Dipoto responded to recent comments by a former Mariners coach that Robinson Cano was the worst player he'd ever seen in his last 20 years of baseball, and that Cano wants to go back to New York.
While filling out the coaching staff and signing free agent Chris Iannetta to be their starting catcher were important Mariners’ developments throughout the day Monday, much of that was overshadowed by a story by John Harper in the New York Daily News.
The story was basically a contradictory report to former Mariners coach Andy Van Slyke’s ramblings on a sports talk radio show in St. Louis last week, when he said Robinson Cano was the worst player he’d ever seen in his last 20 years of baseball.
Harper talked to former Seattle third base coach Rich Donnelly about Cano’s performance and effort level. Donnelly was highly complimentary about Cano’s effort and performance in 2015.
Here’s the comments he made:
“Robbie isn’t fast anyway, but he could only run at about 70-to-80 percent last year,” Donnelly said. “He and (manager Lloyd McClendon) discussed that regularly. Mac wanted to rest him at times but he couldn’t get him out of the lineup.
“I used to get upset when I’d hear people say Robbie didn’t hustle. I’d say, ‘Hell, he shouldn’t even be in the lineup.’ Robbie would always tell everybody, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’
“I don’t know if something happened between Andy and Robbie. They’re both really good guys. I just know what I saw. And I’ll defend Robbie to the end of time.
“Yeah, he’s not Pete Rose going down the line. But I can name you 20 All-Stars who break it down on routine ground balls. That’s not ‘not hustling.’ Not hustling is deliberately loafing, and I never saw Robbie do that.”
But in the 14th paragraph of Harper’s story, there was this passage:
But even if Cano has had the best intentions as a Mariner, one long-time friend who spoke to him recently says the second baseman is not happy in Seattle, especially with a new regime in charge there now, and that he’d love to somehow find his way back to New York.
That little sentence had the same effects of giving 20 kindergartners a dump truck load of candy. Here’s what followed:
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this from Cano’s “friends” or “people close to him” in New York. But it’s not something that Mariners fans want to hear from a player’s inner circle — a player, who still hasn’t quite endeared himself with the fanbase.
So of course, Dipoto was asked about it on his conference call Monday. His response:
“I actually spoke to Robbie’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, who reached out to let me know that did not come from Robbie and that was not at all reflective of how he felt.
“Shortly after the season ended, I sat down with Robinson in my office for two hours and we had a great talk and I think we left with a very clear understanding of who one another might be. Since the season ended, we’ve had a couple phone conversations and texted back and forth on a couple occasions. I don’t have any reason to believe he has a problem. He has not expressed that to me. As we’re moving forward, we believe he’s going to have a strong season as our second baseman.”
While getting Cano on the phone for an interview during the offseason is almost impossible, he tweeted and Instagrammed a video today of him working out and getting ready for next season.
I am no judge of Cano’s happiness. I see him in the clubhouse and that’s it. He was far from surly. Actually, he’s one of the more gregarious guys on the team. That stayed that way this season. His poor play early, the injuries late and the team’s struggles wore on him and everyone else in there.
But he’s not going anywhere. Regardless of where he wants to live for five months out of his life during the season, nobody will take that contract. And the Mariners would never eat enough money of it to make it seem attractive to other teams.
Who or what is next?
Dipoto has been extremely active in the early offseason and it doesn’t appear he will be slowing down. He’s addressed the bullpen, catcher, center field and starting pitching. What’s his next move? Well, that’s easy — negotiations with free agent pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of offseason left,” Dipoto said. “We have not yet got to Thanksgiving. We’re still focused on the obvious, which is the potential of bringing Kuma back. We’ll continue to focus there. Also everything we’ve talked about openly since I arrived. We would like to get deeper in terms of our pitching. That is likely to happen at this point as we address bullpen needs. As we get into the month of December, we’ll determine whether that needs to come via trade or free agency. We’re not done making moves. There’s still a lot to do to get ready for opening day.”
Iwakuma went 9-5 last season with a 3.54 ERA. Dipoto has made it no secret about wanting to bring him back. But he did protect himself and the organization by offering Iwakuma a $15.8 million qualifying offer. Iwakuma rejected the offer and the Mariners will get a draft pick if he chooses to sign elsewhere. Iwakuma reportedly is looking for a 3-year deal of more than $36 million. If Iwakuma were to sign somewhere else, would Dipoto have to sign another starting pitcher or two?
“I don’t know that we want to put any limitations our ourselves,” he said. “Part of the appeal of acquiring Nate Karns so early in the offseason is that among Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nate Karns, (Roenis) Elias and Vidal Nuno, it gave us a modicum of depth behind Felix (Hernandez) so that we didn’t have to panic. We knew could go out and fill innings and now focus on guys that can get a little closer to the front of the rotation than the back and continue to build depth. Obviously with Kuma, we’d love to have him back. But we’ll address what happens to the rotation as we go deeper into this off-season, but I don’t imagine you’ve seen the last addition in terms of starting pitching.”
Dipoto confirmed that while the Arizona Fall League is over with, James Paxton is still in Arizona pitching to build his innings count. Paxton threw a seven-inning simulated game on Monday at the Mariners spring training complex. He’ll throw one more before being shutdown till spring training.
Paxton made seven starts in Peoria, going 2-4 with a 4.60 ERA. He struck out 29 batters and walked eight in 29 1/3 innings pitched, while not throwing his breaking ball at all during those starts.
“What we are trying to do is just build a higher diving board into his 2016 innings,” Dipoto said. “James is 27 years old. We are not talking about a 22-year-old who is just ramping up into innings he hasn’t pitched. James has pitched to a higher innings total in his career. It just hasn’t happened in the last two years. We’re excited about the physical upside there. We are looking forward to getting him on the mound on a more regular basis. The frustrating thing for James has been it’s all little, nagging issues rather than anything I would consider to be significant or structural. The idea for us is to build his innings up as best we can before the end of the month and then let him go home and rest and come into spring training ready to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.”
The Mariners bullpen will have a new look next season. Of the eight pitchers that made up the outstanding 2014 bullpen, only Charlie Furbush remains. Brandon Maurer, Danny Farquhar, Dominic Leone, Fernando Rodney, Joe Beimel, Tom Wilhelmsen and Yoervis Medina are all gone. Really only Furbush, Carson Smith and Vidal Nuno return from last season’s abysmal unit. The rest of the relievers still on roster were late call-ups and innings eaters. Of that group, right-handed Tony Zych displayed the most potential.
The addition of right-hander Joaquin Benoit was big for Seattle. Fellow right-hander Anthony Bass provides depth and versatility.
But if the season started tomorrow, who would be their closer?
“That’s going to be up to Scott (Servais), Mel Stottlemyre and Mike Hampton and the crew,” Dipoto said. “I’ve always maintained that the in-game is what the manager and staff need to determine – who’s going to pitch the seventh, who’s going to pitch the ninth or who’s going to pinch hit in the ninth. We can talk about it behind closed doors and come up with our best laid plans. But those are confidence roles and we’ll see where that goes.”
Smith, who served as an interim closer for a stretch during the season, and Benoit, who was the Tigers closer in 2013, are leading candidates in house. But they may have outside competition.
“Obviously Carson Smith is on our roster and he had some small level experience pitching the ninth and had an outstanding year as a set-up man,” Dipoto said. “Joaquin Benoit has had closing experience in the past on two different occasions. He’s done an excellent job when asked to do that. He’s also been an excellent set-up man. Between the two, I feel like we do have options in house. But like I said, there is a lot of offseason left to go. It’s TBD as to who will pitch the ninth inning on opening day.”