Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon: Robinson Cano big piece in roster puzzle

ORLANDO, Fla. — It might not be officially official just yet, but Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon sure talks like a man who plans to have Robinson Cano batting third in next year’s lineup.

Well, probably third.

“He can bat wherever he wants to bat,” McClendon said Tuesday in his interview session at the winter meetings at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort complex.

“I said in the (manager’s) office, ‘That couch over there is mine, and that one’s yours. But if you’d like to have that one, you can have that one, too.’

“He’s a special talent. Look, there is no sense in fooling ourselves. But he’s also a team player. He’s a very special and unique person. I think he’s willing to do whatever needs to be done to help us get better really fast.”

Plans called for Cano to fly Tuesday from the Dominican Republic to Seattle to undergo a routine physical examination Wednesday as the final step prior to both sides signing a 10-year contract for $240 million.

If all goes as planned, the Mariners will formally announce the deal Thursday while

unveiling Cano as their new offensive centerpiece at an introductory news conference.

“Robbie and I have talked several times since our initial meeting last Thursday,” McClendon said. “He’s extremely happy to be a Mariner. He’s excited about the upcoming year and things that he can provide.

“Like I told him, we’ll talk more on Thursday or Friday of this week and try to put our heads together on a couple of things.”

One of those things will likely be the Mariners’ plans to make additional roster improvements. McClendon got those same assurances last month in agreeing to a multiyear managerial contract.

“Do we need to add?” McClendon asked. “Yeah. I can’t be specific as to what those pieces are going to be, but I can assure you (general manager Jack Zduriencik) is doing everything he can to provide some pieces.

“I will say this: We’re awfully left-handed. When you talk about trying to balance out a lineup, we need some more right-handed presence. That is one of those things that we’re trying to accomplish right now.”

Zduriencik previously identified one or more right-handed hitters, preferably at least one outfielder, as a priority.

The Mariners, accordingly, have been linked to free agent Nelson Cruz and Dodgers trade target Matt Kemp among others. Notably, Cruz is a close friend of Cano’s.

“Some players out there, who are friends with (another) player,” Zduriencik agreed, “kind of like the idea of what’s going on (in Seattle). They may buy into it a little better.

“It creates opportunities that other players will like. They think, ‘Hey, it would be great to be out there. I love that city.’”

While McClendon welcomes the possibility of adding further weapons, he also suggests the Mariners’ returning core is better than often credited.

“We have to do more than just (add) Robinson Cano,” McClendon said. “Look, no one player is going to win a championship for you, but I would remind people that we have some pieces in place.

“We have a team that we lost 18 to 20 games last year in the eighth and ninth inning, so they were really close. I think that maturation process should help them going into next year.

“We’ve got a pretty good third baseman (in Kyle Seager). We’ve got a pretty good shortstop (in Brad Miller). We’ve got a first baseman (Justin Smoak) that hit 20 home runs last year.

“We’ve got some young outfielders that have talent. So there are a few pieces in place.”

And now there’s Cano. Or soon will be.

“Obviously that is an important talent,” McClendon said. “You can have all the managerial skills in the world. If you don’t have talent, it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Asked whether that means Cano, a nine-year veteran at age 31, is expected to be a leader to a youthful roster the answer is yes, McClendon said, but not in the rah-rah sense.

“I hope he leads on the field,” McClendon said. “I want guys who can hit three-run homers, drive in a run from second base with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning.

“Those, to me, are the guys that lead by example on the field. I don’t need guys to lead in the clubhouse. I’ll do that. I need the guys to do it on the field.”