MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Cano ready to post Cano numbers

Mariners second baseman plans to live up to expectations

Cano ready to post Cano numbers

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Robinson Cano can finally relax. He's finally healthy. And he's finally on target to have that breakout season.

"I am healthy; that's the main goal," Cano said. "I feel good about where I am."

It has not been the best of times for Cano since he signed a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Mariners before the 2014 season. At the time, that contract matched Albert Pujols for the third biggest in Major League history behind Alex Rodriguez's two deals.

There were pressures to justify the deal that no player likes to admit but from which no player can hide.

Seattle bullpen coach Mike Hampton knows all about it. After the 2000 season, he signed an eight-year, $121 million deal with the Rockies, which at the time was the biggest contract in pro sports.

"It follows you," said Hampton, "the pressure to live up to that money. You don't make like you feel it, but you want to live up to the contract. The end of the day, you want people to feel the contract is a bargain. You have pride, and you want to prove you are worthy of it."

Two seasons into his deal with Colorado, Hampton was dealt to Atlanta, with the Rockies coughing up the bulk of the remaining money.

"You work hard to justify it," said Hampton.

And the frustrations build. Hampton was 21-28 with a 5.75 ERA in those two years with Colorado.

"I did hit 10 home runs in those two years," said Hampton.

• Mariners jump on Cubs' Lester

And if learning to deal with the expectations weren't enough for Cano, he dealt with a series of physical ailments a year ago, including a double sports hernia that he played with for nearly four months before undergoing postseason surgery to have them repaired.

"You don't want to look for excuses when you are going bad," said Cano.

Don't get the wrong idea. It's not like he was horrible. He just wasn't, well, Robinson Cano.

Cano has hit .300 in two seasons with the Mariners with a .358 on-base percentage, 161 RBIs, 35 home runs and an .807 OPS. Not too shabby, but not up to the baseline he established in nine seasons with the Yankees, where he hit .309 with a .355 on-base percentage and season averages of 23 home runs and 91 RBIs.

And Seattle, a franchise Cano was being asked to carry into the postseason, wea eliminated on the final day of the 2014 season and then stumbled to an 86-loss season in 2015, which led to the dismissal of manager Lloyd McClendon and general manager Jack Zduriencik.

Cano became a target for the cynics. But he has weathered the storm.

It wasn't easy.

"You want to be that player," said Cano.

Being good isn't good enough. Last year, Cano hit .287 with 21 home runs (second among Major League second basemen) and 79 RBIs (most among second basemen) and an OPS of .779 (fifth among second basemen).

In Cano's world, that was disappointing.

The Mariners, a popular pick to surprise in the AL West in 2015, struggled instead, and that ate at him. And, his body limited him.

Already dealing with the sadness of his paternal grandfather's death during Spring Training a year ago, Cano was the victim of a stomach parasite in the opening weeks of the season. Then, on June 18, he said he was diagnosed with a double sports hernia. Doctors Cano him he would not aggravate the injury by continuing to play, so he waited until October to undergo surgery.

"I don't want to sit in the dugout and watch," he said. "I want to play."

But the body wouldn't allow it, at least not at the level Cano expected.

"I could not eat right," he said. "I didn't have the strength. I didn't have the energy."

A year later, all is well.

"No. 1, he is healthy and moving very well," said rookie manager Scott Servais. "You get to know Robbie and you don't think a lot bothers him."

A lot doesn't.

The contract, however, did. Cano appreciated the Mariners making the commitment, and he wanted to make them glad they did it. He emphatically denies reports out of New York that he regrets signing with Seattle. Cano's decision, he said, wasn't about money, although the size of the contract became a focus.

"A lot of people said that, but you could have said I was offered more by the Yankees," he said. "They offered $25 million a year for seven years. The Mariners offered $24 million for 10 years. … When you go to a new team, you want to show them they made a good decision."

What the Mariners saw was solid. And they have not indicated any complaints.

The best, said Cano, is yet to come.

Cano has eight more years on his contract. He wants to make the most of them.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.