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Dipoto's next move? Find fits for Cano, Felix

November 27, 2018

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto has indeed talked to teams about the potential of trading Robinson Cano. Which should surprise no one, given the Mariners' general manager acknowledged from Day 1 of the current offseason that he'll be open to any and all ideas to rework his roster in order to

SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto has indeed talked to teams about the potential of trading Robinson Cano. Which should surprise no one, given the Mariners' general manager acknowledged from Day 1 of the current offseason that he'll be open to any and all ideas to rework his roster in order to better position Seattle for a legitimate postseason push within the next 2-3 years.
Dipoto has made it clear that no player is off limits, though he's noted numerous times that he'd need to be blown away in any offers for younger standouts like Edwin Diaz, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales. Those are the new core pieces he wants to build around.
Can Mariners, Mets pull off a Cano blockbuster?
And that is exactly why the former core of Cano, Felix Hernandez and Nelson Cruz could soon be former Mariners.

Dipoto already appears to have moved on from Cruz, who at 38 is now the best designated hitter on the free-agent market. Cano and Hernandez remain on the Mariners' payroll and both are readily available via trade, though with large caveats. Or more to the point, large contracts.
Though Hernandez's name hasn't yet been bandied about in trade rumors as much as Cano, the Mariners would surely deal King Felix if another team is willing to take on some of the $27 million owed to the 32-year-old in the last year of his contract.
The same holds true for Cano, who has more current value than Hernandez, but also more long-term financial obligation, with five years and $120 million left on his original 10-year, $240 million pact.
Dipoto has talked to teams about Cano, including the Yankees and Mets, though no deal appears imminent. Talk is cheap during the Hot Stove season, even if contracts are not. Lots of teams exchange thoughts at this time of year, though few ultimately pull the trigger.
Dipoto, however, is not shy about making moves in any circumstance, having engineered 82 trades in the 38 months since taking over the Mariners after the 2015 season. Two of his bigger swaps have come just this past month, sending James Paxton to the Yankees and Mike Zunino to the Rays in moves pointed more toward '20 and '21 than next season.

Paxton and Zunino both had two more years of team control remaining, but Dipoto has determined that a step back this coming season in order to gather forces for the future makes more sense than continuing down the same path of trying to reload around an aging and expensive group of 30-somethings.
That's why Hernandez certainly could be moved, even for a minimal return. The longtime face of the franchise briefly lost his spot in the rotation in August until an injury to Paxton opened the door for his return. But after going 8-14 with a 5.55 ERA, Hernandez isn't a lock for any rotation, particularly one looking to rebuild toward the future.

Hernandez can nix any trade as a 10-5 veteran, but given his desire to remain a starter and get a shot at a postseason berth for the first time in his career, it's hard to imagine him turning down a chance to pitch for another team if the opportunity arises.
The Mariners may be willing to move Hernandez at little return, given his production and salary. Cano is in a different boat, however, given he was still quite effective last year at age 35. Even missing 80 games due to his suspension, he posted a .303/.374/.471 line with 10 home runs and 50 RBIs. Though the Mariners struggled down the stretch, Cano hit .317/.363/.497 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 41 games upon his return.
While the Mariners certainly would welcome getting out from under Cano's contract, they aren't in any rush to remove his offensive production. He had the highest on-base percentage on the club last year, was second (by one point) to Jean Segura in batting average and third behind Cruz and Haniger in slugging percentage.
With five years remaining on his deal, Cano conceivably could remain part of the longer-term nucleus Dipoto is building around, particularly if the longtime second baseman is willing and able to shift to first base or a DH role.
Thus, reports of the Mariners including Diaz or top outfield prospect Kyle Lewis in a package with Cano in order to entice another team like the Yankees or Mets to take the eight-time All-Star seem to be missing the point of Dipoto's intentions.
The Mariners aren't desperate to move Cano, and they certainly aren't looking to give up a Diaz or Lewis just to shed payroll, given the pair represent exactly the kind of longer-term assets Seattle is trying to acquire.
As Dipoto likes to say, "Never say never." He'll surely listen to all offers, and his baseball operations group is known for its willingness to think outside the box. But any deal for Cano would be made with an eye toward adding for the future, not just subtracting from the present.
The ability to open future payroll flexibility is certainly a large part of that equation. Which again is why Dipoto must decide just how much of Cano's contract he'd be willing to eat. The more money an acquiring team takes of Cano's deal, the less prospect value they'll be willing to give up.
It's a tricky line to walk for both sides of any deal involving a player of Cano's caliber and contract. Which is why, for now at least, it's all just talk.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.