Cano met with the media to discuss his offseason, the Mariners' acquisition of his friend Jean Segura, the World Baseball Classic and more.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Robinson Cano had every reason to feel at ease and excited upon his arrival to the Mariners complex Saturday. Heck, he didn’t even mind the rain falling in the Phoenix area.
“This whole offseason it was raining almost every day in the Dominican so I’m used to it already,” he said.
It has been a drama-free offseason for the all-star second baseman. There was no offseason surgery and lingering internal doubts about whether he could be the player he once was and still wanted to be. There were no reports out of New York about him being miserable in Seattle and longing to return to the Yankees, something he flatly denied.
And there was no criticism from one of his former coaches, calling him one of the worst players he’d watched in 20 years of baseball. A 2016 season in which he posted a 6.0 Wins Above Replacement per Fangraphs after hitting .298 with an .882 on-base plus slugging percentage, 33 doubles, two triples, 39 homers and 103 runs batted in while playing 161 games made that ridiculous accusation moot and even more ludicrous.
Nope, Cano’s biggest issue was the interminable wait for the season to begin.
“I’m the kind of guy that I go back home and when it comes to January, I just want to play baseball,” he said. “You get that feeling when you walk in the first day and see your teammates and you just want to play baseball. I can’t wait for opening day.”
Cano arrived in Arizona on a private plane along with friend and new teammate Jean Segura on Friday night and reported for his physical with the rest of Seattle’s position players Saturday. The north end of the Mariners’ clubhouse came alive with Cano and Nelson Cruz making their presence known.
“It’s always good to be back and see the rest of the guys and knowing that everyone is ready,” Cano said. “It’s good to be back playing baseball.”
When Cano met with the media after his physical, most of the questions were about playing baseball. It was a stark contrast to a year ago where he had to answer questions about his health after double hernia surgery, a story in the New York Post about his unhappiness in Seattle and the comments from former coach Andy Van Slyke on a St. Louis sportstalk radio show.
This year, the most difficult and lingering question to answer might have been: How can he replicate last season’s enormous production?
“You guys know I always say this: ‘I’m not a home run hitter,'” he said. “So I would say that was a great season. I went home and kept working hard and trying to get better every year. And hopefully, I go back out there and have the same season.”
Admittedly Cano wasn’t certain he would have that kind of season going into 2016. He was fearful of how his body would react last season to the hernia surgery — his first procedure of any kind — and the forced changes in his preparation because of it.
“It’s a different feeling,” he said. “I had a lot of question marks in my head about how it was going to be after the surgery. That was my first time. And knowing that going home and all I was going to do was band exercises and not able to lift weights till January. That was something out of my workout program that I had every year.”
But after what he did in 2016, the bands are staying.
“I was able to go back to lifting weights and also use the bands because they worked last year, so you have to use them again this year,” he said. “It feels good. Hopefully I can stay healthy all season and help this team to win.”
Cano’s daily offseason workouts weren’t solo. Segura joined him. The two first began working out a few years ago. And Segura credits his monster 2016 season –a .319 batting average with 203 hits, an .867 on-base plus slugging percentage, 41 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs, 64 RBI and 33 steals in 153 games — because of changes he made to his stance and swing while working with Cano.
“He’s very quiet,” Cano said of first hooking up for workouts. “He called one of our friends and said, ‘We’d like to go practice with Robby.” I said, ‘Well you should have called me or texted me.’ He came on board and we started working with my hitting coach and working a little bit on everything. He changed the way he worked out and you could see the changes last year. He had a great season. Hopefully, he can do that this year.”
How committed was Segura to working with Cano?
“He lives like 2 1/2 hours away from my house so he just stayed there Monday through Friday,” Cano said. “And then he would go back home to see his family on the weekend.”
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Cano believes that all the work in the cage and on the field this offseason with Segura can only be beneficial.
“It helps a lot,” he said. “Now I know where his throws go, where he throws the ball when we turn double plays. I don’t have to meet him here in spring training and go out and do early work because you don’t know your shortstop. Now that he knows me and I know him, not only will be able to turn double plays, but we’re friends. He’s a great, great guy. He listens and that’s the kind of guy you want to be around, a guy you can talk to during the game and trade information. Because this game is not about one guy, it’s a team.”
Cano will be a part of two teams this year. He will be one of the main stars and likely captain of the Dominican Republic team that will try to defend its title in the World Baseball Classic. Cano, Cruz and former Mariners Fernando Rodney and Adrian Beltre led the DR to the title in 2013.
“That’s special,” he said. “There are so many Dominican players that aren’t able to play and represent their country. We won last time. That’s something when you retire and you look back, you can say, ‘We won WBC as Dominicans.’ Not only are you representing your country in the big leagues, but be able to go out there and show your country how much love you have for it and how proud and good you feel to be a Dominican.”
There has already been plenty of team trash talking between Cano and Cruz with Felix Hernandez (Venezuela) and Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico) dating back to last season.
“WBC is so short and it’s something that as a team you have to forget about who you are and you just have to go and give it everything you got,” Cano said. “It’s so short and it’s must win. You don’t have a chance to do a lot of things. You just have to go out there and win games and take advantage of every little mistake or every time you have men in scoring position.”
The same could be said for the Mariners as they head into 2017. After finishing 86-76 and just missing the playoffs, can they find a way to end a postseason drought that dates back to 2001? To put it into perspective, Cano was in his first year of professional baseball at the Class A level when the Mariners last appeared in the playoffs.
He believes the acquisitions made by general manager Jerry Dipoto have helped the team move closer to that goal.
“Last year we just missed,” he said. “We were pretty close. He’s trying to make the team better. You see all the pieces that he gets, that tells you a lot about a GM, that he wants to win. And as a player, that’s what you want. You want to come here and see a team that can go out there and compete.”
But are they close to taking that next step?
“I always feel that we are close,” he said. “Because you will only know when the season is over. You have 162 games and a lot of things can happen. Sometimes you don’t have to have the best team out there. Things just have to fall your way. Last year, we lost 30 games by one run. We had guys out there that really want to win, including myself. I want to win so bad. I’m not just preparing myself to play 162 games. I’m preparing myself to play in the playoffs.”