Robinson Cano came upon hard times once leaving the New York Yankees. They were not as hard times as another former Yankee — Jesus Montero — who was just released by the Mariners Sunday after being a total bust of a prospect, but they were hard.
The second he left New York, angry fans tabbed him as lazy. They said he wasn’t worth the big contract. They said he wasn’t what a “real” Yankee represented.
Judging by this spring, those tough times may be behind him.
Cano — since joining the Mariners — has been said to be in the downward trend of his career, posting consecutive “down” seasons. The thing is, they weren’t down statistically at all. His first season in Seattle, he hit .314 while getting on base at a .382 tick. Guess what he hit his last year in New York? Did you guess .314, because you should have. What do you think his OBP was his last year in New York? Did you guess .382, because you would have been wrong. It was .383.
What went away was Cano’s power numbers, which shouldn’t have been at all surprising moving from the home run friendly confines of Yankees Stadium to Safeco Field. That 2014 season that Cano left, there were 185 home runs hit at The Stadium, while just 140 left the yard in Seattle. That’s a pretty dramatic difference.
The real problem for Robbie was the fact that the Mariners surged at the end of 2014 and became everybody’s sleeper pick for a deep run in 2015. Cano of course was their highest paid offensive superstar, so he was seen as the leader of the team. Seattle won 11 less games in 2015 and finished under .500 after a season that saw them win 87 games and nearly make the playoffs for the first time since they won 116 games in 2001.
Robbie took the brunt of the blame, but statistically speaking, he wasn’t that bad by any means. He hit .287 and smashed 21 home runs, but they didn’t see to come in big situations as he didn’t drive enough people in (79, his lowest since 2008). He also struck out a career high 107 times, the first time he struck out over 100 times in his career as he made making contact and being a tough out his calling card over the years.
He had issues with his abdomen in the first half of the 2015 season, but when they finally cleared up, he looked like himself. Maybe some of it was mental, as he was pushing to be the leader everyone expected him to be, but whatever the case was, he turned it on in the second half.
He slashed .331/.387/.540 after the abdomen woes went away over 70 second half games. He blasted 15 of his 21 home runs and only struck out 43 of his 107 times (14% as opposed to 19% in the first half). That surge has continued this spring.
Cano had double hernia surgery this offseason and he is looking like a different person. A person that once wore pinstripes.
Yes, it’s only spring training, but Robinson Cano is arguably the best hitter in the Grapefruit or Cactus League with one week left until the season opens. And he has found his stride this past week, when starting pitchers are going a bit longer and players are making their final tune ups.
He’s hitting .388 with seven home runs and 16 RBI. He has struck out five times in 52 plate appearances. He hit three home runs on Sunday, driving in seven and another one Monday. They haven’t been just home runs either, he is crushing them.
A healthy Cano is a dangerous Cano. And if he can find that stroke again, at age 33, we may be seeing the next member of the 3000 hit club. He would likely have to play until he’s 39 or 40 to get there, but it’s not out of the question.
Cano however doesn’t need to worry about the future. He needs to focus on the now. And spring training or not, Cano is certainly focused. The Mariners have one of the better rotations in baseball and a lineup full of pop. In a wide open AL West that has an aging Angels team with a highly questionable rotation, an Oakland team that is retooling, a young Astros team that is looking to prove they aren’t a fluke and an unpredictable Rangers squad, anything could happen.
If Cano is healthy and back to being Robbie, the Mariners have the best second baseman in baseball. And that just put them back in contention for the division.