Mariners hoping Cano builds off career year

Mariners hoping Cano builds off career year

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Mariners squad each day this week. Today's topic: How's your star?

SEATTLE -- Any Major League team looking to have a successful season needs its stars to perform at a high level. And the biggest star in the Mariners' constellation? That would be Robinson Cano.

So for all the talk this offseason about the numerous roster changes engineered again by hyperkinetic general manager Jerry Dipoto, the largely unspoken factor in Seattle's bid to end its 15-year playoff drought is the need for Cano to lead the way again with a season similar to last year's huge revival.

30 stars ready to shine bright in 2017

Dipoto notes that Cano had "arguably the best year of his career" while helping the Mariners to a 10-win improvement and a second-place finish in the American League West at 86-76. And indeed, at 34 years old and with seven years and $168 million remaining on his contract, it's safe to assume these are the seasons Seattle must take advantage of its best player in his prime.

At this time last year, Cano was a question mark. He'd seen a string of five straight All-Star appearances snapped after a poor first half, the worst of his career. And while Cano finished 2015 well enough to post a final line of .287/.334/.446 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs, those were vastly disappointing numbers for one of the game's elite players.

So what happened in 2016? Cano underwent double hernia surgery in October 2015, dedicated himself to an intense training program to get back to strength and then -- motivated by those wondering if his career was in decline and his own drive to succeed -- came out on fire from the start of Spring Training.

A stunning Cactus League performance carried over to a regular season in which Cano clubbed a career-best 39 homers and scored a career-high 107 runs while posting a strong .298/.350/.533 line with 103 RBIs.

This was the Cano everyone expected when former GM Jack Zduriencik signed him to a 10-year, $240 million deal in 2014. He earned his seventh All-Star berth and finished sixth in MLB in WAR at 7.3, re-establishing himself as one of the best players in the game.

The only other Major Leaguers with 100 runs and 100 RBIs last year were Mike Trout, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts. Cano now has the most career home runs of any second baseman in AL history and is the fifth player at his position in MLB history with 2,000 hits, 450 doubles, 200 home runs and 1,000 RBIs.

And Cano is a defensive standout with a powerful and accurate arm as well, an often-underrated part of his game given the smooth nature of his play.

Just how good of an all-around player is Cano? After 12 seasons in the Majors, he's already 16th all-time in career WAR for second basemen. Ten of the 15 ahead of Cano are Hall of Famers and all 15 have played more years, most in the 18- to 20-year range.

Cano has the eighth-highest WAR7 total for second basemen, which is the sum of a player's seven best seasons. All seven ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. Without question, Cano has been -- and was again last year -- one of the biggest stars in baseball.

And if the Mariners are going to continue their upward climb and finally reach the playoffs, it's all but certain that Cano will need to be leading the way with another healthy and productive season in the middle of their order.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.