Cano signing raises bar in Seattle
Pairing All-Star with Felix greatly elevates Mariners' profile
SEATTLE -- Lloyd McClendon hasn't been in Seattle very long, but he could sense the excitement before he even arrived at Safeco Field on Thursday afternoon.
The Mariners' new manager wanted to walk one block in the Emerald City's SoDo neighborhood for a drink at Starbucks.
"It took me a half-hour," McClendon said with a big smile that looked a lot like those of every Mariners employee in attendance on Thursday. "That's how many people were coming up to me and expressing their joy. That's how excited they are about what this represents for this team and this city."
This, of course, is the signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who officially put his John Hancock on his much-talked-about 10-year, $240 million deal in front of the Mariners brass and his hip-hop-icon co-agent, Jay-Z, and then held court at a news conference in which he donned his No. 22 Mariners uniform and cap for the first time.
Cano is a very, very rich man now, having received one of the largest contracts in Major League history, but the strong sense during Thursday's proceedings was that the Mariners feel even wealthier.
General manager Jack Zduriencik has tried for a few offseasons now to add a star. He and the Mariners' front office went all in for Prince Fielder two years ago, only to see the slugger sign with Detroit. Zduriencik offered Josh Hamilton a huge contract last winter and watched Hamilton head off to Anaheim. Then he put together a strong package, which included top prospect Taijuan Walker, for then-Arizona outfielder Justin Upton, who used his no-trade clause to prevent a move to Seattle.
Imagine Zduriencik's joy when one of his big swings finally connected, or as McClendon put it, "hit a grand slam."
Now Seattle has proven it can lure one of the elite players of the game to the Pacific Northwest. Now, with Cano and ace Felix Hernandez in the clubhouse, position players and pitchers alike have perennial All-Stars to look up to and learn from. This team, which has been trying to build from within over some tough years, is once again a big-time destination.
"I think it can help an awful lot," Zduriencik said. "We have elite pitching and we're going to get better. But we didn't have an elite player on the field. And I think, when you're going to put that player there, if I am his teammate right now, I am some kind of pumped."
The Mariners are hoping more free agents will feel the same way, and already they added one in Corey Hart as well as trading for fellow outfielder/first baseman Logan Morrison. Meanwhile, Cano talked about being a lead-by-example veteran in a young clubhouse and imparting some of his experience from nine years as a Yankee as this Seattle team continues to evolve.
"You want to be able to feel like a family ... to be able to share information about the game, not only just come here and play the game and on Sept. 30 I go home," Cano said. "No, I wanted to come play here because I think we have a good opportunity with young talent. ... This is not just about the 2014 season. This is about the 10 years."
It's about a lot more than that.
It's about Seattle doing what it felt it had to do to re-establish itself as a place where players love to play and fans pack the stands to watch them. It's about taking advantage of the on-the-field talents and marketing and public relations strength of one of the best players in the sport. It's about using Cano's clout in all areas to keep the momentum rolling.
Seattle fans have heard for a while that the moves the club made in the winter were the beginning of good things, but this time, with this level of player and this level of commitment from the front office, it's not hard to buy into anymore.
McClendon was with the Detroit organization for years prior to getting the Mariners job. He remembered that the Tigers had lost 119 games in 2003 but signed All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez prior to 2004. Soon the team had Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, and in 2006 the team was in the World Series.
He has seen firsthand how sometimes all it takes is one player -- and what that player represents -- to help redefine an organization.
"It seemed like all it took was Pudge [Rodriguez] to come through the gates, and the big-time players followed him," McClendon said. "This seems a lot like that."