Micah Rice: Not cheering just yet for Cano

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

I apologize.

While Seattle Mariners fans are celebrating the biggest free-agent signing in franchise history, I'm the grumpy neighbor telling them to keep the music down.

For that I'm sorry. Nobody likes a party pooper, after all.

Robinson Cano will reportedly bring his all-star talent to the Northwest. For the former New York star, the Mariners will pay Yankee-level money.

But when you look at recent top-dollar free-agent signings, few have lived up to their outsized contracts.

At 10 years and $240 million, Cano's deal would be tied for the fourth largest in baseball history. That's equal to Albert Pujols, who hasn't lived up to those standards for the Angels.

The richer deals were Joey Votto's current contact and two signed by Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod's current deal is so opulent that the Yankees had buyer's remorse even before the specter of suspension loomed.

In recent years, the Mariners have pursued Josh Hamilton, Prince Fielder and Miguel Tejada. Have they been the franchise-altering players their suitors envisioned?

The Mariners' last big free agent, Adrian Beltre, made $64 million over five years and arguably didn't live up to that. For those with financial jitters, that deal was a tall single-shot latte. Cano's deal is a quadruple-shot venti.

The biggest mistake teams make is paying for past performance instead of future returns. Warren Buffett didn't become rich by buying stocks at their peak value.

Cano is 31 years old, meaning the Mariners will have him on their payroll until he's 41. Plus, he'll reportedly have a full no-trade clause.

Cano has been durable, playing in at least 159 games each year since 2007. But at a position that requires agility, only a handful of second basemen have been productive past 35.

Chase Utley played at least 156 games in 2006, 08 and 09. Since turning 31 in 2010, he has averaged just 104 games per year.

Roberto Alomar was fourth in MVP voting in 2001 at 33. His swoon began the following year, and he was finished by 36.

Even if Cano's production doesn't fall, he alone doesn't make the Mariners postseason contenders. That will depend more on Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, and Mike Zunino. The Mariners will contend if those players can form an offensive nucleus that supports a pitching staff anchored by Felix Hernandez and Hasashi Iwakuma.

The Mariners feel the need to make a splash. The team ranked 25th out of 30 teams in attendance last season. A lucrative television contact has provided an infusion of cash and the pressure to produce a product worth watching. A full wallet and the urge to impress is a recipe for poor financial decisions.

Best case, this signing changes the identity of the franchise. What has long been a remote baseball outpost has now signed the most coveted player on the market one year after convincing its Cy Young-winning ace to stay long term.

More likely than not, the Mariners will eventually regret having so much money tied up in a past-his-prime former All Star.

But if I'm wrong and Cano leads Seattle back to the postseason, then Mariners fans can party all night.