McGrath: Still waiting on HOF Cano to show? Me too

Staff Writer Staff WriterMay 4, 2014 

Second baseman Robinson Cano, Seattle’s big free-agent signing, is hitting .288 this season, including six doubles, one home run and 16 RBIs.

STEVE MITCHELL/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Seattle Mariners are paying Robinson Cano $24 million a season through 2023.

During Cano’s first month in a Mariners uniform, this is what he produced in 25 games: 29 hits, one home run, five doubles, 12 RBIs, eight walks and 16 strikeouts. The second baseman also played steady if unspectacular defense, but let’s not kid ourselves: Robinson Cano wasn’t rewarded with one of the richest contracts in pro-sports history for his glove.

Back to some first-month numbers: Cano’s batting average of .296 was well above the American League norm of .252. His on-base percentage of .346 was better than the league average of .323, while his .378 slugging percentage was below the .392 league average.

On an A to F scale, Cano’s first-month grade would depend, well, on the flexibility of the instructor. Some would give him a B. Others – the nuns who used to fill out my report cards come to mind – would give him a C.

A B-minus sounds fair. Considering Cano competes against the most skilled baseball players in the world, a B-minus is all right.

Except I was expecting more from Cano than all right, and not just because of the hoopla that accompanied his arrival in Seattle. (Moments before he appeared for his introductory press conference, a kind of hush fell upon the Safeco Field interview room. Between Cano and agent Jay Z, it was as if baseball’s version of the Royal Family had shown up.)

General manager Jack Zduriencik touted Cano as an MVP-caliber position player who’d provide the Mariners’ batting order with the same star power Felix Hernandez gives the starting rotation. Number-crunching advocates of advanced statistics went even further, offering evidence Cano had qualified as a candidate for the Hall of Fame.

According to a scoring system sabermetrician Jay Jaffe developed for Baseball Prospectus in 2004 – it measures a candidate’s worthiness against those who already are enshrined – Cano ranked above such Hall of Fame second basemen as Bobby Doerr, Nellie Fox, Tony Lazzeri, Johnny Evers and Red Schoendienst.

A bit more than a month into his 10-year contract, Cano began Saturday ranked below several second basemen whose names may or may not ring a bell. He had fewer extra-base hits than Baltimore’s Jonathan Schoop and Washington’s Danny Espinosa, fewer home runs than Miami’s Derek Dietrich and San Francisco’s Brandon Hicks and fewer RBIs than Kansas City’s Omar Infante.

Cano got off to a similarly slow start with the 2012 Yankees, finishing April with a homer, four RBIs, and a .267 batting average. He ended up with 33 homers, 94 RBI and a .313 batting average.

The guy can rake. He’s 31, healthy and famously durable. He’ll rake again.

But the initial impression of Cano in 2014 is one of a high-average hitter content to go with the pitch and put the ball in play. There’s room for somebody like that on any team, especially if he’s a second baseman.

The Mariners’ 9-8 win Saturday against the Astros in Houston found the left-handed Cano stroking an opposite-field blooper for an RBI single, then driving in another run with a single to right.

Zduriencik will settle for Cano going 2-for-5 in a day’s work, with a pair of RBI, for the next five months and the nine years after it.

Still, Cano’s allure wasn’t as a Punch and Judy singles hitter determined to put the ball where the fielders ain’t. His allure was as a line-drive masher who connects for 40 or so doubles and 30 or so homers a season.

A Hall of Famer.

Cano’s transition from the bright lights of New York to the low-key vibe at Safeco Field has been seamless. He’s a pro’s pro whose natural gifts include charm, as viewers of “The Tonight Show” learned last week during a fun skit with Jimmy Fallon.

Pedestrians on the sidewalk, inclined to boo Cano’s return to Yankee Stadium, discovered that behind the cardboard cutout they were heckling was a person – Robinson Cano – and handshakes and hugs ensued. Very cool.

As a member of the press, I’m not supposed to be a fan of any player or team. (This was taught to me in Journalism Ethics 101, which I cruised through, if memory serves, with a D-plus.) But I’m a fan of Robinson Cano.

When the Mariners signed him for 10 years, I saw it as a home run for the organization, and then some: A no-doubt grand slam that crashed into the light tower, causing an impromptu fireworks display right out of that climactic scene in “The Natural.”

Your turn, Robbie.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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