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Originally published March 28, 2014 at 6:00 PM | Page modified April 1, 2014 at 2:23 PM

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Robinson Cano signing is nice but Mariners still have issues

The Mariners have defensive concerns, pitching concerns, roster versatility concerns, athleticism concerns, speed concerns and inexperience concerns. Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez will need a lot of mascara to cover up all those problems.


Times staff columnist

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The overpayng of Cano, makes the Ms look a lot like the last few years of the Ichiro... MORE
The Cano signing was very splashy and will improve the Mariners. But there are just... MORE
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It’s still weird to think about it.

Robinson Cano is a Mariner. And the maligned franchise paid $240 million to bring him to Seattle.

The next thought is even weirder.

His addition might not even make the Mariners a middle-of-the-pack ballclub.

Guess $240 mil doesn’t go as far as it once did.

Actually, this isn’t about Cano. He’s one of the best five everyday players in baseball, and he’ll continue to perform at that level. His acquisition might very well trigger what Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon touts as a “golden age” for the organization, but the change won’t be immediate. The Mariners didn’t do enough this past offseason to make themselves a contender. They might not have done enough to make themselves a .500 team.

For all the buzz of the Cano signing, you still look at this roster and see too many unproven young players needing to make dramatic improvements. And for all that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik has attempted to turn around their historically inept offense, the Mariners are still just mediocre in that area, and those moderate improvements have come at the expense of a defense that used to be great.

The Mariners are a below-average defensive ballclub now. They’re decent in the infield, with a huge question at shortstop and a catcher who is still developing. In the outfield, they were baseball’s worst defensive team a year ago, and even though Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse aren’t on the team anymore, they still have major issues.

Here’s what will kill the Mariners this season: They have early-season uncertainty in their starting pitching rotation because of injuries, and they’re not blessed with a defense that can give their pitchers a lift. It’s possible they will be asked to win quite a few high-scoring games early in the year, but it’s not like Zduriencik has built the offense of the 1927 Yankees.

He hasn’t even built Cano’s 2013 Yankees lineup, which was overwhelmed by injuries. Even with Cano hitting .314 and driving in 107 runs, the Yankees hit just .242 as a team and scored only 650 runs, which ranked 10th out of 15 American League clubs. But the Mariners hit just .237 and scored only 624 runs, 12th in the AL.

It was the fourth straight season the Mariners have had a team average less than .240. It was the sixth straight season they have failed to score 700 runs (4.3 per game), a total that would still make them merely a so-so offense.

These statistics make it easier to understand why the Mariners paid Cano $65 million more than the Yankees’ reported final offer. Seattle had a desperate need, and it acquired one of the game’s top offensive players and a smooth-fielding second baseman who makes the team better defensively. In Zduriencik’s pursuit of better offense, he has seldom been able to find hitters with an all-around game. Too often, he has opted for affordable power, but such acquisitions have made the team one-dimensional.

If only he could spend $240 million on every player.

If only he could find some multidimensional talent at midlevel prices.

Instead, the Mariners signed Corey Hart to an incentive-laden deal and traded for Logan Morrison to put with Cano. Hart, an accomplished hitter in the National League, is coming off microfracture surgery in both knees and missed the entire 2013 season. Morrison, who has bad knees at age 26, is three years removed from his only productive season. They’re both defensive liabilities at this point in their careers, and only one can be the designated hitter.

Those are the kinds of short-term gambles the Mariners have made without much success, other than avoiding crippling multiyear contracts. They have an interesting salary structure now, with ace pitcher Felix Hernandez making $25 million a year, Cano making $24 million a year and a bunch of bargains, reclamation projects and young players under club control.

Perhaps they’ve set themselves up to finish the construction of a very good team over the next year or so. Certainly, when you have two players accounting for nearly $50 million every season, you must be wise about how to build around them. But right now, with a new season on deck, you see a team with a few great strengths minimized by a boatload of weaknesses.

The Mariners have defensive concerns, pitching concerns, roster versatility concerns, athleticism concerns, speed concerns and inexperience concerns. Cano and Hernandez will need a lot of mascara to cover up all those issues.

Cano strolls through the Mariners clubhouse, the coolest man in the room, unconcerned about his gigantic new challenge. Everything he does comes so naturally, from his swing to his smile.

He’s not a savior, though. He’s a high-priced superstar who gives the Mariners a chance to build something special.

You could consider the Mariners under construction, but truth be told, it seems they’re still drawing the blueprint.

A lost decade
In the past 10 seasons, the Mariners have finished with a winning record only twice.
YearW-LAvg. attendance
200463-9936,305
200569-9333,648
200678-8430,634
200788-7432,993
200861-10128,761
200985-7727,116
201061-10125,746
201167-9523,411
201275-8721,258
201371-9121,747

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



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