As the Mariners’ “reimagining” of their Major League roster continues, general manager Jerry Dipoto is “actively “making an effort to trade infielder Robinson Cano, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required).
The challenges in moving Cano are obvious. Though the eight-time All-Star remained productive when on the field in 2018, he turned 36 in October, missed 80 games this past season due to a PED suspension and is owed a hefty $120MM over the final five seasons of a 10-year, $240MM contract (signed under former Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik). Cano also has the ability to veto a trade to any team, which only further muddies an already unenviable situation for Dipoto & Co.
Warts aside, Cano hit .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers and 22 doubles through 348 plate appearances when he wasn’t suspended in 2018 — including a .317/.363/.497 line upon returning from that 80-game ban. Both OPS+ and wRC+ pegged his overall offensive contribution at 36 percent better than that of a league-average hitter (after being weighted for league and his hitter-friendly home park). Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating each indicated that Cano was an above-average defender at second base in 561 innings there, and he even dabbled at the infield corners a bit in ’18.
It’s more difficult to determine where Cano could realistically be traded, however. Rosenthal adds that the infielder would likely be amenable to a return to New York City, and the report even indicates that the M’s have contacted both the Yankees and the Mets about potential deals. However, the Mariners were understandably hesitant about taking on Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract and including “significant” cash to help pay down Cano’s deal, according to Rosenthal. The Mets, meanwhile, already possess some younger intriguing options on the right side of the infield and may not want to allocate substantial resources to a 36-year-old who is signed through age 40 — even one who remains a productive hitter. The Mets have a few onerous contracts themselves, but the largest among them, Yoenis Cespedes, has his own no-trade clause.
At this point, Cano figures to be one of the many remaining pieces the Mariners will look to move this offseason. Right-hander Mike Leake and shortstop Jean Segura both surfaced in reports connecting the Mariners to the Padres last week, and Dee Gordon has been an oft-cited potential trade piece as Seattle looks to pare down a bloated payroll. Arbitration-eligible reliever Alex Colome, with a fairly large $7.3MM projected salary (via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), also seems like a strong candidate to be dealt.
Trades of Mike Zunino and James Paxton have already shaved more than $12MM off the payroll (per Swartz’s projections) while also netting the Mariners a potential everyday option in center field (Mallex Smith) and their top new organizational prospect (Justus Sheffield). A deal involving Cano likely wouldn’t net that same type of immediate help to the MLB roster, unless it came in the form of an undesirable contract from another club, but would at least create some further payroll flexibility — some of which could be reinvested in the 2019 product.
Active as the Mariners have been to date, both of their major trades and even the rumored talks surrounding them have focused on bringing back some form of MLB talent. While the club may be “taking a step back” in 2019, it doesn’t appear there’ll be a full-fledged dismantling of the roster. Specifically, players like Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz, Marco Gonzales and Smith seem unlikely to be sent out, given their pre-arbitration status and four-plus years of remaining team control.