On Thursday, Rawlings announced the 2014 MLB Gold Glove finalists, and as expected, Kyle Seager has been honored with a nomination for his stellar defense at the hot corner this season. Joining Seager with nominations on the Mariners this year are both Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, which kind of makes sense when you think about it, but is also, in a way, kind of surprising. It's surprising because it always feels strange to see national recognition as a fan of the Seattle Mariners, and it's also surprising because when you think about Cano and Felix, you don't immediately jump to thoughts of stitched leather and defense. And yet, here they are. So what's going on?
First...let's not fool ourselves. Their nominations make sense because one of the keys to the M's successful 2014 was precisely defense: this is a team that has been oscillating between years of Brendan Ryans and years of Eric Wedge fantasizing about dingers off the bat of Carlos Peguero, and yet they finally landed in 2014 with fewer errors than any other team in the American League, tied for first in fielding percentage with the Angels and Baltimore. Defense has been a crucial part of Lloyd's new regime, and when your top free agent acquisition came to town with two Gold Glove awards himself, you can't really be all that shocked when he gets nominated for the very same thing at the end of the season.
It makes sense because one time Felix Hernandez did this without using his glove...
...and it was exciting. But not too exciting, because it is just kind of a given that Felix Hernandez is going to do this from time to time. That makes this less Endy Chavez 2006 and more squeezing a few extra miles out of your tank with the gas light on.
It makes sense because Robinson Cano does this all the time...
...and it actually upsets casual fans because they think he isn't trying hard enough. You don't treat things you aren't good at with such reckless abandon, so for at least passing the smell test, Cano is bathed in Eau de Parfum.
It also makes sense because Robinson Cano had a .987 fielding percentage on the season, and Felix followed that with a pedestrian .973 himself. Fielding Percentage is kind of a goofy statistic, but it's nice and easy and clean: just the right kind of thing to fit in a lower-third chyron while airing award results next week. All this makes sense because they are good at what they do, and they have been good at what they do for a number of years now. It makes sense because they are Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, and that's why they have been nominated for Gold Glove awards this year. And that's exactly why it's so surprising: It's happening to us this time.
When Robinson Cano signed his $240 million dollar contract to play on the Seattle Mariners for the next decade, we all got kind of giddy imagining the dingers and the doubles, and then we laughed at those incredible shirsey-burning videos. It felt amazing, like we were being rewarded for trudging through the waist-deep mud for ten years: ten years of sending Adrian Beltres away to flourish for the other guys, ten years of knowing that Brendan Ryan is the best defender in the AL seen only by 9k people inside Safeco each weekend, ten years of Dustin Ackley and Yuniesky Betancourt bobbleheads on your bookshelf, constantly nodding in some sort of incredibly rude ritual to remind you what could have been.
It felt amazing not only because we knew that Robinson Cano was going to be a good baseball player, but also because he's a bonafide superstar, and now the eyes of the world would be forced to peer northward for once. And for better or worse, Cano's migration added an extra punch to Felix's reputation, and now the All Star game can have conversations between Mariners on media day rather than be forced to get a few snippets from that great pitcher over at the end of the table.
Well, now we have It, and It feels damn good. But It is a lot different than having a bunch of draft picks work out on a surprising $90 million dollar payroll playoff team, which always kind of felt like the way it was going to be. Now the Mariners have arrived, one-win out of the playoffs, and instead of a bunch of fresh-faced college kids on rookie contracts sleeping their way to success, they have two superstars who are going to be in constant award-season chatter, even if the Mariners fail to make the playoffs year-in-and-year-out.
Now sure, part of the chatter about the pointlessness of awards emerges precisely because we have gotten used to seeing superstars sweep what should probably be given to others. Robinson Cano and Felix have yet to win the award, if they do at all, but it feels strange precisely because...well...Cano had a -3.8 UZR this season. Fielding metrics for pitchers are even more confusing, but by fielding percentage alone, Felix was...well...13th in the AL.
They both make flashy plays. They both are probably better than their initial appearances on the leaderboards. You don't get scared when a ball is hit in their direction. But if we are being honest, we all know why they have been nominated. They are superstars, they are Seattle Mariners, and for once...we are going to go through award season on the side of tepid acknowledgement rather than frustrated flag-waving. We won't have to defend our guy that deserves it more than that obnoxious superstar, because now the obnoxious superstars are ours.
So once more, we have come to another realization that Robinson Cano is a Mariner, albeit one that took a year to develop. Someday this will all feel normal, and it's not going to take any more Gold Gloves to get to that. But what the hell, it wouldn't hurt, either.