As the Seattle Mariners were about to introduce Robinson Cano as their new, $240 million acquisition, the most prominent of the second baseman’s representatives took a seat in the Safeco Field interview room and posed a question.
“Why is it so quiet in here?” asked Jay-Z, talking in the sort of whisper church-goers use before the opening hymn.
Why the quiet? Perhaps because nobody was familiar with the protocol of a Mariners press conference announcing a ballyhooed free agent’s arrival. It had been nine years since Adrian Beltre was lured to Seattle from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Beltre, as both a talent and face-of-the-franchise personalty, is Robinson Cano Lite.
“One of the top five players in the game,” manager Lloyd McClendon said of Cano, the former Yankees star who has hit at least 25 home runs and 40 doubles every season since 2008. The all-time list of players who’ve done that over five consecutive seasons reads like this:
“We didn’t have an elite player,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Certain clubs we play have an elite player who just makes things that much better. We had elite pitching, but we didn’t have an elite player on the field.
“His personality — who he is — will benefit everybody,” Zduriencik continued. “He’ll make the coaching staff better and the GM smarter. He’s gonna make the whole ballclub a lot better.”
It was difficult to discern who was happier Thursday — the player guaranteed $240 million or the GM who persuaded his bosses to invest $240 million.
Cano wore a non-stop smile, referring often to joining the Mariners’ “family.”
Meanwhile, Zduriencik, portrayed in a recent Seattle Times story as an operative of a dysfunctional front office trio screaming for a nickname – the Three Stooges? The Meddling Cartel? – clearly enjoyed the brightest day of his embattled tenure.
Describing the process of agreeing on one of the five most lucrative contracts in baseball history, Zduriencik made it sound like negotiating with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation reps packed the approximate stress of deciding what toppings to order for a delivery pizza.
“I told him I was J.Z. before he was Jay-Z,” Zduriencik said. “In all sincerity, it was a lot of fun.”
Turning to Cano, Zduriencik asked: “Wasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Cano.
Cano wasn’t known as a particularly fiery competitor with the Yankees, who long have considered Derek Jeter as their team leader. But as MVP of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, won by Cano’s Dominican Republic team, he showed a gung-ho edge that was a revelation to New York fans.
Will Seattle fans see any of that?
“Maybe, a little bit,” Cano said. “But I like to lead by example. I don’t want to be a guy who tells people what to do and talks. I want to be able to lead by my actions. I’ve been on good teams, great teams with veteran superstars and Hall of Famers.”
If the 31-year old Cano merits serious Hall of Fame consideration, his case likely will hinge on how he performs during the first half of his 10-year deal. The second half is more problematic for the Mariners, who’ll still owe Cano $120 million after he turns 36.
“We think he’s a guy who will age well,” Zduriencik said. “He’s a handsome guy, good looking, a guy who’s in great shape. Look at his frame. We think he’s gonna be a superstar for a long period of time.”
In any case, Cano’s acquisition is predicated on the short term. Obscured by the Seahawks’ domination of Seattle’s sports market, the Mariners’ struggle to remain relevant has found them competing with pro soccer’s Sounders for a piece of the pie.
Beyond the desultory succession of losing seasons and fired managers, the Mariners are desperate for an everyday player to provide impact on an everyday basis.
Aside from the starting-pitching tandem of Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, said Zduriencik, “we didn’t have a star. We needed a position player, and we got him.”
Concluded Cano: “I can’t wait for crowds to fill the stands. I can’t wait to see how loud it can get.”
There’s a star in the midst, Mariners fans, a star with a superior batting swing and a glove that’s among the best in the business.
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