Cano suspension leaves Seattle with questions, possibilities

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SEATTLE (AP) — Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto felt disappointment first when he learned of Robinson Cano’s 80-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug agreement.

Then he thought about the opportunities.

“I think you all have figured out that I’m an optimistic person by nature,” Dipoto said Tuesday. “And it turned into, ‘All right, how do we turn this into as positive as we can and solve the problem?’”

Seattle has rarely fielded the starting lineup it envisioned this season and yet it has stuck around a competitive AL West race. But none of its previous absences will be impactful as the loss of Cano, an All-Star second baseman suspended Tuesday after testing positive for Furosemide, a diuretic that can be used to mask performance-enhancing drugs.

Dipoto said Cano’s loss “really leaves an impression.” It also ups the pressure on the GM to make a move to keep the Mariners’ playoff aspirations alive. Lucky for him, he has a couple of assets working in his favor — a Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman in Dee Gordon already on the roster, and possibly an unexpected influx of cash.

Seattle was already going to be without Cano for a bit after he broke a bone in his right hand this weekend. Gordon Beckham and Andrew Romine were expected to handle second base in the short-term, and that still seems like the plan. But center fielder Gordon is only a few years removed from winning a Gold Glove at the keystone, and the organization has some outfield depth in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

Still, it would be a reversal of the efforts made in transitioning Gordon to the outfield after he was acquired via trade last offseason. It’s not set the move will happen, but Gordon was already taking infield practice before Tuesday’s game.

“I came here to help this team win,” Gordon said. “We’ve got some of the best players in the world on this team. I definitely never imagined this. I was all in on playing center field. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that some days when it didn’t go too well in center that I didn’t wish I was back at second. But this was the circumstances we have and we just have to continue to move forward.”

Dipoto said Gordon’s flexibility allows Seattle to look at both outfield and infield options if it seeks an upgrade outside the organization.

“Moving outside, we can now look at the potential for second basemen, we could look at the potential for outfielders — people who can help our team get better,” Dipoto said. “The good news is we have answers to supplement our outfield program.”

The suspension also means Seattle unexpectedly has an $11 million windfall it did not expect, since Cano won’t be paid during his ban. There are areas where the Mariners could use the money to address issues — either through player signings or taking on salary via trade — but that’s dependent on management unlocking those funds for Dipoto.

The bullpen would be an area of focus. The Mariners invested significant money in Juan Nicasio to be their eighth-inning setup man, but in his previous six outing, Nicasio has allowed 15 hits and eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. Lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski has also struggled with a 10.13 ERA and has just two appearances since April 27.

“That’s part of this. This has been less than 24 hours that we’ve had a chance to process this and not something we’ve spent a great deal of time,” Dipoto said of spending money. “But we’ve certainly looked at outside alternatives as a possibility.”

It’d take a big acquisition to replace Cano’s value and consistency. He had appeared in 663 of a possible 687 games in his four-plus seasons with Seattle, and he’s batted third in the order in 583 of those games, providing protection for the much of the lineup, including Nelson Cruz in recent seasons.

“We have to deal with it like we see it,” Cruz said. “He was (injured). We have to put more effort because he’s definitely a huge part of the lineup and the team. Just do like everyone else is doing and do our job.”

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