SEATTLE -- As has been noted frequently this offseason, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto faces a series of decisions in the coming days that will play out like dominoes, where one move leads to the next. And the biggest -- or certainly most-expensive -- domino on the board figures to be Robinson Cano.
When Dipoto traded for young center fielder Mallex Smith last Thursday, he set the table for another decision: Smith's acquisition makes it seemingly clear that Dee Gordon no longer will be playing center field.
Gordon filled in extremely well at second base last year when Cano was suspended for 80 games. But Cano and Gordon can't both play second base, so what next? Will Cano, an eight-time All-Star, be back at that spot in 2019?
"Don't know that yet," Dipoto said last week at the General Managers Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. "A lot of that depends on what our roster looks like. As we get closer to Spring Training, we'll have a better idea of what 25 players make the most sense. If it makes the most sense for the Mariners for Robbie to play second base, then that's where we'll play him."
And if not? Here are the options the Mariners have as they continue laying out their plans:
Option 1: Play Gordon at second and move Cano to first base or DH
This one appears the most logical, given that the 36-year-old Cano -- who has five years and $120 million remaining on his contract -- inevitably figures to shift to a position at some point in his career that puts less stress on his legs, but keeps his productive bat in the lineup.
Gordon was outstanding defensively at second base and the Mariners could certainly upgrade offensively with Cano at first base, where they ranked 27th out of the 30 MLB teams last year with a .704 OPS. Ryon Healy put up 24 homers and 73 RBIs in 133 games, but he hit just .235 with a .277 on-base percentage while posting a negative 0.6 fWAR. Cano had a 3.2 fWAR in just half a season while batting .303/.374/.471 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs in 80 games.
It's also clear the Mariners are likely moving on from Nelson Cruz at DH as they look to get younger and more flexible with their roster, so Cano -- or Healy -- could get at-bats there as well in a revolving situation.
However, this option isn't a slam dunk. Cano still can play second base. He has one of the best throwing arms in the league for an infielder, is outstanding at turning double plays and if his legs and lower body are healthy -- and that has been an issue at times in recent years -- his effortless approach hides the fact he remains a good defender. The reason Cano has been so valuable for so long is that it's rare for a quality second baseman to provide the sort of offensive numbers he puts up.
Cano didn't look particularly comfortable in his 10 starts at first base, and at the end of the regular season said he's a second baseman and expects to return there. But Dipoto and manager Scott Servais quickly responded by noting that certainly isn't set in stone and they'll do whatever works best for the team.
Cano also started two games at third base and could conceivably be moved there if the Mariners trade Kyle Seager. But dealing Seager seems extremely unlikely given his three-year, $56 million contract coming off a very tough season.
Option 2: Leave Cano at second and move Gordon
This scenario has two different possibilities. Gordon could be shifted to shortstop if the club trades Jean Segura. Or Gordon could be traded himself.
Either option is certainly possible, given Dipoto's willingness to deal and his stated desire to restructure the roster. Trading Gordon now would certainly be selling low, however. His second-half fade last season left him with a .268/.288/.349 line and 30 stolen bases, a far cry both from his typical production or even the high impact he showed the first two months of the year before a broken big toe clearly affected his speed.
The Mariners love Gordon's energy and attitude and believe he'll bounce back more toward the guy who led the Majors in stolen bases three of the previous four years and won the NL batting title in 2015. Having speedsters Gordon and Smith in the same lineup would be imposing, if they are both getting on base. And Gordon might not be easy to deal with two years and $26.5 million remaining on his contract at age 30.
Segura should have considerably more trade value because he's in his prime at 28 and coming off an All-Star season in which he was second on the Mariners behind Mitch Haniger with a 4.3 fWAR while batting .304/.341/.415 with 10 homers, 63 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. With four years and $58 million left on his contract, Segura offers pretty good long-term value, though that price could eliminate some smaller-budget pursuers.
Gordon started seven games at shortstop in place of Segura in the final six weeks last year and handled the position well. So it's not out of the question to move him there permanently, though second appears his best spot and the Mariners would miss Segura's offensive production.
There were concerns with Segura's attitude toward the end of the season after he and Gordon got into a clubhouse scuffle and the Mariners could look to move one or the other to clear up any lingering issues, though Dipoto insists that isn't a factor in his decision to rework the roster.
"By the end of the season, the two players got along perfectly well," Dipoto said at the GM Meetings. "That has zero to do with this."
Option 3: Put Gordon at second and trade Cano
This would appear the least likely possibility, given the difficulty of finding a trade partner willing to take Cano's large contract at this point in his career. While he's still productive, teams aren't looking to take on the second half of a 10-year deal that will carry into his age 40 season at $24 million per year.
But if the Mariners really want to move Cano, they certainly could if they're willing to eat a large percentage of the money. How much would be the question. The Mariners aren't going to just give Cano away as he's still one of their best hitters.
Bottom line, Dipoto expects and needs Cano's bat to be in Seattle's lineup next year. Exactly where is the question.