LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Robinson Cano isn’t a member of the Mariners ... yet.
Sources confirmed that Cano will be in Seattle today to take his physical. If he passes it, he’ll sign his contract. An introductory news conference would follow on Thursday afternoon.
But the fact nothing was official yet didn’t stop his new manager from discussing an optimistic future with the All-Star second baseman.
On Tuesday, new Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon met with media at the 2013 winter meeting. The main topic was Cano and his impact on the team.
“Robbie and I have talked several times since our initial meeting last Thursday,” he said. “He’s extremely happy to be a Mariner. He’s excited about the up and coming year and things that he can provide and will provide. Like I told him, we’ll talk more on Thursday or Friday of this coming week and try to put our heads together on a couple of things.”
One of those things discussed might be where Cano bats in the Mariners’ lineup. Cano hit third in the Yankees lineup in 110 of the 160 games he appeared in.
“He can bat wherever he wants to bat,” McClendon said with a chuckle. “I sat in the office and said, ‘That couch over there is mine and that one’s yours. But if you’d like to have that one, you can have that one, too.’ He’s a special talent. But he’s also a team player. He’s a very special and unique person. I think he’s willing to do whatever needs to be done to help us get better really fast.”
McClendon shrugged off questions about Cano lacking the leadership responsibilities of being a star player because he played a secondary role on the Yankees with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera on the team.
“My conversation with Robbie is I wanted him to be Robbie,” McClendon said. “Robbie is pretty damn good. He doesn’t have to be more than that. I can tell you this. When we went in to play the Yankees, the guy that we were most concerned about was Robinson Cano. So I don’t know about star power, but I do know about player power, and he was the best on that team.”
McClendon downplayed the necessity of a “veteran leader” on a team, a contrast to most managers.
“I hear that all the time, ‘Who is going to be your leader?’” McClendon said. “I hope he leads on the field. I’ll do the cheerleading and leading in the clubhouse. But I want guys on the field that can hit three-run homers, drive in a run from second base with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning. Those to me are the guys that lead by example on the field. I don’t need guys to lead in the clubhouse. I’ll do that. I need the guys to do it on the field.”
McClendon also knows that Cano can’t do it alone on the field. The Mariners have been trying to supplement the talent around him, but have yet to make a deal or even a firm contract offer in the first two days of the winter meetings, according to general manager Jack Zduriencik. Cano needs help.
“Look, no one player is going to win a championship for you,” he said. “But I would remind people that we have some pieces in place. We have a team that lost 18 to 20 games last year in the eighth and ninth inning, so they were really close. I think that maturation process should help them going into next year. “
Without mentioning their names, McClendon was directing that at Kyle Seager, Brad Miller, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders. Still, the Mariners have serious needs in the outfield as well as the desire for another starting pitcher and bullpen help.
“Do we need to add? Yeah,” McClendon said. “I can’t be specific as to what those pieces are going to be right now, but I can assure you that Jack is doing everything he can to provide some pieces.”
One of those pieces would ideally be a right-handed outfielder. The Mariners have had conversations with free agent Nelson Cruz and have had trade talks with the Dodgers about Matt Kemp.
“I will say this, we’re awfully left-handed,” McClendon said. “When you talk about balance and trying to balance out a lineup from an offensive standpoint, we need some more right-handed presence. That is one of those things that we’re trying to accomplish right now.”
NOTES: Zduriencik confirmed the team has interest in bringing back oft-injured outfielder Franklin Gutierrez. Zduriencik wouldn’t go into details, but it would likely be a one-year contract with heavy incentives based on playing time. ... Jesus Montero is on the outside looking in at the Mariners’ future. Zduriencik said the team is moving forward without considering him part of the immediate roster. In one season, Montero was demoted to Class AAA, converted to first base, injured his knee requiring surgery and was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Zduriencik said Montero will have to earn his way back.