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The Mariners, Robinson Cano, and the short term

David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

You don't need another column pointing out how silly the Robinson Cano deal is going to look in a few years. Cano is getting paid like a star. Stars are usually worth at least four wins over replacement. Here's a list of all the second basemen with a four-win season after turning 31. Only 16 of them did it more than twice.

One of the ones who actually did it was Bret Boone. That name is included only to make Mariners fans squirm just a little more. They saw him go over the cliff at an age where Cano would still be owed about $120 million.

But all of you nattering nabobs of negativism keep thinking about the distant future. Sure, eventually the deal will eventually be the worst in baseball, and eventually the Mariners are going to sell Mary Kay just to make up for it, but that's so far away. The future never really happens, that's what I always say.

Instead, pretend that Cano signed a three-year, $72 million deal. Pretend he said he had a gut feeling about the Mariners, but they offered only three years. Pretend he dreamt of a flaming arrow pointing toward the Northwest. Pretend he sang an Eddie Rabbit song during the press conference, the full song, not stopping, even when the reporters were clearly uncomfortable. Whatever it takes, pretend Cano agreed to the three-year deal.

The talk right now wouldn't be about how ridiculous the Mariners are, how incredibly, incredibly ridiculous they are. How laughably short-sighted and unbelievably silly. How completely, incalculably foolish they are for committing 10 years and $240 million to a 31-year-old second baseman. How gobsmackingly stupid and …

No, the talk would be about the Mariners in the short term. They'd be praised for getting such a valuable piece to agree to such a short contract in his prime. And the discussion wouldn't be the ridiculous contract; it would be about how good the Mariners expect to be now.

So let's talk about that. Forget what would amount to a seven-year, $168 million player option right as Cano turns 34. Let's look at the Mariners for the next three years.

There are two ways to do it.

The names

As in, look at the names. The Mariners are loaded with interesting players, most of them young, all of them sticking around for a while. Just list them:

Robinson Cano
Mike Zunino
Nick Franklin
Brad Miller
Kyle Seager
Jesus Montero
Dustin Ackley
Justin Smoak
D.J. Peterson
Chris Taylor
Felix Hernandez
Hisashi Iwakuma
Taijuan Walker
Erasmo Ramirez
James Paxton
Willie Bloomquist

I'm sure I missed a few. It's a wave of talent that's supporting Cano, and most of the players are either in the majors or close. And the Mariners aren't done, either. Even after spending a million dollars for every Wii U sold on Cano, the M's are still looking at Mike Napoli, Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo. They can trade Nick Franklin as part of a David Price (or lesser, still awesome pitcher) deal. They're looking into Bartolo Colon. This isn't the final roster. They can still improve, perhaps substantially.

But even if it is the final roster, it's one with considerable talent that should blossom over the next three years. Cano should still be Cano during that time, and he should help them as much as almost any player in the league could help his team.

There's another way to look at it, though.

The team

Three of those names up there probably didn't impress you too much. That would be the triumvirate of Ackley/Montero/Smoak. All three were highly touted. All three had minor-league and scouting pedigrees. And all three of them have been duds, more or less. Duds with latent potential, sure. But disappointing, at the very least.

That doesn't mean the Mariners put them in a moose-scented Cuisinart and ground them into prospect slurry. Prospects fail or disappoint or come in at the lower end of heightened expectations all the time.

But if you don't at least wonder if the Mariners struggle with hitting prospects, you're not paying attention. Seager is the success story. He's a tremendous player. But he's an underwhelming success story, considering the other chances they had. This plan, this wacky plan with Cano makes a sliver of sense only if you're confident in the Mariners' ability to turn latent talent into active talent.

If the Mariners actually trade for David Price, a Hernandez/Iwakuma/Price rotation would be very, very forgiving in that respect. Montero wouldn't have to reach the ceiling he was supposed to have three years ago. Smoak could stay right where he is, more or less. Only a couple of the prospects would really have to reach their top-shelf projection to help the Mariners be a contender with Cano.

Even if the Mariners go for Colon and call it an offseason, they'll still have gobs of pitching. They won't need to score six runs a game. Cano's a heckuva head start on a lineup that can win with that pitching. And if Zunino or Ackley or Peterson or Miller or Montero could turn into a fine second-fiddle …

You just have to trust the Mariners.

You know, the Mariners.

But if you do, if you trust the Mariners to turn those interesting names into productive ballplayers, Cano on a three-year deal makes perfect sense.

After that, well, let's not sit here and talk about who signed whom to an all-time laughable contract. Seems counterproductive. For the next three years, the M's might be onto something. They just can't screw it up. All the Mariners have to do is not screw it up.

How confident that last sentence makes you feel is a good litmus test for how you feel about the Mariners for the next few years.

For people picking their jaws off the floor, please visit Lookout Landing