: Five years, $120 million
▪ Edwin Diaz: league minimum through 2019 (club control through 2022).
▪ $20 million in cash considerations.
▪ Jay Bruce: Two years, $26 million
▪ Anthony Swarzak: One year, $8 million
▪ Prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista.
So here’s now the reality of the Mariners going forward:
No more Cano.
No more Sugar.
No more Nelson Cruz.
No more James Paxton.
No more Mike Zunino.
No more Denard Span.
No more Alex Colome.
And expect more moves to come.
The Mariners have reportedly been working on multiple other deals, including talks of trading Jean Segura to the Phillies, to go with Friday’s trading of Colome to the White Sox for catcher Omar Narvaez. Seattle could presumably now be trying to offload Bruce and Swarzak onto other clubs.
Segura has already been discussed in multiple deals, including one with the Padres that would have sent him and right-hander Mike Leake to San Diego. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted a quote from a rival team executive Thursday who said between talking to teams about Cano, Diaz, Segura and others, “(the Mariners) seem to have 100 deals in the works.”
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has said that 2019 would be a step back, and they’re shooting for contention in 2020 or 2021 to end the longest active postseason drought in the major North American professional sports.
Except the way this is shaping out it’s not just a step back for the Mariners. It looks much closer to tearing down to the studs.
Dipoto cited multiple times in this young offseason that their new core was going to center around Diaz, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales and that it would require a deal way too good to pass up if they were going to move any of them.
But the reality is that closers can lose their value as fast as they attain it, and it’s unlikely Diaz is going to be much better than his dominant 2018, using his 100-mph fastball and filthy slider combination to save 57 games with a 1.96 ERA. Only Francisco Rodriguez’s 62-save season in 2008 with the Angels saw more saves in one season than Diaz this year.
Here’s the catch – it wasn’t enough.
The Mariners still fell short of the playoffs despite heavily relying on Diaz and winning 89 games. Diaz did that while making the major league minimum, which he’ll earn again in 2019.
Diaz’s cheap contract, club control and superstar talent meant he was packed with trade value. But his value is likely not ever going to be higher than it was for the Mariners this offseason, and Dipoto company used that leverage to package it with the five years and $120 million remaining on Cano’s contract.
It’s not hard to argue that the Mariners could have received more in a deal that packaged Diaz on his own than pairing him with Cano just to shed salary. Multiple reports said the Phillies were at least one team vying for Diaz.
But Cano came with other issues that made some wonder if dealing him would be Trader Jerry’s most difficult trade ever. Some of those included that he just turned 36, he might be more of a first baseman than a second baseman these days (even if he doesn’t agree), he has a full no-trade clause and he is coming off an 80-game suspension for violating MLB’s joint drug and prevention program when he tested positive for a diuretic.
But if any GM could see the value in Cano, it would be the Mets’ new hire. Brodie Van Wagenen represented Cano, alongside Jay Z, as his agent when Cano signed that giant contract and spurned the Yankees for the Mariners.
At the time, only Alex Rodriguez and Joey Votto had ever signed more lucrative contracts in baseball history than Cano. It equaled the one Albert Pujols signed with the Angels for.
Cano’s production says he earned that contract, too. He hit .296/.353/.472 in his five seasons in Seattle, and only Jose Altuve, Charlie Blackmon, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt and Freddie Freeman have matched that slash line in that span. He made his eighth All-Star appearance in 2017 and was the game MVP.
He’s also a two-time Gold Glove winner, five-time Sliver Slugger and before the drug suspension Cano seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.
Cano returned from his suspension on Aug. 14 and batted .317/.363/.497 in the Mariners’ final 41 games – even though the rest of Seattle’s offense darted for the cellar.
Those close to Cano said a return to New York, either to the Mets or Yankees, was one of the few places Cano would waive his no-trade clause for, according to multiple reports.
So gone is his million-dollar smile and always-polite attitude. Cano said at his introductory press conference with the Mariners after then-GM Jack Zduriencik signed him that he never envisioned leaving New York. Now he gets to go back, even if it’s not to wear pinstripes.
The Mariners have now added some of the biggest prospects both the New York clubs had to offer. They already acquired Yankees’ top prospect Justus Sheffield, a left-handed starter acquired in the Paxton trade.
Before that they picked up 26-year-old emerging outfielder Mallex Smith from the Rays as part of the deal that shipped Zunino out of Seattle. Now they add Kelenic and Dunn to a farm system that was ranked the worst in baseball heading into 2018.
Now they add Kelenic to a crop of outfield prospects that already included 17-year-old Julio Rodriguez, 23-year-old former first-round pick Kyle Lewis, and 21-year-old Josh Stowers, who was the Mariners’ second-round pick in June, and 25-year-old Braden Bishop, a third-round pick out of UW.
Kelenic was the No. 3 prospect in the Mets’ organization, as ranked by Baseball America, and Dunn was No. 5.
“He’s universally considered one of the best pure hitters in the (Draft) class, with good feel for the strike zone and a mechanically-sound swing that he repeats well,” John Sickels wrote for Minor League Ball shortly before Kelenic was drafted. “His hitting skills are quite polished, especially for a cold-weather bat.”
Dunn reached Double-A ball last season and had a 3.59 ERA with 156 strikeouts in 135 1/3 innings over the 2018 minor league season. He’s 23 and was the 19th overall pick in 2016. Bautista is also 23 and made his major league debut with the Mets in relief, allowing six runs in 4 1/3 innings. He spent most of the season with Triple-A Las Vegas and had a 5.22 ERA in 31 appearances (but also 54 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.
The only player making more than $20 million on the Mariners’ books currently for next season now is Felix Hernandez ($27 million), and he’ll be a free agent after 2019. Kyle Seager will make $19.5 million and is under contract through 2021 with an option for 2022.