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No, Robinson Cano is not the problem in Seattle

The structural problems that plagued the Mariners in 2015, despite what Andy Van Slyke might say, went far deeper than their most expensive player.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Let's get this out of the way: Andy Van Slyke knows more about how to play the game of baseball than I do. He was an outfielder for 13 seasons in the Majors, and an elite player for at least four of those seasons. He made three All Star Games, won five Gold Gloves, and was worth around 40 wins above replacement. All in all, a very good player and a great career I would kill to have had. That he has morphed into a blathering idiot on the topic of the game does not change all that.

But morph he has, for in addition to essentially accusing Clayton Kershaw of lobbying to get Yasiel Puig traded from the Dodgershe also ripped into Robinson Cano, the second baseman on the team for which Van Slyke served as Assistant Hitting Coach in 2015:

"Cano was the single worst third-place everyday player I've ever seen, for the first half of a Major League Baseball season. He couldn't' drive home Miss Daisy if he tried. He couldn't do it. He couldn't get a hit when it mattered. He played the worst defense I've ever seen at second. I mean the worst defensive second baseman ever, I've ever seen in 20 years in the big leagues."

"Robinson Cano cost the GM his job, the hitting coach got fired because of Cano, because of how much impact he has on the organization. He was the worst player and it cost people their jobs in the process."

Ok, so there's some hyperbole in there. For one thing, Andy Van Slyke played on a team where Jeff King started games at second base, and I refuse to believe that former Gold Glove winner Robinson Cano was worse than that. Moreover, while Cano undeniably had an awful first half of 2015, Seattle ninth, leadoff and number two hitters posted OBPs of .250, .307 and .312 respectively, so I'm going to say the reason Cano couldn't drive anybody in was that here was no one on in front of him. Indeed, with men on last year Cano hit .327/.372/.522, as opposed to just .256/.303/.386 with the bases empty. So not only is Van Slyke exaggerating, he's also flat wrong.

It's safe to say that, far more than Cano's subpar (for him) performance, the things that sunk the Mariners' coaching and front office staffs were that their catchers hit .159/.205/.259, first basemen hit .235/.301/.401, and both starters and (especially) relievers took giant steps back in 2015 over their performance in 2014. These staffs also got the ax because they couldn't develop high-profile prospects on the mound or at the plate and couldn't produce a consistent winner after seven years on the job.

And yes, part of the reason they didn't win as much in 2015 is Cano's awful start to the year. And his subpar defense. But is Cano to blame for all of that? Shouldn't this same coaching and front office staff kind of understand what they had gotten themselves into by giving a 31 year old a 10 year deal to play a physically taxing position? Should they really have been surprised at a random bad half season by a 32 year old? Of course not. But they were. Presumably, Cano will gradually look less and less like the MVP candidate that the Mariners thought they were signing when Jack Zduriencek backed up the Brinks truck two offseasons ago.

I get it. Andy Van Slyke is out of a job. He's angry and embarrassed, and he's lashing out at players (particularly at Latino players, one of whom competes for playing time with his son) he thinks are responsible for standing in the way of his success. We're seeing that a lot right now, not just in baseball. Still, when we see this overly simplistic argument getting made, it's our duty to dig into the further and to put assign blame in the proper context. And with positive steps being taken by Jerry DiPoto to remake the club in his image by acquiring Nathan Karns and Leonys Martin, perhaps we'll see that the root cause of Andy Van Slyke's discontent probably has as much to do with his own inability to make a positive impact in his job over the course of two full seasons as with Robinson Cano's struggles for a half of one.