Closer to top of Space Needle

SEATTLE -- After Friday's reported signing of Robinson Cano, the Seattle Mariners team store at Safeco Field already had three wall racks of replica jerseys bearing the number 24 available. Of course, those were Ken Griffey Jr. jerseys, and they outnumbered all other jerseys on display except for those of Felix Hernandez.

Meanwhile, a nearby discount circular rack had replica jerseys of Michael Morse (traded away in August), Chone Figgins (last Mariners game in 2012), Mike Sweeney (last game in 2010) and Casey Kotchman (last game in 2010) available for 25 percent off the last discounted price ($89-$115).

That the Mariners still offer the jerseys of those latter three departed players -- Figgins? Really? -- serves as a good explanation for why Seattle reportedly signed Cano to a $240 million, 10-year contract Friday.

There was a time when the Mariners were the team in this city. They drew 3.5 million fans in 2001 when they won a record-tying 116 games, then drew even more the next year. But those days are long gone. The Mariners haven't reached the postseason in 12 years and have finished last in the AL West in seven of the past 10 seasons. Last year's attendance was 1.76 million, the lowest for a full season since 1992, when Seattle still played in the Kingdome.

The Mariners are now probably the third or even the fourth most popular team in town -- and that's with the Sonics gone. The Seahawks are so outrageously popular that everything from the Washington state ferries to a Boeing plant has the 12th man logo proudly and boldly displayed. The University of Washington Huskies are popular as always, and the FC Seattle Sounders soccer team drew almost half as many fans (819,363) as the Mariners despite playing only one quarter as many home games (19).

Thus, the Mariners desperately needed to do something to restore their local cred, even if it meant overpaying for Cano.

Will the $240 million contract eventually seem like a bad deal? Perhaps. Contracts beyond six years often look bad in the end (Barry Zito, Mike Hampton, the second A-Rod deal), especially when the deal extends into the player's 40s. Cano will be turning 41 when the contract ends, but he will help in the near term. Since becoming a full-time player in 2007, he has averaged 160 games, a .307 batting average with a .508 slugging percentage, an .866 OPS, 25 home runs, 97 RBIs and 94 runs. A five-time All-Star, he has finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth in the MVP race the past four years.

Plus, Seattle had to do something. King Felix was excellent as usual last season, as was Hisashi Iwakuma. But, aside from third baseman Kyle Seager, the rest of the team was pretty much a disaster. Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Michael Saunders showed little reason to think they will finally develop into stars, and rookies Nick Franklin (terrible second half) and shortstop Brad Miller (fielding) also have question marks. The bullpen struggled, and the outfield is a mess.

Furthermore, the Mariners have the money -- even including Cano, their current payroll commitments are still in the $65 million range for 2014. Arbitration will bring that higher, as will other signings, but the payroll still is expected to be below $100 million, perhaps significantly below. And signing Cano also will make Seattle a more appealing destination for other free agents.

Will the Cano signing finally turn the Mariners around? We'll see. But Cano definitely should help more than bringing back Willie Bloomquist.

"The news has to excite the city," said longtime fan Ron Beck, who was eating lunch at Pyramid Alehouse across the street from Safeco Field. "It's been a sad story for a lot of years. We all remember the 1995 season with Griffey, and that was a fun time. And we remember 2001, when we won 116 games.

"But it's been tough lately. They keep talking about getting hitters on the team, and we need some hitters with power who can hit in the clutch and can get runners home."

This was a big week for sports news in Seattle. The Seahawks routed the New Orleans Saints on "Monday Night Football," and Steve Sarkisian left the Huskies to coach USC. Then, on Friday, the Mariners agreed to terms with Cano and Washington hired Boise State coach Chris Petersen to replace Sarkisian.

And, thanks to the Cano and Petersen signings, the Seahawks were virtually an afterthought on local sports talk radio Friday. For the first time in a long time, people were talking about baseball and the Mariners more than football and the Seahawks.

Perhaps the only news that would have excited local fans more is if the Mariners had signed Seahawks quarterback and former minor league infielder Russell Wilson to play second base instead.

Beck smiled at the suggestion before saying, "Let's keep Russell Wilson where he is." Fans are very happy to have Cano there instead.