MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Mariners need to add more than Cano to compete

Mariners need to add more than Cano to compete

Mariners need to add more than Cano to compete

We salute you, Seattle Mariners. Nice work. Gutsy move. People all over baseball are talking about you, and when was the last time that happened? Better yet, your fans are fired up. So light a victory cigar and raise a glass for one of the best days the Mariners have ever had.

Robinson Cano is a franchise-changing player. He's one of the American League's five best players and, at 31, is still in the prime of his career. He's the kind of elite player who doesn't hit the free-agent market that often anymore.

After the Mariners pushed hard to get Prince Fielder two years ago and pushed again to sign Josh Hamilton last year, closing this deal is a tremendous accomplishment. Again, nice going.

Did the Mariners overpay? Oh, please. Who asks that kind of silly stuff? Of course, they overpaid. That's how deals like this get done. Whatever the market value is for a player like Robinson Cano, it wasn't going to lure him to the Pacific Northwest.

This isn't about what Robinson Cano will be in 2020. This is about 2014 and 2015. For starters, anyway. His 10-year, $240 million contract is an investment for a franchise that would like to change the way people perceive it.

If Cano contributes to winning, to selling tickets and suites and sponsorships, if he raises the visibility of the club and helps bring the big crowds back to Safeco Field, that $240 million will do what the Mariners hope it does.

They signed him for all that money because they needed a jolt. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2001 and were 25th in attendance last season. They desperately wanted to change the narrative.

And so, they have.

Still, for all its symbolism, for all its attention-grabbing impact, it's a deal that makes sense only if it's part of a larger plan.

He's a great player and a workhorse, having averaged 160 games a season the last five years. In that time, he has averaged 45 doubles, 28 home runs and an .899 on-base-plus slugging percentage.

So it's easy to see that he's going to make the Mariners better. General manager Jack Zduriencik has done a tremendous job constructing a first-rate player development system, but he has learned the same tough lesson the Royals learned the last few seasons.

That is, young players don't come with guarantees. In fact, most of even the best prospects will break your heart. As much as the Mariners love Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, Brad Miller and the others, they don't know how good they're going to be.

So for a team that wants to win now -- and when you throw $240 million on the table, it's not about winning in 2018 -- there has to be more.

Seattle was in the bottom five in OPS in the American League last season at five positions -- catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and right field. And two of its most consistent offensive players -- Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez -- are free agents.

Cano alone is not going to transform the Mariners into winners. He may change the way people think of the franchise, but ultimately, only the wins and losses matter. The A's are still better in the American League West. The Rangers and Angels probably are as well.

That's why Zduriencik has to keep going. Carlos Beltran would still be a nice fit. So would Nelson Cruz. Perhaps Zduriencik takes a second look at a couple of his own free agents -- Ibanez and Morales.

If he's willing to deal his best pitching prospect, Taijuan Walker (Don't do it, Jack.), he might land David Price to drop into the rotation between Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.

Zduriencik understands this. He knows Cano is the biggest piece to the puzzle, but still only a piece. All those young players may take a huge leap forward in 2014, but that's a tough gamble.

To really cash in on Cano, the Mariners need to put at least one more experienced, impact bat -- and probably two -- around him. Because the only way Cano's signing makes sense in the long run is if it contributes to winning.

All that said, Cano is a tremendous start. Almost no one envisioned that this is where he'd end up. To land in one of America's most beautiful cities, in a place where sports is important, is about as good as it gets.

He was on his way to being remembered as one of the greatest Yankees ever. Now, he'll have a chance to be the one who jumped-started the Mariners, the guy who helped get them back on the road to winning. As legacies go, that's not a bad one.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.