Baseball players make $500,000 a year, if they're lucky enough to reach the highest level of the game. It takes at least two years, usually three, to get their first significant raise. Most that reach the majors don't make it the six years that it takes to get a big payday, and almost all of the ones that do surely don't make anything near $24 million a year.
$240 million is a stupid amount of money, really. It's enough to pay the salaries of 480 young baseball players. That, or one Robinson Cano for 10 years.
It was one of the biggest purchases in baseball history, and the Mariners have only paid Cano a mere 7.4% of the salary he's guaranteed to receive until he's almost 41 years old. And despite all the hand-wringing over the lack of power, a seemingly unsustainable BABIP, and general performance in Cano's immediate post-prime phase, he's been exactly what the Mariners have paid for.
It hasn't been splashy in a traditional sense, obviously. Cano is still only on pace for 14 homers and 89 RBIs, both of which are down from the years previous to purchase. But this isn't fantasy baseball, and production comes in many forms. What Cano has morphed into is spectacular.
In the last five years before Cano became a Mariner (2009-2013), he averaged a 138 wRC+ in Yankee Stadium, including a 142 in 2013. This year, Cano sits at 142. Again.
The power is down, but everything else is up. Cano's BB% of 9.7 is a career high, and his K% of 10.3 is below his career number of 11.8%, the lowest it's been since 2009. Part of this is respect from pitchers, as Cano is on pace for a career high in intentional walks, but production is production.
He's doing it differently than before, too. Cano's fly balls have plummeted (23.7%) while his ground ball rate soars (52.2%), both representing career lows and highs, respectively. Cano has consistently slapped the ball through holes on both sides of the infield instead of yanking bombs over the short porch in right field, and it's working. Despite the uptick in ground balls, Cano has only grounded into 11 double plays, on pace for another career low. He's evolving before our eyes, a different beast entirely but still very much a beast.
The defense has been as advertised too, as visual tests have confirmed his nonchalant hose from second base, and the metrics have been in line too -- both DRS (-1) and UZR (+1.7) grade Cano as average this year, exactly in line with what should have been expected before the year began.
Both ZiPS and Steamer have Cano's updated WAR projection at 6.1, though he's on pace for even more than that. In fact, he's on pace for 6.35 WAR -- identical to the 6.35 he averaged the previous four seasons in New York, the superstar years.
This isn't just sort of what the Mariners thought they were getting when they splashed for Cano, it's exactly what they thought they were getting. If Cano finishes with a WAR above 6.1, it will be the highest position player WAR the Mariners have fielded since Ichiro in 2004. Extend it out to the entire history of the Mariners, and the only position players to post a better single-season WAR than 6.1 are Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Bret Boone. Legends. Superstars. Bret Boone.
Kyle Seager is on pace for 6.1 WAR himself. There isn't a better infield combo in the majors than these two, and you can include the outfield if you feel so inclined, it doesn't matter. Seager and Cano are the most valuable teammate duo in the game. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma are the best pitching duo in the game, too -- a higher combined fWAR than any other teammates. Cano, Seager, and Felix have the highest teammate trio WAR in the game, and it isn't even close. The 2014 Mariners are loaded with star power, and Cano and Felix are at the front of the line -- just as the Mariners envisioned it.
The Mariners simply aren't in the position they're currently in without Robinson Cano. The ownership recognized special, adaptive talent, and ponied up the money to make the Mariners immediate players. The timing was right, and the player was better. They're not receiving enough credit for taking on such a ludicrous financial commitment.
Because that's what it is, ludicrous. We really don't know how Robinson Cano is going to age, and there will be a point in which he is no longer one of the very best players in baseball. There might be a point when he's a problem. But watching Cano change his skillset while remaining just as good as before is not only encouraging, it's astounding. He's making the kind of impact that only a small handful of players can. One of those players is Felix Hernandez. Another is Kyle Seager. $24 million to complete the best trio of players in the majors?
That's exactly what this franchise paid for.