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Mariners emerge as major players for Robinson Cano

Could it be a negotiating ploy? Almost definitely. But right now, reports indicate the M's are in on this offseason's biggest free agent.

Rich Schultz

There have been rumblings before, but now it gets real. The Mariners are in on Robinson Cano.

Up until now, we've held back completely from writing about Cano, this free agent class's premier talent. The reasons are obvious—it seemed he would end up in New York and, if by some chance he didn't, it wouldn't be because he signed his last big deal to play ball for the Seattle Mariners.

Well, the former may have changed, and the latter along with it, as an ESPN report says the New York Yankees are now "less than 50-50" to keep their second baseman, and the Mariners are legimate players:

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik refused to confirm a meeting with Cano.

"We've talked to everybody," Mariners GM Jack Zduiencik told ESPNNewYork's Andrew Marchand on Tuesday. "There's not a free agent we haven't talked to. We've cast a wide net.''

Sources familiar with the negotiations between the Yankees and Cano told that the Yankees believe Seattle might be willing to offer Cano a $200 million deal over eight years.

One of the sources said the Mariners were "desperate for hitting and desperate to put people in the ballpark."

"I wouldn't presume to say that there's no one out there that will meet (Cano's) demands,'' said another, who named Seattle -- along with possibly the Texas Rangers -- as a team that might be willing to outbid the Yankees for Cano's services.

"Now it's a question of, does (Cano) want to be a Yankee, or is he just about the money?," said a baseball insider.

This is the strongest report yet linking the Mariners to a big-name free agent, or linking Cano to a team other than the New York Yankees. Speculate all you want on the likelihood of Cano landing in Seattle, but this is big.

It isn't the only recent report tying Cano to the Mariners, either.

Just yesterday, Yahoo's Jeff Passan reported the Bronx Bombers will not give Cano a contract exceeding $200 million. It may be even lower than that, as Passan says the Yanks are "are sticking hard by a seven-year, $160 million offer that they tell executives and agents may have $15 million of wiggle room."

When things go public like this, it always feels like a negotiating ploy—and this almost certainly is in some form or another—but Passan reports the Yankees are adamant this isn't posturing. "They are not going to go to $200 million," an executive told Passan. "Period."

Still, you have to worry about these things. But here's Passan's link to the M's:

Certainly a market could emerge if Cano's price sits near $200 million. While neither Los Angeles team is intent on pursuing Cano, a cheaper Cano could excite them. Same goes for Detroit or Texas. More likely are two teams officials believe pose the biggest threats: the Seattle Mariners and Washington Nationals.

Seattle makes more sense because of a distinct need for an impact player and the financial wherewithal to do so.

Oh, and here's the Nationals GM's response to speculation:

Passan's is one of multiple Yankees-as-hardliners reports, as David King of the New York Post has the same news, and cites an "industry source" with the following: ""If [Cano's people] plan is to get eight or nine years at $200 million, that's not happening."

So does this make sense for the Mariners? The facts are well known: the M's have minuscule salary commitments for 2014 and beyond. Next year, specifically, they have roughly $45 million committed—$40 million-ish below their 2013 payroll. Though, if the Mariners were to leave payroll the same would be akin to lowering it as each team is picking up additional revenue on renewed national cable deals. This ignores the Mariners' new local television deal, which Howard Lincoln has said is in the neighborhood of those received by the Angels and Rangers, but wouldn't impact the club's roster in 2014

But does Cano care? Will he sign with whoever pays him the most? Yankess General Manager Brian Cashman thinks so:

"He loves the money," Cashman said at the general managers’ meetings. "I think we’ll have a substantial offer. Somebody might come in and have a much more substantial offer. It’s just the way it works."

We will see. When Robinson Cano signed with Jay Z to boost his brand outside of baseball, I'm sure he didn't imagine ending up in Seattle. But this isn't that ridiculous. Jay Z's other biggest client—though, for whom Jay Z has yet to negotiate a contract—plays in Oklahoma City. Jay Z also produced an album he was pushing pretty hard in 2013, only to see Seattle's Macklemore have a much better year. I'm not saying this is all that substantial, but these things matter. Seattle is an up-and-coming American and global city.

To wrap this up—opportunities like this are exactly why you build young, and hoard prospects. The Mariners have a respectable base of cheap talent from which to build on. Let's not forget, if the Mariners were to raise their payroll up to where it was in 2008, now just in the middle of the second tier of MLB teams, they could still likely afford Ellsbury, Beltran and more.

Could this all be a negotiating ploy? This is almost certainly that. But if the agents are going to the "Hey, the Mariners are out there!" play before the Winter Meetings even get here, it could be a good sign.

People have been angry the Mariners have sat idly by as other teams round their lineups into shape, but there are much worse scenarios than a number of contenders having nearly-finished rosters while all the premier free agents sit there staring at the heaps of money the Mariners are willing to give them.