In his latest piece for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal suggests that the suspension of second baseman Robinson Cano has implications that could ripple beyond the 2018 season. Dee Gordon is expected to move from center field to second base in the interim, but could remain there even when Cano comes back, according to Rosenthal. At 35, Cano would soon be tabbed for at least part-time DH duties under normal circumstances. However, one thing that’s reportedly been staving off that possibility thus far is Cano’s goal to break Jeff Kent’s all-time record of 377 homers by a second baseman (he’s 73 bombs shy), while yet another factor is the presence of Nelson Cruz in the team’s full-time designated hitter role.
Both of those factors may not be of such significant impact next season, Rosenthal writes. Cruz has the potential to depart as a free agent after 2018, and the Mariners may not be so inclined to give Cano room in dictating his position following his violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Program. Cano, as readers probably know by now, received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for a diuretic used to mask another performance-enhancing drug. That suspension will also prevent him from taking part in the postseason, which is a significant blow to a contending Mariners club.
Ideally, then, the Mariners’ objective should be to find a full-time center fielder or left fielder they can retain for multiple seasons, says Rosenthal. Such a player would effectively lock Gordon into second base for the foreseeable future, while pushing the aging Cano into a first base/designated hitter role in the latter years of his contract. Rosenthal lists Adam Duvall as a possible target for Seattle, but adds the disclaimer that the club has one of the worst farm systems in baseball and might have a difficult time acquiring the young left-fielder from Cincinnati.
On the other hand, as Bob Dutton of klay1180.com points out, it might be in the Mariners’ interests as a contender to keep Gordon in center field for the time being, unless the team can find a way to keep him at second even after Cano returns this season; a scenario that seems highly implausible with the presence of Cruz and Ryon Healy on the roster. Still, it’s hard to tell what the Mariners will do after half a season’s worth of games. From my perspective, it’s worth noting that the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline will have already come and gone by the time Cano is eligible to take the field again.
Following a series of disclaimers (including that guessing GM Jerry Dipoto’s potential targets is a “fool’s game”), Dutton lists some players who might be available at this year’s deadline, according to his sources. One obvious name is Adam Jones, who’s in the final year of his contract with an Orioles club that’s off to a disastrous 14-30 start. Other center fielders mentioned in Dutton’s blog entry include Billy Hamilton, Jon Jay and Denard Span, though on the surface none of those additions would seem worthy of forcing Cano into a role with reduced playing time.
More interesting is the pair of second baseman mentioned by Dutton. Scooter Gennett looks primed to repeat the surprise power numbers he put up with Cincinnati last season, and is controllable through 2019. Whit Merrifield, who can also play in the outfield, would be a longer-term piece and undoubtedly more difficult to acquire. In fact, I’d add that either target seems far fetched considering the Mariners’ lack of impact talent in the minor leagues.
Whatever the situation, it will certainly be interesting to see how Cano and the Mariners are impacted in 2018 and beyond. The club’s interest in contending this year and questions surrounding the roles of Gordon and Cano moving forward create an interesting juxtaposition, and it will be fascinating to watch Dipoto and co. attempt to solve the puzzle.