The All-Star second baseman isn’t afraid to say what so many people also think: “We got a chance this year.”
PEORIA, Ariz. — Expectations? Robinson Cano isn’t afraid to admit they exist for the 2015 Mariners.
To him, there is no reason to ignore what is obviously apparent. With the additions of Nelson Cruz, J.A. Happ, Justin Ruggiano, Seth Smith and Rickie Weeks to an already strong nucleus of returnees from last season’s 87-win team, Cano believes the roster assembled is among the best in baseball.
“On paper, we look like a world champion,” he said. “But it’s not how we look on paper. We have to go out there and prove it every single day. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay healthy the whole year.”
So there is that.
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After spending his first nine big-league seasons with the New York Yankees, where the players and fans believe the playoffs aren’t a goal but a requirement, the second baseman is used to dealing with such pressure of postseason predictions.
And he believes his teammates should have an understanding of it now after falling a game short of the playoffs last season.
“Now they’ve got experience, almost making it to the postseason,” he said. “I know now it changed everybody’s mind in here.”
That feeling of walking off the field at Safeco Field last season, thinking about what could have been if they had reversed any of their 75 losses, gnawed at Cano all offseason.
“One thing I was telling them last year is make sure we win all these games that we are ahead in ninth or late in the game because we are going to need those games at end of the season, and we might need one game to possibly make the postseason,” he said. “And it happened like that.”
Cano’s first season as a Mariner wasn’t dull. After stunning the baseball world by signing a 10-year, $240 million contract in December 2013, Cano gave the Mariners the type of performance they were looking for from him, and a little more.
He started 157 games and hit .314 with 37 doubles, 14 homers and 82 RBI while posting an .836 OPS. Cano was named an All-Star Game starter, a finalist for the Gold Glove and finished fifth in American League MVP voting.
“Last year, I can’t complain,” he said. “That was a good year for me even if I didn’t hit the ball out of the ballpark. For me to stay out there and be able to be healthy and play more than 150 games, that’s what it means to me. (Because) I know I work hard. I know I do my job in the offseason and getting ready and prepared for the season.”
Beyond his individual accomplishments, Cano became a leader in the clubhouse with Felix Hernandez. If there were any questions about Cano’s ability to handle that role on a team after leaving the comfort of teammate Derek Jeter, they were answered in Seattle.
When the Mariners played their way into the postseason race in August and September, Cano worked hard to be a steadying influence in a clubhouse full of young players that had never been in that situation. It wasn’t easy. And the Mariners fell victim to that pressure at times.
It’s why any thought of coming up just short still stings.
“The only thing I want is to go back and be able to make it to the postseason,” he said. “That’s one thing I will never forget. One game makes a huge difference. Hopefully now we take our experience and go this year with a different mind(set) and go from the beginning and not give anything away and not let anyone take anything from us.”
One thing that has been taken away from Cano is a few pounds. He arrived noticeably lighter and more toned.
Cano weighed in at 212 pounds in his official physical Tuesday — down 13 from last season.
When he was playing in New York and on the east coast, the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer would cause him to lose weight. He’d start the season around 220-225 and finish at 205-210. However, with the moderate Seattle climate, Cano did not shed those pounds.
So he decided to come in a little lighter this season, something the Mariners also wanted. It should take some pressure off his legs. Cano’s goal always is to play in as many games as possible; being a little lighter should help.
The weight loss was impressive considering Cano had to take six weeks off to rest a broken pinky toe he suffered in Japan while playing for a touring MLB all-star team.
But any pain or restlessness was healed by the news of the Cruz signing. He will bat cleanup behind Cano.
The two were teammates along with Fernando Rodney on the Dominican Republic team that won the World Baseball Classic two years ago.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Now we have a guy that is going to help us win games — a guy that knows how to drive in runs, a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark, a guy that has been in this game a long time, a guy that has been in the postseason, been in the World Series. We got a guy with experience.”
That’s why Cano isn’t afraid to say what so many people also think: “We got a chance this year.”