Robinson Cano Was A Good Start


Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The news about Robinson Cano took the baseball world by storm, with everyone on Twitter and in the blogosphere throwing in their two cents on the signing. For the most part, the feedback seemed positive. There seemed to be a common belief among fans and writers alike that while the contract is almost guaranteed to be way too long and too lucrative, the Mariners had to do something to get back to relevancy.

Being a pretty heavy stat guy, I tend to stick to the numbers when determining value. But for the M’s, in this case, it went past that. Cano himself won’t earn $240 million, he could help attract other players who can bring value, something this team was had lots of trouble doing recently.

You could almost think of it as adding whatever value the players he helps attract bring, and adding it to what Cano himself brings. Doing so would be weird and inaccurate, but the Mariners just got Robinson Cano, so nothing makes sense anymore.

Of course, there were some who disliked the signing. Some people just screamed “OVERPAY!” over and over again, as if there’s anyone who disagrees with that. The thing is, a chunk of those people are probably the same folks who would have condemned the Mariners for missing out on all of the top free agents, and not spending as much as they should. In other words, probably not true fans.

Then there is the slightly more sensible argument that Cano is not enough to turn this team into a contender. Yes, he is a great addition, but the M’s are probably still only an 80 win team with Cano. I would counter with one word: Duh.

Even though he is often criticized, I don’t believe Jack Z is dull enough to think Cano is enough to make the M’s a contender.

Dan Hughes then had his retort, and laid out some reasons why the signing could end up becoming a bust. But the general opinion is that this was a solid move, and one that sets up more moves. Dan agrees with that in the article as well and follows it up with a preview of the Winter Meetings.

There have been a lot of names thrown out in regards to the team’s next targets, and I will get to some of those in a second. But I think it will be helpful to see the current team on paper, to get a clear idea of where it is lacking.

Below is the Mariners projected opening day roster, without any further changes, along with the average of each players WAR, as projected by Steamer and Oliver, courtesy of Fangraphs.

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I should also note that I picked three for the bullpen because it is so hard to project who will make the team, how long they will stay, and how they will pitch. Three is a pretty standard, if not modest, number for a bullpen. This also ignores the bench for similar reasons.

That is actually a little higher than I expected. Mike Zunino and Brad Miller get pretty high marks due to their position, and Jesus Montero, Michael Saunders and Abraham Almonte — the three most likely to be replaced — are all not too far off of league average (2 WAR).

You could also make the argument that the big name guys like Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Cano are being undersold a bit. The sum of their projected WAR above is over 3 wins lower than their combined fWAR last year.

Some regression could be expected from all three. Iwakuma may have over performed. Cano is leaving Yankee Stadium, and is entering a (hopefully slight) decline phase, and Felix had his second best season by fWAR. But there is certainly a case to bump all three up a couple tenths of a win, maybe to 5, 5.5 and 3 respectively.

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It also sees Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez struggling, at a tick under league average. It certainly isn’t hard to imagine two, if not all three of them pitching above that mark. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Walker be well above average out of the gate.

While some players may be undershot, others will likely not perform to their projections, so it should all even out to some extent, making the 84 win projection seem pretty reasonable.

The above projection leaves the team a good six or more wins out of contention. I would say eight wins is probably a little more likely, but anything in that general range is probably as good a guess as any. So how can the team stag those extra eight wins and make a run?

The biggest name still available on the free agent market is Shin-Soo Choo. Choo was the 2nd-best outfielder available when the winter started, but doesn’t come without concerns. He is a poor hitter against left-handers, something the M’s have already struggled with. But at this point, value is value.

Choo will conceivably receive over $100 million this winter, but I am of the opinion the FO is willing to keep spending. His average WAR projection for next year is at 4, cutting the M’s contention deficit in half out of the gate.

If Jack and Howard want to keep playing hard ball, tossing Choo a 6-year offer for somewhere in the $108 million region ($18M per year) may be the best bet to add a lot more value in a quick fashion. He may end up getting more and the M’s may still need to pay a premium, but Choo will likely be well worth it due to his historically age-proof on-base ability.

From there the options get slightly less intriguing, and more risky. Billy Butler has been discussed a lot, with Nick Franklin seeming like a suitable trade chip.

I would certainly make that move, especially if another outfielder such as Choo has been brought in. His WAR projection is at 2, coming off a down year, but I think he has more upside, and I am sort of skeptical about how WAR treats DH’s.

Matt Kemp‘s name has also been tossed around quite a bit, as the Dodgers are looking to move an outfielder. Kemp is certainly talented and has MVP potential. But his injury risks are beginning to pile up, and I doubt the Dodgers sell low.

His trade demand may not be as low as someone with as many concerns as him should be. But if a package including Franklin, but excluding guys like Walker, Paxton, Kyle Seager, Zunino and Miller gets it done (preferably with some money coming back too) then I wouldn’t hesitate to take the risk. Steamer and Oliver think he will be somewhere around 3.2 WAR next season.

The next big name the M’s have been connected to is David Price. Price is one of the better pitchers in the game, having won the Cy Young in 2012. I would certainly love having him behind Felix and in front of Iwakuma, David Price’s Market Heats Up” href=”” target=”_blank”>but at what cost?

Any trade for Price will no doubt begin with Walker, and probably even more. While Price is great (4.2 WAR projection next year) I am not sure that two years of David Price is worth that much, as I am a big fan of Walker.

However, if Price were agree to a reasonable extension — which is unlikely on both ends as the M’s already have a fat stack of money committed to Felix — or if he is the final piece to a surefire World Series contender, then maybe I pull the trigger.

Last, but in my opinion the smartest move, is Bartolo Colon. The Mariners were recently connected to Colon for the first time and I for one am a fan.

Colon may be a cheater, and old, probably kind of mean, and definitely kind of greasy, but he knows how to pitch. He has tremendous control of the zone and can get hitters out, while preventing walks. And the reason he is so appealing is because due to the knocks made above, he will probably come fairly cheap.

I think a two-year deal worth roughly $22 million has a good shot at getting him to Seattle, and while he isn’t David Price, he has been worth 9 fWAR over the last three seasons. And he is projected to continue a similar pace next year, with an average of about 2.5 WAR, again between Steamer and Oliver.

Colon is a perfect piece to bring in if the Mariners go big again with Shin-Soo Choo. They may not want to spend $15 million a year on Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez (for similar production as Colon by the way), and hopefully they don’t love the idea of moving Walker plus some for Price. He would bring adequate value to the #3 spot in the rotation, while not costing all that much, especially the way this market is going.

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If I had my way, I would sign Choo to a 5 or 6-year deal worth about $18-20 million per season, ink Colon for two years and $22 million and flip Nick Franklin to Kansas City for Billy Butler. If you add them to the projected team above, (subtracting those who they replace) you are probably in business for what I believe to be a modest 87-88 wins, with room to grow.

Just think, if some guys play up a little — for example Cano is a 5-5.5 WAR guy, Choo 4.5, Colon 3, Butler 2.5, Felix 6, etc. — you are an easy 90-win team, right there with the big cats battling for a World Series.

All of this is presumptuous and unlikely, but still feasible at the same time. The FO seems intent on constructing a winner, and they certainly have the means to do it. I just worry that they don’t quite know how, and will instead pay Nelson Cruz $45 million.

It just seems so inevitable at this point. But maybe we aren’t giving Jack enough credit, and he realizes Cruz is Michael Morse part two. Maybe not.

Regardless of that, this can be done. The Mariners can be relevant again, and soon. Its just a matter of Jack making it happen.