I bet you think the question the headline is referring to is: “do the Mariners decide to rebuild or stay the course?”. Well, you would be right if there was any indication the Mariners were willing to rebuild.
While it is the opinion of many, including myself, that the Mariners should hit the reset button on their franchise, the organization has shown no signs of doing any such thing. So we should assume that at the very least, the Mariners see themselves as contenders in 2019.
So now that we have that premise put into place, the next biggest question is simple: what do you do with Robinson Cano? And I’ll stop you right there. Trading him is not an option. Cano still has 5 years left on his massive contract and is owed $120 million. Cano is going to be a Mariner in 2019.
So the biggest question is in what position Cano will play. Do you make his transition to first base a permanent thing? Does he slide back to second base? Could he handle third? Or does he go into the DH spot with Nelson Cruz potentially leaving?
Let’s eliminate the 2 least likely right off the bat. It makes no sense to bench Kyle Seager entering 2019. He is due $58.5 million over the next 3 years, and nobody is going to trade for him right now. There is no reason not to give Seager every opportunity to rebound and potentially build his value back up in the rest of the league.
DH isn’t gonna make a lot of sense either. The market for Nelson Cruz will be significantly depressed, and since we have established the Mariners intend to compete in 2019, a reunion just makes too much sense for both sides.
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That leaves us with either first or second base. Either option has a multitude of tentacles that affect how this team will approach the off-season. Let’s start at first base. In the small sample since his return, Cano has struggled defensively, mainly with the picking of low throws. This shouldn’t be surprising since he is learning on the job.
With an entire off-season to prepare and learn, Cano should be more than adequate at first base. By putting Cano at first base, this likely means Dee Gordon becomes the everyday second baseman. This makes Ryon Healy the odd man out.
While it’s easy to dismiss Healy as easily replaceable, he has actually been one of the Mariners best hitters since Cano returned. In fact, since Cano’s return (August 14th), Healy is slashing .311/.344/.410. Pretty solid.
In addition, Healy is pre-arbitration with 4 years of club control remaining. He will play the entire 2019 season as a 27-year-old. Healy is currently a league average bat and passable at first base.
Giving the spot to Cano probably means the end of Healy in a Mariners uniform. It just doesn’t make any sense to have both, and trading Healy could bring back a useful piece for the 25 man roster. Or you could be trading him for next to nothing.
So if it’s not first base, that leaves second base. Giving Cano his job back at second likely gives you Dee Gordon as the CF, which presents its own problems. Gordon is an average, at best, defender in the OF and a below-average bat.
Gordon has been a massive disappointment at the plate in 2018. Perhaps his toe issue has severely limited him, but even if everything goes right, Gordon still provides no power, patience, or outfield defense.
The decision of where to play Cano will dictate where the Mariners should focus their resources on the offensive side of the ball. If Cano is the plan at 1B, the Mariners must find an upgrade in center field and move on from Ryon Healy.
If Cano is the plan at 2B, the Mariners could still look to upgrade at 1B and CF. Ideally, the Mariners add both a CF and a 2B/1B which could allow Dee Gordon to become the new super utility player.
The Mariners must know what their 2019 plan is for Cano and likely do. The decision on where he plays will affect the entire off-season. It is the most crucial question heading into the off-season and could be the crucial factor for the success of the 2019 Mariners.