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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Cano signing puts Mariners back on map

Cano signing puts Mariners back on map

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Cano signing puts Mariners back on map

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

To all the people who care about the Seattle Mariners, reportedly agreeing to a 10-year, $240 million deal with free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano is a huge deal, a franchise-changing deal. It impacts an entire sport, prompting other free agents to perhaps take a second look at Seattle.

Cano is one of the 10 best players in baseball and easily the best free agent available this offseason. Are the Mariners now an immediate playoff team? No, they probably aren't. We'll get to that part of the story later. But he'll make a dramatic difference on a variety of levels.

First, he's a great player, a great talent. He's the kind of talent that impacts the players around him in the lineup, too. The Mariners get better the first day he walks into the clubhouse, and he could make others better, too.

Those young guys the Mariners have counted on -- Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and others -- would benefit from his presence. Cano is a workhorse, having averaged 160 games a season the last five years, and there's a message in there for the younger players, as well. In that time, his typical season is 45 doubles, 28 home runs and an .899 OPS.

For a Mariners team that was 12th in the American League in runs last season, bringing in Cano is a significant step in the right direction. Players like Cano don't reach free agency very often, and it was always going to take a significant overpay to lure him away from the Yankees.

The Mariners haven't made the playoffs since 2001, and they've whiffed on some big-ticket acquisitions in recent years. The Cano signing sends a message to their fans that the franchise is committed to winning and spending and all that good stuff.

Felix Hernandez will remain the face of the franchise, but if the Mariners start winning, if they become a hot ticket again in Seattle, Cano will be remembered as the guy who helped them turn the corner.

OK, even with Cano, the Mariners still have some significant holes. To get back to the playoffs, they need plenty of others -- catcher Mike Zunino, shortstop Brad Miller, Ackley and right-hander Taijuan Walker -- to take a step forward.

Seattle was in the bottom five in OPS in the AL last season at five positions -- catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and right field. And two of their most consistent offensive players in 2013 -- Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez -- are free agents.

But the Mariners have so many young guys who have to improve that they're an unknown quantity. Will they be good enough to pass the A's, Rangers and Angels in the AL West?

General manager Jack Zduriencik still has some work to do, but Cano would give him the flexibility to trade a middle infielder or another bat. For instance, how would Kansas City designated hitter Billy Butler look batting behind Cano? That quickly, the Mariners have a different look.

Would Carlos Beltran join Cano? Or Nelson Cruz? Cano is a big-time acquisition, but the Mariners need more veterans.

And then there's David Price. Zduriencik has at least considered emptying his player-development bank to see if he could lure Price from the Rays.

If that happens, the Mariners would have Hernandez, Price and Hisashi Iwakuma at the front of the rotation. If that's not the best front three in baseball, it's close.

No general manager has been more aggressive in his pursuit of a splashy acquisition the last few seasons than Zduriencik. He pursued Josh Hamilton when he was the hot name in free agency. This offseason, he has cast a wide net, going for Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, among others.

By landing the No. 1 free agent, those second- and third-tier guys, the ones so critical to constructing a winner, might suddenly find Seattle a more attractive option. Cano might not be the final piece to the puzzle, but he's definitely the most important one. He might not transform the franchise overnight, but they are at least back on the map.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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