Cano, Cruz, Hernandez – What To Do, What To Do

So here we have the three most prominent and important players currently on the Seattle Mariners.

Of the three, only Nelson Cruz is performing at an acceptable level.  Robinson Cano is in the midst of an 80 game suspension and has become a disappointment to both his team and Seattle Mariner fans.  Felix Hernandez is a ghost of what he once was, a seasonal potential Cy Young Award pitcher.

There is going to be a lot of talk of what to do when Robinson Cano returns from his suspension.  Just how much can he contribute in a 6-week stretch to perhaps get the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time since 2001?  If he does help a lot, we lose his bat for the post season since he won’t be eligible.  And if he doesn’t he takes away critical at-bats from players the Mariners will have to lean on during the stretch run and the aforementioned playoffs.

There will also be a lot of talk of what to do after this year.  I suppose an optimist can view that what the Mariners have is a “happy” problem.  I’m not so sure.

Here is what I think is the best to do for this year and beyond for Cano, Cruz and Hernandez:

Robinson Cano

Robinson Cano started 2018 decently enough before his suspension.  The 6′, 210 lbs. was hitting .287 with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s as well as playing 2B as smooth as anyone.

But right now, he isn’t the best 2nd baseman on the team.  That honor goes to Dee Gordon who, despite starting out in centerfield, transitioned perfectly back to a position in which he was a two-time All Star.  Granted, Gordon will need some days off and to have a player the caliber of Cano is fantastic.

But even if Cano goes on some sort of tear at the plate, the Mariners can’t keep Cano at 2nd because he can’t play in the playoffs.  Gordon will need to keep playing to prepare for the playoffs.

So that means Cano becomes a sub…but only at three spots:  2nd base, first base and designated hitter.

No problem with Cano playing 2nd or being the DH.  But he has never played first base in a major league game.  It shouldn’t be a problem for him though as he is a fine athlete.   But there are nuances at first that he needs to be aware of such as holding the runner, going to a different cut-off position, knowing when to stretch to help the infielders get a much needed out and the most obvious, searching for the bag on ground balls.

Ryan Healy has played a pretty good first base for the Mariners and has contributed decently at the plate, hitting .240 with 18 home runs and driving in 46.  As with Gordon, Healy will need some days off and Cano is a luxury to have.  However, I haven’t seen any news of him working out at first base and having a player learn a position on the fly during a playoff run isn’t a good idea even with the caliber of Cano.

Which leaves the third spot he can play:  Designated Hitter

Now you take the bat away from the Mariners most consistent and dangerous hitter, Nelson Cruz.

Cano and Cruz are pretty close statistically since 2015.

Since 2015 Age Avg. Hits HR RBI SLG %
Nelson Cruz 37 0.286 584 148 372 0.552
Robinson Cano 35 0.288 563 87 293 0.468

I guess the question would be is who do you want at the plate at the most critical junctions?  I’d take Nellie because he slows everything down at the most critical times.  With Cano, too often he strikes out, rolls a lazy grounder to second or flies out.  Nellie may get out but he always hits the ball hard.

The only luxury that Manager Scott Servias has is that Nellie is right-handed and Cano hits from the left side.  But there is no way I’d only use Nellie with left-handed pitching.

So what to do with Cano starting in 2019?  Not going to be able to trade him as is contract is too huge.  Mariners would have to pay him to play elsewhere and get little in return.  And if they release him, he still gets paid as his contract is guaranteed.

The most obvious choice would be move him to first providing Cruz signs next year.  But then you lose Ryan Healy who will be only 27 next year, has proven he can come up with some big hits as well as play a good first base at a fraction of the cost.  However, you could get a pitcher of value for Healy in a trade but in my estimation, you lose a superior first baseman over Cano…and with Cano a decade older, he will most likely start declining in production at the plate.

As stated before, Dee Gordon is the best 2nd baseman on the team.  He is six years younger than Cano, has far better range and has the knack for coming up with spectacular plays.  As far as offensive output, Gordon contributes way differently than Cano.  He steals bases and scores runs…he is a prototypical lead-off hitter whereas Cano is a typical 3-hole hitter who drives him in.

The edge goes to Gordon as the 2nd baseman for the Mariners based solely on his defensive skills and the fact he is six years younger than Cano.

