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Originally published December 11, 2013 at 7:12 PM | Page modified December 11, 2013 at 9:22 PM

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Is Robinson Cano deal a breakthrough or just a break from the norm?

Paying Cano $240 million seems risky, but the economics of baseball have changed and the Mariners also should reap the benefits of their regional TV network.


Times staff columnist

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If the Mariners can muster a positive out of having their dirty laundry hanging from the Space Needle, it’s only that the embarrassment will make it easier for people to notice when they buy new clothes.

The organization has been unkempt for more than a decade. Everyone poked around the truth with theories as to why. Now, after Geoff Baker’s enlightening and damning investigative report in last Sunday’s Seattle Times, there is more clarity about the organization’s problems. The Mariners can deny those issues, but they can’t hide from them. They can only seek a new look, purchase some new threads and swear that the makeover applies to the entire franchise.

In other words, it’s a good time to introduce Robinson Cano.

Cano, the Mariners’ $240 million diversion from controversy, is ready for his close-up Thursday. He will speak as a Mariner for the first time and attempt to explain why he left one of the most storied franchises in sports for an organization that has never been to the World Series. If he doesn’t say “money“ at least 25 times, then you’ll know he’s playing coy.

There’s nothing wrong with the truth. There’s nothing wrong with Cano, 31, taking $65 million more than the New York Yankees were willing to pay to come to Seattle and make the most of his last big contract. And there’s nothing wrong with the Mariners — who haven’t had a great middle-of-the-order hitter since before Cano’s agent, Jay Z, met Beyonce — placing a ridiculous value on a kind of talent they’ve had so much trouble finding.

By now, you know not to get carried away with optimism over the Mariners. There is such risk involved with giving a 31-year-old a 10-year contract, so many different ways this deal could humiliate the franchise. But the Mariners are already a laughingstock, so why be concerned with perception?

This supposed joke of a franchise now has one of the top 10 position players in baseball on their roster. This supposed joke of a franchise has invested $24 million a year in a No. 3 hitter who should stay on top of his game for the next six years. And this supposed joke of a franchise already has the most gifted starting pitcher in baseball, Felix Hernandez, under contract for another six years, averaging $25 million per season.

The Cano signing doesn’t have to be a desperation move. It could be a breakthrough in a strategic plan to get better.

The economics of baseball have changed again. Like in all sports, it’s because of the lucrative television contract. A year ago, Major League Baseball finalized its new media rights agreements with FOX, TBS and ESPN, and those national contracts are worth $12.4 billion over the next eight years. That’s more than double the TV revenue the league had before. Split all that money among the league’s 30 teams, and that’s an extra $26 million a year that each team is receiving. For a pro sports league, it’s not quite the game-changer that crazy TV contracts have been for power conferences in college football, but it’s significant.

The Mariners also purchased a majority stake in ROOT Sports NW, giving them their own regional sports network. They’re still in investment mode with their RSN, but as Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln said in an interview in October, the RSN will eventually allow the Mariners to be even more financially competitive.

“Over the lifetime of the deal, which extends to the year 2030, we’ll be very competitive with teams in larger markets,” Lincoln said back then. “Don’t expect money to be coming out of that RSN immediately. We’ve invested millions to get started. But over the lifetime, our amounts should be very similar to our competition.”

The Texas Rangers signed a 20-year deal worth $80 million per year in 2010. The Los Angeles Angels signed a 20-year deal worth $150 million per year in 2011. If the Mariners wind up in that financial league, neither the Cano deal nor the Hernandez deal will be a burden.

With Cano and Hernandez now set to take up close to $50 million of the payroll every year, the Mariners will soon need to have franchise-record payrolls to field a complete team. Their payroll has never been higher than the $118 million they spent in 2008 on a 101-loss team. Soon, when they don’t have loads of cheap young talent under franchise control, their payrolls will need to be $150 million and above.

Salaries are a function of revenue, and the revenue should be there. So the concern shouldn’t be about whether the Mariners will spend. It’s all about whether they spend wisely. Their new threads look far better than their dirty laundry.

We always seem to be waiting for the Mariners to fail dramatically because that’s what they do best. But there’s a chance, if they learn anything from their embarrassment, to do things differently this time.

If you close your eyes and wish long enough, you can even envision them doing things the right way.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @JerryBrewer



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