Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariner?

If the latest report—that the Mariners have all of a sudden emerged as a serious threat to sign the five-time All-Star—is to be believed, the longtime New York Yankees second baseman-turned-free agent could be on his way to the Pacific Northwest, turning his would-be former team into something like a puzzle without its biggest piece.

After all, the Yankees’ chances of retaining Cano are “less than 50-50,” per a source cited by Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York in the report referenced above.

That may well be the case, but it is a bit—how should we put this?—curious that this news is breaking not long after some, like Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports (and yours truly), began wondering just what the actual market for Cano looked like after a wishful-thinking 10-year, $300 million contract was floated at the outset.

At least on the surface, this might appear to be a response by Cano’s camp, including his agent Brodie Van Wagenen and Roc Nation Sports founder Jay Z, to make it known that, “Hey, someone is into the idea of giving us a lot of money!”

That’s not to say, though, that Cano couldn’t realistically bolt from New York, exit stage left, to Seattle or some other destination. And that’s a possibility the Yankees need to be considering. And they are, it seems.

“We’re going to focus on those who gravitate closest to us or try and get a deal done with us,” general manager Brian Cashman told George King of the New York Post on Monday, the day before this Cano-to-the-Mariners scuttlebutt started. “We hope Robbie is part of that process, too, and we will stay engaged with him, but we seem to be more engaged with others right now.”

All this, then, does at least raise the question: If the Yankees do not re-sign Cano, what could they do with the money that appears earmarked for their longtime second baseman?

In short, they could do quite a lot. That’s because, according to various reports, the Yankees have made it known they’re willing to work with Cano in the range of $160-$170 million over seven years—somewhere between $22 million and $25 million in average annual value (AAV).

At the moment, the good news for the Yankees is that this offseason has been busier on the trade front than the signings front—there were, oh, approximately 27 trades across Monday and Tuesday alone—meaning there are still plenty of options on the market from which to choose.

It’s really up to Cashman and Co. to decide what to do in the event Cano chases the cash elsewhere. Because that, of course, would leave a lot of dough for the Yankees to work with.

Want a solid mid-rotation starter to fill in behind CC Sabathia (and perhaps Hiroki Kuroda, if he returns)? There’s Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza, as well as innings-eater arms like Scott Feldman and Bronson Arroyo. And eventually (possibly?) Japanese stud starter Masahiro Tanaka, if a new posting agreement can be worked out.

In search of a reliever or two to help cover for the retirement of Mariano Rivera and likely losses of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain, among others? Take your pick of proven late-inning vets like Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour.

Looking for a dynamic bat to add some speed or thump to a lineup that already added Brian McCann but could use more, especially if Cano walks? Why, then, how about Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo or Carlos Beltran, who’s been linked to the Yankees all offseason? Or even old friend Curtis Granderson.

Point being, while losing Cano would hurt the Yankees, Cashman would have two things he won’t if Cano stays: the first is options; the second is money, and lots of it, which likely would mean multiple options.

For instance, going after Choo and Garza. Or Ellsbury and Tanaka. Or Jimenez, Beltran and Balfour.

Some scenarios likely would cost more than the $22-$25 million or so that’s pegged for Cano, but the numbers would be within that AAV range. Yes, even if the Yankees are aiming to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold. And even if they have to pay Alex Rodriguez some or all of his $25 million base salary for 2014.

Of course, while it would bring more options and more money, let’s not pretend that letting Cano go wouldn’t also leave the Yankees with problems. For one thing, there is no in-house replacement for Cano. A play for Omar Infante, a quality second baseman with a solid glove and bat (not to mention, some postseason experience), would all of a sudden seem very logical. After Infante, though, second base pickings get thin, quick.

For another, the top remaining free-agent hitters that could be added to the lineup—which would suffer a major hit, let’s not forget—are outfielders, which just so happens to be the team’s one area of depth (if not strength). With Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano as the likely starters in center and left, respectively, that would leave one opening to fill with, ideally, Choo ahead of Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, who fit better as backups.

The key for the Yankees is that any such addition, no matter the position, would be a clear upgrade to the current state of the 25-man roster and the club’s current chances to return to the postseason next year.

The Yankees’ offseason puzzle has only just begun to be put together by Cashman and his front-office cohorts. McCann was one piece. Cano has been expected to be another all along, so if that doesn’t happen, it would come as a bit of a surprise.

There are still, though, plenty of other pieces in play. And if Cano leaves, even more millions to spend.

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