It was a reception befitting a superstar.
His picture, with a welcome message, adorned the video board at Safeco Field. A highlight video of his exploits with a rap song by his agent — rap superstar Jay Z — in the background was played. Season-ticket holders were brought in to meet him. The day even had T-shirts complete with his own logo and the words “Hello Cano.”
All that was missing was a red carpet.
Robinson Cano got the star treatment on Thursday in Seattle because that’s what the Mariners believe he is — and what they need.
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Almost a week after a verbal agreement had been finalized, the most talked-about deal of baseball’s offseason became official on Thursday afternoon when Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract with the Mariners.
“We didn’t have that elite player on the field or in the lineup,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “We needed that position-player impact guy, and we got the best one available.”
For the past few years, it’s been Felix Hernandez’s job alone to carry the expectations of a team that has cycled in lower-level impact players while trying to develop prospects.
Last season, Cano hit .314 with 41 doubles, 27 home runs and 107 RBI in 160 games. Over the last five seasons, he’s hit .314 with an .899 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He has 379 extra-base hits over that span, second only to Miguel Cabrera. That production earned him four Silver Slugger awards to go with two Gold Glove awards.
“We didn’t have the star in the lineup,” Zduriencik said. “We made a good presentation to him about this good group of guys we have and the fact that it’s time to add a star.”
The Mariners are paying Cano like a star. Only four other players — Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder — have signed contracts for $200 million or more.
“I was looking for a contract where I would just be able to play and just focus on the game, and wouldn’t wonder when I’m 37 or 38, would I have a job one day,” Cano said. “With the Seattle Mariners, I get the chance.”
It’s the second time in 10 months that the Mariners made a significant financial investment. They gave Hernandez a seven-year, $175 million extension just before last season.
“It’s a step, but it’s a huge step,” Zduriencik said. “It’s also a major commitment. I think the contract is justified. We think the value of players is going to continue to go up and it’s going to be a benefit to the organization long-term.”
The contract was significantly higher than the Yankees’ last offer of seven years, $175 million. After seeing his former team sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract, Cano wondered if the Yankees wanted him back.
“I didn’t feel respect,” he said. “I didn’t get respect from them, and I didn’t see any effort. We never got to the point they were close to committing to anything.”
Still, Cano admitted the thought of leaving New York and the organization that nurtured him into a five-time All-Star was difficult. He talked with Hernandez about the Mariners’ organization and the city.
“He told me great things about this organization,” Cano said. “He called me and said they’re going to make you feel like family. They are always going to take care of you. That’s big for my situation. You want to be in a place where they treat you like a family. You want to be with people that show you love.”
Cano got $240 million worth of love and now faces $240 million worth of expectations.
Yet he seemed unfazed.
“Am I going to keep working hard? Yes. Even harder? Yes,” he said. “I’m going to do my best and play the same way I was playing in New York and go out there and do my business and win games.”
Winning games isn’t something Seattle has experienced consistently in the past decade. Cano hopes to change that.
“I know this organization is going to put out a great team in the future,” he said. “This is not about just the 2014 season. It’s about the next 10 years. My goal as player and a person is to bring a title to the city of Seattle.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish