The Mariners have $11 million in cash they won’t be paying Robinson Cano now that he’s suspended. Smart money says they should spread it around the roster rather than focus on one replacement.
OAKLAND, Calif. — Six games down, 74 more to go before Robinson Cano returns to the Mariners lineup. And, yes, he will return to that lineup immediately.
In the days following his suspension, which stunned his teammates and much of the baseball world, the Mariners have said and done all the right things. Most important, they’ve won games despite the absence of their best overall hitter. The Mariners have gone 4-2 since Cano was suspended.
To be fair, they did that against two teams — the Rangers and Tigers — that have records below .500. But the team seems to be trying to rally together.
Mariners @ Oakland, 7:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
But this situation goes beyond being motivated by adversity, coming together as a group, proving doubters wrong or whatever cliché fits.
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How do the Mariners proceed from a roster, talent and production standpoint? The impact of Cano not being in the lineup will be felt over the 80 games. Part of what made the Mariners’ lineup special coming into the season was its depth.
They’re lucky that their roster features someone like Dee Gordon, who can capably move to second base. They were able to fill Gordon’s spot in center field by breaking up the left-field platoon of Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia and sliding Heredia to center. The Mariners’ belief that neither outfielder should be playing every day hasn’t changed. But Gamel’s recent uptick at the plate and Heredia’s competitive at-bats have helped assuage some immediate concerns.
Seattle is carrying just three outfielders on the roster with utility man Andrew Romine filling in at times for Gamel. But carrying two backup infielders — Romine and Gordon Beckham — isn’t expected to continue for too long.
Ideally, they would add another outfielder to the roster and will probably designate Beckham for assignment. But which outfielder?
Members of the Mariners front office were in Tacoma on Sunday watching veteran Jayson Werth, who signed a minor-league deal during spring training and joined the Rainiers on April 25. He’s hitting .195 with a .657 on-base plus slugging percentage. They aren’t exactly eye-popping stats. But since he has an opt-out clause in his contract that’s activated next week, it was prudent to see him in person and decide whether he might be an option.
Given his age (39) and deficiencies in the field, he’d only be a short-term fix to platoon with Gamel in right field. Realistically, the Mariners could get more from Taylor Motter in that spot. But he’s also struggling with the Rainiers, hitting .185 with a .613 OPS. The other options in Tacoma — Kirk Nieuwenhuis, John Andreoli, Cameron Perkins and Ian Miller — all have more drawbacks than expected production.
The Mariners might have to go outside of the organization to find outfield help.
With the extra $11 million they are getting from the salary Cano is forfeiting, they have some flexibility. Fans and a few local radio hosts are clamoring for Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who was once a Mariner prospect before a regrettable trade made by Bill Bavasi before the 2008 season. A former All-Star, Jones is in the final year of his contract and will be a free agent. He’s hitting. 267 with a .722 OPS. But he’s owed $17 million this season, meaning the Mariners would have to dump all that money saved from Cano into Jones or give up a major prospect and hope the Orioles eat some of the contract.
Mariners ownership wasn’t thrilled with the rental trade for Yonder Alonso last season. Jones would be an even larger investment.
That extra $11 million could be better spent by spreading it around to address multiple needs instead of dumping it all on an aging veteran.
Their frequent trade partner — the Padres — have a solid player in Travis Jankowski, who has drawn trade interest from teams because of the crowded San Diego outfield. Jankowski, a lefty hitter, can play all three outfield positions and has played well in limited time.
But the Mariners can’t buy his contract since he’s under club control. They’d have to give up a prospect and the Padres don’t have much interest in Seattle’s farm system.
The Mariners probably won’t use top prospects or a large amount of money to address that outfield spot. General manager Jerry Dipoto can get creative to find a replacement-level outfielder.
The focus should, and will likely be, on pitching. The Mariners knew they would feel the impact of not having injured David Phelps in the bullpen. But the struggles of Juan Nicasio have magnified those concerns. Throw in some inconsistencies from Nick Vincent and Dan Altavilla and it’s obvious that the Mariners need to acquire at least one more right-handed reliever — if not two. There are still the issues with lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski that need to be rectified, or he needs to be replaced. But there isn’t a lefty in the organization that fits that role.
And of course, the starting pitching could always use a boost. Basically, it’s James Paxton and four other guys. Felix Hernandez has been average to below average. Mike Leake hasn’t been quite as good as last season, which was expected. Marco Gonzales has been competitive and showed signs of being a consistent starter. At this point, trusting that Erasmo Ramirez is going to come back and be effective would be foolish. Wade LeBlanc has been better than expected as his replacement. But if a middle-of-the-rotation arm becomes available, it’s something that should be added immediately.
Cano’s suspension will force the Mariners into making changes to their roster in the near term, and it also afforded them the possibility to make more changes in the long term. But staying with the status quo shouldn’t be an option.