Say it Ain’t So, Cano

Robinson Cano’s suspension is a gift to the New York Mets but a loss for baseball overall.

There is poetry to Robinson Cano dropping out of the 2021 season in ignominious fashion shortly after the Wilpons did the same. 

Robinson Cano suspension and the Mets

The Wilpons made a point of letting media know they’d chased after Cano during free agency, despite the Mets budget constraints, and insist they’d gotten close to signing him before the Mariners closed the deal back in 2013.

Perhaps, this played similarly to how the White Sox and owner Jerry Reinsdorf screamed about having made their record offer to Manny Machado two winters ago, ignoring the fact that it was pathetically short of the Padres’ final deal. Nevertheless, Cano had become a New York baseball icon with the Yankees earlier in his career.  

Five years too late, the Wilpons got their man, using an agent-turned-GM as a catalyst for bringing him to Queens. This, despite the fact that Cano missed half the previous season due to his first PED suspension. Cano hit well that year but was only halfway through his mammoth 10-year deal which seemed to give Seattle buyer’s remorse from the start. The arc of his Seattle career was indeed suspicious, with Cano struggling mightily in year two before returning to previous numbers with a vengeance, including a career high 39 Home Runs, before he tested positive for PEDs. 

The Mets didn’t seem to care, eagerly and quickly relishing hte opportunity to make a “big splash”, as Jeff Wilpon letter insisted this was. It couldn’t hurt that they were dumping Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, two free agent flubs, in the deal. Cano’s Mets debut was awful, as could be expected for a 36-year-old without the benefit of resting in the DH slot. After injuries, Cano did finish strong, and during this last pandemic-shortened year hit like the Cano of old, putting up a .316/.352/.896 line that actually was above his career numbers.

But Cano was always an awkward fit for an NL team, and the Mets. Even with his production, the Mets have an abundance of hitters who struggle in the field and have had to squeeze doubles machine Jeff McNeil into left field and third base to accommodate Cano. 

Robinson Cano suspension benefits the Mets

New York Mets news: Robinson Cano suspended
Jul 23, 2019; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets second baseman Robinson Cano (24) tosses his bat after hitting a solo home run against the San Diego Padres during the fourth inning at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Cano’s strong 2020, it’s easy to see how his new year-long suspension benefits their roster in a number of ways. On the field, McNeil can now move back to his best position, second base, and the Mets can play Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto in the outfield corners (neither is considered a strong defensive centerfielder). The Mets can shuffle sluggers Dominic Smith and Peter Alonso between the DH slot (or even J.D. Davis) to keep their bats fresh and Alonso’s lead glove off the field whenever possible. 

Maybe most importantly, the Mets now have an extra $20 million spend next year, a huge windfall even with Steve Cohen promising a major budget increase. Maybe that can now go to relieving the Cubs of the burden of paying their former-MVP third baseman Kris Bryant. Maybe they can use it to bolster their bullpen. Maybe that allows them to sign Trevor Bauer. Whatever the case, it’s easy to imagine Sandy Alderson and his yet-to-be-named front office team finding a better use for those dollars than an aging (now we know, cheating) second baseman. 

So that’s all good news for Mets fans. 

Related: Mets trade targets

But on a meta level, this is a deflating and sad moment for baseball. Another (former) star will have his legacy tainted by multiple PED suspensions, one whose post-Yankee numbers will be questioned.

While Cano looked like a Hall-of-Famer before his free agency, we’ve already seen how players like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro are shunned by HOF voters despite numbers that could be credibly considered worthy even when adjusting for potential drug use.

These cases call into question every incidence of a player who hits well into his mid/late thirties, whether that is fair or not. And while not every player will get to a glorious send-off on their own terms a la Mariano Rivera or David Ortiz (himself a PED user), it’s still disappointing for a formerly great player to end their career in such embarrassing fashion.

Cano has two more years on his contract after 2021, but now, like Yoenis Cespedes before him, for the Mets he will become an expensive conundrum, an extra guy who doesn’t fit on the roster and the Mets cannot credibly insert into their plans. It’s hard to see this playing out with a happy ending for both sides, barring some kind of Bobby Bonilla style buy-out agreement that will pay Cano obscene amounts NOT to play ever again, especially in a Mets uniform. 

Maybe he’ll find his way back to the Yankees in two years and after a year off, find his groove again as a 39-year-old. But even if he did, why would anyone believe it was an unaided performance?