"There is no doubt that he is a Hall of Fame-caliber [player]. It's just a question of whether he finds the drive you need to get there. I don't think Robby burns to be the best. ... You don't see that red-hot passion in him that you see in most elite players."
Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with Seattle after spending the first nine seasons of his career in the Bronx alongside Rivera. The talented second baseman had heard about Rivera's comments by the time he got to the ballpark on Tuesday, but didn't want to discuss them at length.
"If that's how Mariano feels, then I respect that," Cano said. "I'm always going to have respect for him. I spent many years with him. For me, he's always going to be the best closer. That's how I feel. … Everybody has a different opinion so you have to respect everyone."
Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon went to bat for his superstar, touting Cano as the game's best offensive and defensive second baseman since he joined the league in 2005. McClendon also made a point to note Cano's durability and consistency over the years, as he has averaged 160 games played since 2007.
"I say it all the time -- check the book," McClendon said. "You want to see a guy's passion? I think when you play 162 games a year and you don't want to come out of the lineup, you've probably got some pretty good passion for the game of baseball."
Cano, who posted a .292/.338/.383 slash line with a homer and 18 RBIs through the first 30 games of the year, was eager to deflect the spotlight away from himself during his brief media session.
"I've got no comment on this," Cano said. "Hope you guys understand, but my focus right now is this team. I'm here, we're winning and that's what its all about. I was over there already and now I'm here. Now I'm focused on the team and I don't want to be a distraction for my teammates. Just looking forward to tonight's game."
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.