By Shannon Drayer
Free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano is seeking a deal worth $310 million, and no one believes he will get it. Crazy talk, even crazier if the Mariners were involved, right? Not according to former MLB general manager Jim Bowden, who joined 710 ESPN Seattle's "Bob and Groz" on Thursday.
"Seattle, if they can afford it, you go get Cano," he said after pointing out that aside from the Yankees, the big-money teams most likely would stay away.
"What agents need to do is find the one team that is going to do it because Jay Z is going to make a point here and there is nothing he would like more than to get the Seattle Mariners to offer more than the Yanks and put him somewhere else."
This may or may not be true in that Cano's agent, Jay Z, is about as New York-centric as a celebrity or businessman can be, so it makes sense that for branding purposes he would want his big client in the Big Apple or at the very least in a very big market. But it's possible that his bigger priority is to establish his sports agency, and taking control of this negotiation -- a negotiation against the Yankees -- may be more important. If this is the case, if the Mariners have a true shot at Cano, how far would you go?
How much of a difference-maker could Cano be? According to Bowden, the difference goes beyond what he could do on the field. He sees this as a necessary move to set up others in the near future and cited a couple of interesting examples of what could happen.
"Scott Boras over the years put a (Jayson) Werth in Washington before they won and Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez in Detroit before they won," he pointed out. "He got those teams to overpay because it was a step in the direction of winning, and in both cases it worked."
Let's take a look at this and see if we see any similarities with the Mariners. A disclaimer first: This is far more about interesting than science.
In 2010, the Nationals finished last in their division. In 2011, Werth joined the team after being given a staggering seven-year, $126 million deal. An overpay at its finest. The team finished third in its division in 2011 and first the next year. Obviously, Werth is not responsible for all of the success, but the Nationals did score 76 more runs in 2012 than it did in 2010. More importantly, they improved the pitching. Greatly.
For starters, the 2010 rotation was led by a 35-year-old Livan Hernandez. Say no more, but take a look:
The 2012 rotation looked a little different:
The other example of liftoff after overpay Bowden cited was the signing of Rodriguez and Ordonez by the Tigers. Rodriguez signed in 2004 and Ordonez in 2005. The Tigers finished fourth in their division in 2005 and lost in the World Series in 2006.
Interestingly enough, in his introductory press conference new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said that the situation in Seattle reminds him of Detroit in 2006. Quick. Tell me which hitter led that Tigers team with a .921 OPS? It wasn't Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera, names that immediately come to mind when talking about Detroit's offense. Neither player was on the team yet. No, the leader of the offense was none other than Carlos Guillen. This was a very different yet very productive offense for the Tigers.
How productive? From 2005-06 the Tigers managed to put up an additional 99 runs in large part due to a healthy Ordonez but also because a good number of individuals from the previous year were able to increase their totals here and there. Nothing too dramatic.
As for the pitching changes:
Not quite the turnover that the Nationals experienced but significant to the tune of allowing 112 fewer runs.
One other change from 2005 to 2006 for the Tigers that is worth mentioning is that 2006 was Jim Leyland's first year as manager.
In his interview with "Bob and Groz", Bowden said he thought that the big-fish signing was important in that it could lure the middle fish (the Mike Napolis and Carlos Beltrans of the world) who were less likely to go to a team that was far from contending. The above is not really a good example of that as neither team had big mid-level free-agent signings after the marquee players signed.
In looking at those two examples, however, you see teams that took a step forward offensively mostly with what they had and upgraded their starting pitching. Improving the pitching is something the Mariners will do.
If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know I hate to make predictions. I will predict this, however: The Mariners' No. 3, 4 and 5 starters will be significantly better next year. I know I am going out on a limb, but James Paxton and Taijuan Walker will be an upgrade from 3, 4 and 5 and most likely 6 on that list above. General manager Jack Zduriencik is planning on adding a starter from the outside as well. Great. Add a pitcher, do not trade Paxton or Walker and you can pencil in (I am done with my predictions so we are going with "pencil in" here) a 100-run swing.
Zduriencik has said that upgrading the defense is a priority as well and there is a lot of room for improvement. That translates to runs saved, which you can tack on to that 100-run swing. Go ahead and add a few more for an improved bullpen as well. That 754 runs allowed in 2013 should come down significantly in 2014.
The question remains: How do they add to the 624 runs scored? Raul Ibanez, Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse, Jason Bay and Franklin Gutierrez were responsible for driving in 216 of them. It is possible that we could see Morales or Ibanez return but still that is a significant number of runs that most likely will need to be replaced. Beyond additions, how much of a step forward can you see any of the remaining Mariners take in terms of production? They obviously need help and Bowden sees signing Cano as the first step to getting that help.
"It is tough to get the short-term, mid-level players, the Beltrans and Napolis, if you are not ready to win now," he said. "If I'm Seattle, let's just go put all our money in Cano and have our three-hole hitter to build around. And once Cano gets there, guess what happens the next year? Then the Napolis and Beltrans say, 'Yeah, I will go to Seattle. With the pitching they have got at the top of the rotation?' And now it is starting to hit with Cano and (Kyle) Seager, it's amazing how quick it can turn, but you have got to have the big guy in the middle to start attracting the other star players to come there."
I have said all along that it is not all about just adding a big bat. One big bat does not a lineup make. But do you buy what Bowden is saying? How important is the marquee name? How far would you go for Cano or is Jacoby Ellsbury that guy. If you had a choice, which would you prefer? Do you see similarities with Detroit or Washington? Last but not least, if a revamped rotation could account for 100 runs, do you even consider moving one of Paxton or Walker?