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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Mariners aware of need to build around Cano

With success not guaranteed, Seattle seeking to strengthen club overall

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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

The Seattle Mariners finalized the signing of free agent Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract in mid-December, and they found themselves on baseball's center stage.

Not that they cared. What they have in mind isn't being the focus of the offseason buzz.

The Mariners want to be on center stage at season's end.

It's what every big league team would like to achieve. It's what every team spends the offseason trying to position itself to accomplish.

And it's not easy.

Ask the Texas Rangers, who celebrated the record-setting 10-year, $252 million contract they gave Alex Rodriguez with three consecutive last-place finishes even though he played in 485 of 486 games in that stretch, hitting .305 with 156 home runs and 395 RBIs. And then the Rangers not only shipped Rodriguez to the New York Yankees, but agreed to pick up $71 million of the $183 million Rodriguez was still owed.

Or ask another American League West rival of the Mariners, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- who two years ago signed Albert Pujols and last offseason added not only the bat of Josh Hamilton, but also left-handed starter C.J. Wilson, and is now coming off back-to-back third-place finishes.

Bottom line is that it's nice to be an offseason winner in the free-agent market, but there are no guarantees of in-season success. Teams have to remain focused on making sure they have a strong foundation, not merely a glitzy exterior.

While the Mariners aren't in a position to make another move the magnitude of Cano, they have shown an awareness of needs that have to be addressed. They are continuing to kick tires in hopes of finding the answers to the questions they face about challenging for their first division title since 2001, and the first World Series appearance in the history of a franchise created out of expansion in 1977.

Yes, Cano does provide Seattle with a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman who will fill a No. 3 slot in the lineup. But baseball is a team game. There are no one-man saviors. And the Mariners know that.

They have to address a lineup that leans too far to the left; a rotation that has as good a 1-2 punch as any with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, but questions in the next three spots; and a bullpen that ranked near the bottom in the AL in 2013.

Since signing Cano, the Mariners have made efforts to find answers to the questions, although so far there is as much hope as conviction as to how the moves will work.

Catcher Mike Zunino, who arrived in the big leagues 49 weeks after signing as a first-round Draft choice in 2012, is the only holdover right-handed hitter in the starting lineup. The Mariners did sign Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison -- and they are being projected to rotate between right field, designated hitter and first base with Justin Smoak -- although both have physical questions. Morrison has appeared in only 178 games because of injuries the last two seasons, and Hart missed the 2013 season following two knee surgeries.

And Seattle is considered a likely landing spot for free agent Nelson Cruz, once his contract expectations are reduced.

None of them, however, address concerns about the defense, which can't be ignored in a pitcher-friendly ballpark.

There is potential behind Hernandez and Iwakuma in the rotation. Right-hander Taijuan Walker, 21, and lefty James Paxton, 25, are two of the top pitching prospects in baseball, but they have a combined seven big league appearances in which they have worked 39 innings, all last September. The Mariners have been mentioned as one of the teams pursuing Scott Baker, who is attempting to come back from 2012 elbow surgery, and could surface in eventual negotiations with Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez.

The Mariners have agreed to terms with veteran lefty Joe Beimel, who will provide help but won't be the solution for a bullpen in which season-opening closer Tom Wilhelmsen (4.12 ERA in '13) was replaced in season by Danny Farquhar (4.20 ERA). Seattle relievers ranked 12th in the AL with a 65.2 percent save conversion ratio (43-of-66) and 13th with a bullpen ERA of 4.31. The four lefties in the 'pen -- Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, Lucas Luetge and Bobby LaFromboise -- were a combined 2-for-8 in saves with a 4.13 ERA.

The questions are legitimate.

The Mariners are aware.

The next 10 weeks will be spent looking for answers.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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