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Robinson Canó is irreplaceable

But the Mariners have to try anyways.

Seattle Mariners v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

What’s the hardest you’ve been hit by something? When I was in high school I played football, and I was matched up with a teammate named Warren for a drill. The drill was simple - both players laid down on their backs, helmet to helmet, and when a whistle was blown they rolled over, rose to their feet, and tried to drive the other backwards past a line a few yards away. I was a doughy 6’1, 260 lb freshman who was midway through his third week of football practice ever. Warren was a 5’10, 310 senior who once popped his own dislocated finger back into place on the sideline to re-enter a game. The whistle blew, I roused myself to an athletic position, and was promptly returned to the flat of my back by what felt like a cube of power slamming me in the chest and face.

As memorable as that clobbering was, the pain was dispersed throughout my body, unlike the 88-mph fastball from Blaine Hardy that struck Robinson Canó yesterday. Canó has twice been beaned by 96.5 mph fastballs in his career, but the location of Hardy’s two-seamer was as crushing for the Mariners as it was for, well, Canó’s metatarsal bone. The Mariners will be without the man who has been their second-best player by both bWAR and fWAR for somewhere around six weeks at least. Despite Robi’s recent adventures Seattle probably can’t just play four outfielders, meaning they need another 2B. Where should that 2B come from? Let’s look at the internal options.

Note: By the time this has published, the Mariners may have already made a roster move, and following Gordon Beckham’s removal from both ends of Tacoma’s double-header Sunday, he seems likeliest. At the time of this writing, nothing has been announced, however.

The minor leagues: Taylor Motter, Zach Vincej, Gordon Beckham

Seattle Mariners Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

None of these names jump off the page. Motter has shown Big League Power™ as well as good base-stealing instincts. He’s struggled in Tacoma since his demotion but his peripherals aren’t too far out of wack save for a .216 BABIP, but it’s tough to see him getting the call with a .198/.278/.365 line through 108 PAs and a 66 wRC+. Zach Vincej was one of several players Seattle snuck through waivers this offseason and spring, which is why the current 40-man roster sits at 38, with two open spots. If the Mariners wanted the best defender for the job, Vincej might be the man by reputation, but despite lofty comparisons, the 27-year-old hasn’t separated himself at the plate. As has been noted, perhaps a promotion is exactly what he needs to succeed, but it’s a tough sell.

Finally, there’s Gordon Beckham. The veteran signed a minors deal with the Mariners last year, spent most of the 2017-2018 offseason as the most recent Mariners highlight on the At-Bat App, re-signed a minors deal, tore up Arizona, was cut, then re-re-signed and picked up where he left off offensively. 31-year-olds, even those that were 8th overall picks, don’t tend to break out, but as players get smarter more are altering their training and their swings. Beckham is no different, and a generous viewer could point to his 138 wRC+ and .300/.412/.500 line in Tacoma thru 114 PAs this year as a suggestion of growth.

**rustles past Scott Podsednik and Matt Thornton jerseys to dust off 2009 Gordon Beckham rookie card** It’s time, old friend.

The current roster - Andrew Romine, Jean Segura, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon

This crop simultaneously contains the least and most interesting options. Andrew Romine won the utility job to open the season with a blazing hot spring history of MLB success cheaper financial burden great performance on standardized tests, probably. He is currently rocking a .185/.290/.222 line and a 52 wRC+, largely in line with his career 64 wRC+ and no facet of his profile suggests improvement is imminent. That he is the team’s main backup is regrettable but manageable. As a starter he is untenable.

Elsewhere, the Mariners are stuck robbing Peter to pay Paulo. Jean Segura has played plenty of second, but filling a hole at shortstop is even more difficult. The Mariners could lean exclusively into offensive firepower and shift Kyle Seager to second. That would reunite SeaBoss with the position he manned for most of his minor league career as well as 21 MLB games from 2011-12. That would mean returning Ryon Healy to 3B where he was so bad I wrote about it over a year before he was even a Mariner and recalling Dan Vogelbach as an everyday 1B. Imagining Wade LeBlanc’s horror as he reads the lineup card tomorrow would be fun, but this will never happen, because everyone involved is a coward it probably shouldn’t.

That leaves the Shetland Elephant in the room, Dee Gordon. The statement from Scott Servais wasn’t binding, but a return to second seems unlikely:

“Not at this point,” Servais said of moving Gordon. “We’ll have to see wait and see what’s best for the ball club and how long Robbie is going to be out and make decisions from there. We’ll look at other internal options at second base and go from there.”
- Ryan Divish, Seattle Times

It seems assured not to occur, limiting the fun of the hypothetical. The pros are obvious - Gordon has shown he is capable at second since shifting from shortstop after his first three seasons. Seattle is far deeper in the outfield than in the infield, and Guillermo Heredia or Mitch Haniger could shift to center field. In Tacoma, Ian Miller, John Andreoli, Cameron Perkins, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis bring varied profiles, but all could handle 4th OF work if Gamel/Heredia/Haniger started consistently.

MLB: Seattle Mariners-Media Day
10 points if you can name which of the four Tacoma OFs this is without looking it up.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The trouble is consistency. Gordon is expected to be the Mariners CF for the rest of this year, but also handle outfield for the next few years of his contract as well. For that to succeed, Gordon needs to play center field. As Mitch Hedberg once noted, the Mariners saw Dee Gordon cook and are asking him to farm. It’s tough to put down the hoe mid-season and return to the kitchen. It might be the best move in the short-term, but it’s tough to say. This also would mean three of the team’s four outfielders will have failed to ever post a league-average or better MLB season.

None of the choices are good. For all the foibles of his decline and his contract, Canó has been resilient. This will be the first season since his rookie year he’ll fail to eclipse 150 games played, and it didn’t have a thing to do with his knees. Seattle’s lineup remains a strength but their ability to carry the burden of the rotation took a massive hit today.

The Mariners got hit where it hurts, and there’s no easy solution. Seattle has no time to mope, however. The rest of May is as frail as their schedule gets all year. To remain in the hunt, they must stockpile wins now. If all goes well, Canó could be back in late June. A longer timetable sets him up a week before the All-Star break. That’d be around 30-45 games. The Mariners already needed the unexpected. Now they need it again.