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Originally published December 4, 2013 at 6:33 PM | Page modified December 5, 2013 at 1:24 PM

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Robinson Cano to Mariners? Seeing will be believing

We’ve heard this one before. The Mariners are going after a big free agent. But they never seem to land them, and signing Robinson Cano would be a surprise.


Seattle Times columnist

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You might have skipped over it, with all the fuss this week over the Seahawks-Saints and Steve Sarkisian’s exit, but the Mariners are going after Robinson Cano — “guns-a-blazing” in the words of one New York newspaper.

More likely, you saw it and immediately dismissed it as just another Mariners tease. Like Prince Fielder two years ago. Like Josh Hamilton last year. Going back a few years, like Barry Zito (when that name still carried clout) and Miguel Tejada.

The Mariners have had a knack for falling just short whenever they’re in pursuit of the biggest names on the market. And this year, they’ve been linked to all of them; not just Cano, who is this winter’s premier free agent, but also Jacoby Ellsbury (who signed with the Yankees on Tuesday), Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and, via trade, Matt Kemp and David Price. Among many others.

Here’s the bottom line: Until they land one of these big fish, the skepticism over their ability to do so is going to continue to run rampant. They’re either on the verge of the biggest coup in franchise history, or peddling another dose of false hope.

I have come to believe that the Mariners’ pursuit of Cano is genuine, designed not for some sort of public-relations boost for making the effort, but rather to get him on their team.

I also continue to believe they will fall short again.

The Mariners, by virtue of their poor performance over the past decade-plus, are facing a daunting Catch-22: They yearn for the credibility and relevance of signing a big-time player. But big-time players don’t want to sign here because the Mariners have so little credibility and relevance.

The one way around that, of course, is to overpay so drastically that the player in question has no choice but to sign. Their last big free agent, Adrian Beltre, was an overpay, but that five-year, $64 million contract in 2005 was small potatoes compared to the $200 million over eight years the Mariners have been rumored to be willing to pay Cano. And it might well take more than that.

Thus, there now seems to be almost as much concern in some quarters that the Mariners will land Cano as that they won’t. The word that is most often used to describe the ballclub in their winter pursuits is “desperate.” And desperation can lead to regrettable, damaging decisions.

According to Joel Sherman of The New York Post, one reason the Yankees paid so much for Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million) is that “the Yankees came to believe the Mariners were offering eight years to Ellsbury with a willingness to go to a ninth.” It sure seems like the Mariners are trying to ensure that there is someone out there who won’t say no.

I think it’s disingenuous to criticize the Mariners for being aggressive, which is what many of us have wanted from them for years. It’s encouraging, in fact, that they seem to recognize the need to appease the fan base.

The best — and maybe the only — way to do that is by putting a winning team on the field. And it’s hard to argue that adding one of the best players in the game, whose offensive prowess is precisely what the Mariners need, doesn’t advance those efforts.

There certainly is a point at which the cost of a player like Cano would be counterproductive to their ability to build a contender, by eating up such a disproportionate amount of their payroll that it prohibits them from making other needed moves. Call it the A-Rod factor, Texas version.

But the Mariners, with longterm commitments to only Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and an influx of new television money, should have the financial resources to augment a potential Cano signing, unless the overpay is monstrous. Which it might well have to be.

Ah, but I still would be stunned, flabbergasted and flummoxed if the Mariners land Cano, no matter the magnitude of their offer. I jokingly tweeted last week that I was eagerly awaiting two milestones this winter: the Yankees announcing they were cutting off their negotiations with Cano, and the Yankees announcing they had signed Cano.

Only I don’t think it’s a joke. All these leaks about the Mariners’ all-out blitz for Cano reek of a negotiating ploy. In the end, the Yankees need Cano, and Cano needs the Yankees. Will his new agent, Jay-Z, really want his first major sports client to land in the relative obscurity of the Pacific Northwest? Do the Yankees, coming off their second non-playoff season in the past 18 years, really want to let their marquee player get away?

I won’t believe it until I see Cano hoisting his new Mariners uniform at an introductory news conference (at which time we can find out if the ballclub would allow him to keep No. 24, a sainted jersey in Seattle).

In the meantime, even if Cano gets away, I’d expect the Mariners to keep acting like a desperate team. Because that’s exactly what they are.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @StoneLarry




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