Can't deny the Robinson Cano effect

Mike Trout almost certainly will win the American League MVP award -- and deservedly so. When he does, he'll join Albert Pujols (three) and Josh Hamilton (one) in the Angels' exclusive Most Valuable Player club.

But there is another player in the AL who might mean more to his team than Trout does to the Angels. After all, the Mariners' lineup doesn't feature players with four prior MVP awards.

Last winter, Robinson Cano was the surprise of the hot stove league when he left the Yankees to sign with Seattle, a team that hasn't been to the postseason since 2001 and that plays in the only current major league city that has never hosted a World Series.

Seattle paid handsomely for Cano: a 10-year, $240 million contract that means they will be paying him $24 million a season when he is 40 years old. That likely will seem steep in 2023, but right now, he's paying large dividends. The Mariners are in a tight race for their first postseason berth in 13 years, while the Yankees already are all but eliminated. Cano is batting .321/.387/.466 and playing superb defense. Despite a slow start in the power department, he has hit a dozen home runs since June 11.

Perhaps just as importantly, he's had a significant influence in the clubhouse. There is no statistical documentation, no advanced metric, no WAR number to document that impact, but it exists. Players can have positive (and negative) effects on teammates, the same way co-workers can make other employees more productive or leave them grumbling, miserable and staring at the clock. People on and around the Mariners have noticed the Cano effect.

"I think he's been off the charts, as far as how he goes about his business and how he gets guys in that video room and helping them understand what preparation is all about from a physical and mental standpoint," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon says. "His communication to young players has been just tremendous."

For all Cano does in the clubhouse, McClendon says it's "when you get between the lines, that's where leadership really starts. And he does a hell of a job with that."

"I'm just trying to help the young kids, especially in the hitting aspect," Cano says. "This is something we all go through when we're young. When you're not hitting well, sometimes you carry that over into your defense. I try to help them out and give them advice. Those things, I learned when I was in New York. I just try to help them with that here."

The Mariners' offense has been awful for several years, and it is struggling again -- they're 11th in runs and last in OPS. But at least Cano gives Seattle a legitimate threat in the lineup, something it's lacked in recent seasons.

"I think he's the difference where they are right now," a veteran scout says. "They're a legit contender playing meaningful games in September. He's not enough to make them a favorite, but his impact has been enough to get them where they have wanted to be for a while. It's hard to overlook the Mariners' pitching, but they had Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma last year, too.

"He just gave them that real offensive presence in the lineup they needed. Even if they pitch around him, that's one more guy on base."

Speaking of which, in Sunday's close loss to Oakland, Cano came up with two out and runners at second and third in the seventh inning. The Athletics walked him intentionally, then retired Kendrys Morales on a soft fly ball to end the inning.

Still, without Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager giving Seattle's league-best pitching some run support, the Mariners would be hopeless again.

Shortstop Brad Miller says Cano brings a stabilizing force to the lineup.

"He's also been very open with us, all the younger guys, from the opening day of spring training," Miller says. "He treated us like we had been playing with him for years. He's very open. He'll give his insight, whether it's in the game on a pitcher, or in the field. A couple times, he'll tell me to move over a bit and then the ball is hit right there. And he'll smile.

"I just think it's pretty cool when you've got a guy who is a superstar who is really genuine about helping others. That's what I think he's brought to us. ... It goes a long way in here."

Seager, who became an All-Star for the first time this season, also says Cano's influence in the clubhouse has been "huge."

Back in spring training, New York hitting coach Kevin Long criticized Cano for not always running out routine ground balls when he was with the Yankees. That was a criticism of Ken Griffey Jr. in his Seattle prime as well, but the center fielder more than made up for it with his play everywhere else. The same can be said of Cano, who seems to make outstanding fielding plays with almost no effort.

"It looks like that, but it takes a lot of hard work," Cano says. "The thing people don't realize is how hard I work in the offseason. I get up at 6 in the morning and do my exercise. Then I go to the ballpark and work out for three or four hours, and then go to the gym."

The Angels' Trout is the game's best player, and he's having an MVP season. But he is also on a team that has the game's best record, has already qualified for the postseason, and leads baseball's toughest division by 10½ games. Without Trout, the Angels might not have 94 wins or a huge lead, but they'd still be a contender.

But where would the Mariners be without Cano? In the same spot they've been in so many of their past dozen Septembers: hopelessly out of contention.

Instead, they're in the thick of the wild-card race.