Robinson Cano signing a win for the Mariners... For now

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

The history of second basemen is that they fall off hard after age 30, but the Mariners are paying for Cano's future to get his present. The question is, was it enough?

Every year, those of us who follow rumors obsessively get a reminder not to freak out over news like "Jay-Z overplayed his hand" and "the Mariners have cut off negotiations with Robinson Cano." Anybody who spent the morning cracking hacky jokes about 99 problems got whiplash just before lunch when the Cano agreed to sign with the M's for 10 years and $240 million, so congratulations are in order to Cano, Jay-Z, and everybody who didn't automatically assume that the two of them were idiots.

But should we also be congratulating the Mariners? This is, after all, an exceptionally long contract. It ties Albert Pujols' deal from 2011 as the third largest in baseball history, and it makes Cano one of the ten highest-paid players in the game today. Are the Mariners going to regret this deal?

Well, yes, of course they will... eventually. Specifically, Cano is already 31 and second basemen have a habit of not aging well. Here is a list of the 20 most valuable players who spent more than half of their careers at second base through age 30 since 1900:

Player

WAR <31

WAR >31

Rogers Hornsby

90.3

36.6

Eddie Collins

76.2

47.7

Joe Morgan

54.2

46.1

Frankie Frisch

54.1

16.0

Rod Carew

49.1

32.0

Bobby Grich

46.9

24.1

Roberto Alomar

46.8

19.9

Robinson Cano

45.1

N/A

Ryne Sandberg

44.7

23.0

Chuck Knoblauch

44.1

0.5

Lou Whitaker

42.7

32.1

Willie Randolph

42.6

23.0

Chase Utley

42.1

16.0*

Tony Lazzeri

41.0

8.9

Billy Herman

39.8

14.7

Bobby Doerr

39.6

11.7

Dustin Pedroia

38.1

N/A

Johnny Evers

36.2

11.5

Larry Doyle

35.9

9.5

Joe Gordon

35.5

21.6

Average

47.3

22.3

As you can see, none of the players on the list got better with age, and on average they lost more than half of their value over the second half of their careers. Based on history, it's practically impossible to project that Cano will be a valuable player at the end of his deal, let alone live up to the deal itself.

On the other hand, teams do not sign 10-year deals to get 10 years of production out of the players that sign them. Teams sign 10-year deals to get that player's production now, in the first half of that deal, and regard the unpleasant back half of the contract as a tax bill that will eventually come due. In this sense, perhaps the most important question to ask is if Cano is worth $24 million per year to the Mariners right now.

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In that vein, you will have a hard time finding a player who has been more productive than Robinson Cano over the past five years. In fact, according to Baseball-Reference, you can't. When you consider defense and positional scarcity, since 2009, Cano has been more valuable than Miguel Cabrera, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Joey Votto, Adrian Beltre, and Albert Pujols. FanGraphs pegs him as the fifth most-valuable player in the game, three wins behind Cabrera, and just behind Longoria, Zobrist, and Votto. He has also been more durable than almost anyone else in baseball (Prince Fielder is the sole exception), missing just nine games over those five seasons. So, as much as anyone in baseball not named Mike Trout, Cano is a great choice to give $24 million a year to over the next two to three seasons. He is, if healthy, likely a five-win upgrade over either Brad Miller or Nick Franklin, whichever he winds up supplanting in the Mariners' lineup.

That, by itself, won't make the Mariners into playoff contenders, and in isolation a signing like this would be a terrible waste of money. If, however, the Mariners don't stop here, using their middle infield depth to help upgrade their starting pitching, and remake their atrocious bullpen, the Mariners could certainly become a wild card contender, assuming young players like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Justin Smoak, and either Franklin or Miller build on their success in 2013. If the Mariners follow through, at least the first half of the Cano contract doesn't have to look like the train wreck the second half will.

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