Sorry folks, Robinson Cano’s days at 2nd base are over.

If Cruz does not sign next year, Cano becomes the DH, case closed.  But in my opinion, if the Mariners don’t sign Cruz, they are out of their fricking minds.

So Cano will either be the starting first baseman or the designated hitter for the next five years.

Nelson Cruz

Granted, Cruz is 37 years old.  But he has kept himself in fantastic shape and has remained consistent at the plate since joining the Mariners in 2015.

He is the most clutch hitter the Mariners have had since Edgar Martinez.  And don’t think that Cruz hasn’t picked the best designated hitter on the planet for all he’s worth.

Nelson Cruz is always prepared.  His exercise regime is borderline neurotic.  Check out this story from the Seattle Times for insight on his workouts:  Nelson Cruz Workouts.

The only blight on Cruz’s remarkable career was a 50 game suspension for his connection with the Biogenisis PED scandal in his last year with the Texas Rangers which also involved Alex Rodrigues and Jesus Montero.  Cruz has never tested positive for PED and accepted a 50 game suspension in lieu of a 100 game suspension after MLB had threatened to out him.

What is not generally known is that for the most part, the reason was medical and not a way to increase performance.  In 2012, Cruz had lost about 40 lbs. with no explanation.  Doctors couldn’t find out what was going on until they had discovered a parasite and doctor’s prescribed steroids to resolve the issue.  The full story can be found here, courtesy of the Seattle Times:  Cruz PED Suspension

Outside of that one “transgression,”  Cruz has been an exemplary player and teammate.  The Mariners would do well to sign him to a two-year contract and let him finish his career as a Mariner.

Unfortunately, if that occurs, Ryan Healy will be the odd man out as Cano would most likely become the everyday first baseman.

Felix Hernandez

One thing that almost everyone can agree upon is that Felix Hernandez is not the pitcher he once was.

I know that both GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have said that Felix is a vital part of the Seattle Mariners.  However, I think that is more for Felix’s benefit than it is for us fans.

Everyone lays some importance to statistics and I agree that they tell part of the story.  For instance, from 2005-2014, Felix complied a 125-92 record with a 3.10 ERA.  And he pitched for some pretty awful Seattle Mariner teams, most notably the 2010 season where the Mariners lost 101 games and the 2011 team that posted a 67-95 record.

Place Hernandez with the Boston Red Sox in that same time frame and everyone would be talking about Hernandez as a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.  He probably would have won 20 games at least 3 times and been in the post season within the first 3 seasons of his career.

But if there is one redeeming quality about Hernandez is the loyalty that he has shown the Mariners and they rewarded him in 2013 with a 7 year, $175 million dollar contract.  He has never wanted to be with any other team other than the Mariners and, at the time, it was one of the best things the Mariners could have done.

The only thing that the Mariners haven’t done for him is get him to the post season, something he could have easily accomplished since most likely, if had decided to go elsewhere, it would have been with a contender.

Felix’s contract is up next year.  And quite honestly, he is no longer the ace of the staff.  That belongs to James Paxton who has deferred to King Felix and rightfully so.

In fact, if the Mariners do re-sign him, it would have to be at a reduced rate and he would have to accept that he might be, at best, a number 3 or 4 starter.

No one can discount that Felix has given the Mariners everything he’s had for the past 14 years.  But at age 32, he is starting to break down and has had trouble getting out of the first inning of games.  He is not the strike-out artist that he once was (Side note here:  To all those in the King’s Court, please stop yelling “K,K,K,K” every time he get’s 2 strikes on a batter.  It only encourages him to do something he can no longer do:  Blow a fastball past a hitter) and has resisted changing his ways in order to extend his career.

Both Felix and Seattle Mariners fans need to face reality.  Felix is, at best, a number 3 starter.  And with the extension given Wade LeBlanc, I see the starting rotation for next year to be:

  1. James Paxton
  2. Marco Gonzales
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Wade LeBlanc
  5. Mike Leake

Even if the Mariners let him walk away, there is no way he’ll be the Ace of the staff again.

Seattle Mariners have some tough choices when Cano comes back from his suspension and ever tougher ones starting in 2019.

Let’s hope they make the right choices.

 

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