MLB hot stove: Making sense of Robinson Cano rumors as the Mariners and Mets continue to talk

The Seattle Mariners are in rebuilding mode. GM Jerry Dipoto made that crystal clear when he traded catcher Mike Zunino to the Rays and staff ace James Paxton to the Yankees earlier this offseason. Shortstop Jean Segura has popped up in plenty of trade rumors as well. I can't imagine Dipoto is done dealing for the winter.

Meanwhile, the New York Mets insist they want to contend in 2019 despite going 77-85 in 2018. They have the makings of a dominant rotation (Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz), but need help in the lineup and bullpen. Squint your eyes and the Mets are a few moves away from the postseason race.

The Mariners and Mets reportedly talked about a Robinson Cano trade earlier this offseason and it's no surprise Dipoto wants to move him. Cano turned 36 last month and he's owed $120 million from 2019-23. As productive as he was this past season (136 OPS+), there's a pretty good chance those next five seasons are heavy decline years.

According to SNY's Andy Martino, the Mariners and Mets have continued to discuss a possible Cano trade. Here's the latest from Martino:

Per major league sources, here are the basic parameters of what the teams are discussing: Cano would go to the Mets, and Seattle would pay approximately $10 million annually of the $120 million owed to Cano over the next five years. That would take Cano's annual salary down to about $14 million.

The Mets are also trying to get Seattle to take on a burdensome contract like Jay Bruce's, and obtain a player like Edwin Diaz or Mitch Haniger.

Martino and other reports indicate the Mets would kick in a pretty good prospect to get a deal like the one laid out above done. It appears new Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen -- Cano's former agent, it should be noted -- is looking to get Cano at $14 million per year and either Diaz or Haniger for Bruce and a prospect.

Taking on a bad contract (like Cano) to get a desirable young player (like Diaz or Haniger) would not be unprecedented. The Diamondbacks gave the Braves righty Touki Toussaint to unload Bronson Arroyo's contract a few years ago. The Padres took on the remainder of Melvin Upton's contract to snag Craig Kimbrel. These moves do happen. Not often, but they happen.

For the Mets, they'd add a potentially very good hitter in Cano as well as a talented youngster in Diaz or Haniger without breaking their bank. Let's say it's Cano and Diaz for Bruce and a prospect, for argument's sake. The Mets could run out this starting lineup once Yoenis Cespedes returns from his heel surgeries:

  1. RF Brandon Nimmo
  2. CF Michael Conforto
  3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
  4. 2B Robinson Cano
  5. 3B Todd Frazier/Jeff McNeil
  6. 1B Peter Alonso
  7. C Travis d'Arnaud
  8. SS Amed Rosario
  9. Pitcher's spot

And then have Diaz, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman handling the late innings. There are a lot of "ifs" there (if Cespedes is healthy, if Syndergaard and Wheeler are healthy, if Alonso hits as expected) but that's kind of where the Mets are. They need some "ifs" to break their way to rise up into wild-card position or even contend for a division title.

The downside here is that Cano is 36 and the Mets won't be able to stash him in their DH spot in the final years of his contract. It might be worth the risk given where the team sits on now. Every win they can add to their roster right now, while deGrom and Syndergaard and Nimmo and Conforto are all in their primes, brings them that much closer to the postseason and closer to winning with this core.

MLB: Game Two-Seattle Mariners at Detroit Tigers
The Mariners and Mets are still discussing a Robinson Cano trade. USATSI

For the Mariners, this deal as presented doesn't make a whole lot of sense, even if the prospect they receive is a tippy-top prospect like Andres Gimenez or Jarred Kelenic. Eating $10 million per year of Cano's contract and taking on Bruce's equals $42 million in savings from 2019-23, or $8.4 million per year. That's significant! But significant enough to give up Diaz or Haniger? I don't think so, even with a top prospect coming back.

It seems to me that, for the Mariners to maximize their rebuild, their best plan of attack would involve trading Diaz and Haniger separately and adding a gob of prospects. Then whatever they can get in a straight Cano salary dump is icing on top. Maybe it's not much other than a few million in savings. But it's better than using an extremely valuable asset like Diaz or Haniger to save more cash on Cano's contract.

The Mariners should be open-minded when discussing a Cano trade, and, by open-minded, I mean willing to eat a lot money. His contract is a sunk cost. They owe him that money no matter what. The Mariners could either pay most of it and try to get a good prospect in return, or they could let another team leverage Cano into getting Diaz or Haniger, and reduce their talent base.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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