Sports with Art Thiel
5:00 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Already A Cano Controversy? New Mariner Stirs The Pot

The Mariners are wrapping up their first week of spring training in Peoria, Arizona.

There was a lot of fanfare surrounding the arrival of newly-acquired slugger Robinson Cano. But KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says there was some drama as well.

New Manager Defends New Star

The controversy surrounds the strong words of new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon. He was commenting on a New York Daily News about Cano's lack of hustle to first base after hitting a ground ball.

McClendon fired back, as documented in a story by ESPN, defending the team's newest slugger, who signed a 10-year $240 million contract in the off-season.

"He gave a very salty retort," Art said. "It was a gesture on McClendon's part to put a stake in the ground to say 'Hey players, I've got your backs.' And that's what new managers do to try to establish themselves and get some credibility going. I do think it's going to blow over, but it's part of the scrutiny that will come with everything around Robinson Cano, which will be a new thing for the Mariners to deal with."

Big Spotlight On Cano

Art says this is just one example of the intense scrutiny that will come from signing such a marquee player.

"The Mariners are going to have to manage the expectations within the clubhouse and with fans and media because there's going to be so much scrutiny," he said. "Cano can avoid that trouble by running out ground balls and avoiding unnecessary controversies."

Cano Advocates For Cruz

But Cano is already making a few waves. This week, he told reporters he wanted the Mariners to sign free agent (and fellow Dominican) Nelson Cruz, formerly of the Texas Rangers.

“I wish we had Nelson [Cruz] here,” Cano said Tuesday, as reported by Sportspress Northwest. “We got a front office. They know what they have to do, and what they decide is out of my hands. I know Nelson. Great guy, and we know what he can do with his bat and in the outfield.” 

Art says Cano recognized the same shortcomings in the Mariner offense that everybody else has.

"I don't think the front office was necessarily upset," he said. "But it just adds to the pressure that the club is under to try to create a more dynamic team than the one they currently have operating in Peoria."

The Trouble With Cruz

But Art isn't sure Cruz can help fill the big hole the Mariners currently have in the outfield. He's known more for his bat than his glove.

"Cruz is a liability in the outfield in the fashion that two newcomers are liabilities in the outfield — Logan Morrison and Corey Hart," Art said. "The Mariners added these two guys for their bats not for their fielding."

"The problem is the Mariners have a group of guys who are 'go hit, no field,' and they can't hide them all in the nine positions they have," he continued. "That's what gives apprehension to the veteran Mariner fan as well as Robinson Cano."

Many Positions Up In The Air

Art says only five positions seem to be locked up right now: Cano at second, Kyle Seager at third, starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and new closer Fernando Rodney.

"Everything else is in play," Art said. "And that causes a lot of apprehension among fans, because they don't see a team around Cano that's better than .500. It might even be a struggle, right now at this snapshot in mid-February, of being even a winning team," he said. "It's really difficult for a lot of fans to grasp this team. Unfortunately for the Mariners, the cynicism built up over 10 years of failure is a big, big mountain to climb, and they're going to need more than Cano."

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You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.