The Mets eat nada DFA’ing Canó

Robinson Canó

Canó’s days as a Met are over. His Hall of Fame case ended well before that, unfortunately.

We can dispense early with this: In designating Robinson Canó for assignment Monday, the Mets aren’t “eating” the $37 million they still owe him. They dined on it the moment they agreed to take on the bulk of the $96 million the Mariners still owed him for the coming four years, the price paid for bringing relief pitcher Edwin Diáz to the Mets at the end of 2019.

As Keith Law wrote in The Inside Game, recalling the Diamondbacks “eating” $22 million still owed imploding pitcher Russ Ortiz in 2006, “That salary was already somewhere in Arizona’s GI tract, likely causing indigestion but there nonetheless. Major League Baseball player contracts are guaranteed; there is no way to un-eat that meal.”

And there’s no way to un-eat the already-eaten $37 million the Mets will still pay Canó, though now it’s to not show his face at second base or occupy a designated hitter’s slot for the remainder of the deal. It was probably just a pinch of pepper on owner Steve Cohen’s breakfast when he bought the team in the first place.

Today’s the day MLB teams had until noon eastern to trim their active rosters back to 26. The lately torrid Mets (16-7 on the season thus far, tops in the National League East, and 7-3 in their last ten games) had fans fearing other players with remaining minor league options might get the push back.

If Dominic Smith and J.D. Davis especially had gotten the push, Met fans would have thrown things at the nearest available front office heads. If it were Luis Guillorme or Travis Jankowski, they might have settled merely for a noisy protest and maybe some nasty Citi Field chanting.

The least-kept secret prayer among them was let it be Canó, considered the millstone that’s also the last big mistake of the Wilpon generation and their last general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen. Smith’s the only viable first base backup and can also DH; Davis is one of their critical bench rats and can also play third base; Guillorme’s the only true shortstop stand-in whenever Francisco Lindor might need a breather; and, Jankowski is an outfield defense standout in the making who also has speed to burn.

Cutting them would have been a baseball equivalent of solving a simple steering problem by replacing half the drive train. Cutting Canó was a critical portion of the 5,000 mile checkup.

The 39-year-old who made his bones as a Yankee should be looking forward to a pleasant retirement and a Cooperstown berth. Until his age began to catch up to him, he was well enough on the track that the JAWS system of Jay Jaffe, author of The Cooperstown Casebook, has him as the number seven second baseman, ever, with a peak value slightly above the average Hall of Fame second baseman and a career value all but dead even with the average Hall second baseman.

“Cano appears well on his way to a bronze plaque,” Jaffe wrote in that 2017 book, in the “Further Consideration” portion for second basemen. “He’s already above the peak score at second—the seventh-best, with everyone else but him and [Chase] Utley from among the top ten already enshrined. It’s not out of the question he pushes his way higher in that category, either. He’s got a good chance at 3,000 hits, needing to average just 113 per year until his contract runs out in 2023. The bet here is that he winds up around seventh in JAWS here.”

Jaffe had the seventh-in-JAWS part right. But then Canó trainwrecked his own self in May 2018. He got an eighty-game suspension for furosemide, a diuretic that isn’t an actual/alleged performance-enhancing substance but is banned as a likely masking agent under MLB’s PED protocols. He got plunked with that two days after a hand injury when he was hit by a pitch in a May game.

Then, after leaving Seattle for the Mets and having one last hurrah in the pan-damni-ically shortened 2020 season, Canó was handed a suspension for all 2021 after he tested positive for stanozolol, an actual anabolic steroid, in November 2020. A second PED ding means an automatic 162-game suspension.

It’s one thing to argue on behalf of the Cooperstown enshrinement of those players who have no-questions-asked Hall credentials but were either known or suspected of actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances during the era before baseball saw the light/felt the heat and began earnest, honest-to-God testings.

But it’s something else to argue on behalf of enshrining a player either ignorant enough, careless enough, or foolish enough to dip into the PED after testing became established and widespread and widely-reported.

Canó could plead ignorance the first time around. It’s entirely possible he had no idea a doctor’s prescribed medication included furosemide, known commonly as Lasix. But he couldn’t quite plead ignorance the second time around. Just as with Manny Ramírez and his two PED-related suspensions well after testings began, Hall voters won’t exactly jump to acquit Canó and pass him in.

He was an excellent defensive second baseman before age and injuries started taking their toll. At this writing he’s number twelve at the position for defensive runs above his league average (+69) on the career list. He also threatened Jeff Kent’s record for lifetime home runs as a second baseman; he has 316 to Kent’s 351. And if you put excess stock in such things, he’s only 368 hits shy of the Magic 3,000.

He lacks black ink but he’s an eight-time All-Star. Without the two dings for actual/alleged PEDs, you could call Canó the sleeper Hall of Famer. But how does he look according to my Real Batting Average metric? (RBA: Total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances.) Let’s insert him into the ranks of the post-World War II/post-integration/night ball-era Hall of Fame second basemen. You’re going to be shocked:

Jackie Robinson 5804 2310 740 61 30* 72 .550
Robinson Canó 9489 4274 618 112 62 85 .543
Joe Morgan 11329 3962 1865 76 96 40 .533
Ryne Sandberg 9282 3787 761 59 71 34 .507
Roberto Alomar 10400 4018 1032 62 97 50 .506
Craig Biggio 12504 4711 1160 68 81 285 .504
Rod Carew 10550 3998 1018 144 44 25 .496
Red Schoendienst 9224 3284 606 30 38* 21 .431
Nellie Fox 10351 3347 719 30 76* 142 .417
Bill Mazeroski 8379 2848 447 110 70 20 .417

You’re not seeing things. Robinson Canó would have been number two in RBA among the Hall’s post-WWII/post-integration/night ball-era’s second baseman if his career ended today (Chase Utley would be right behind him, by three points, by the way) if he hadn’t shot himself in the foot for a second PED suspension. He also would have been 53 points above the average such Hall of Fame second baseman.

It’s impossible to say whether another team may yet pick Canó up once he clears the DFA waivers, or whether one might deal for him first. (He’d have to accept a role on the bench, either way.) But it’s not impossible to say that Canó may be seeing the final sunset of a career that should have sent him to Cooperstown.

On the other hand . . .

Javier Baez, J.D. Davis

The Good Javy (left, after scoring on J.D. Davis’s [center] two-run bomb in the seventh) returned from the injured list and doubled down against the Dodgers Sunday afternoon.

This time, J.D. Davis didn’t shrink. Either with one man on or with the bases loaded.

This time, too, trade deadline addition Javier Baez came off the injured list, swung like a pro, scored like a pro, and doubled down, literally. He put a small shot of rocket fuel into a team looking like the living dead too often this month.

This time, the Mets may have left eight men on but they also sent seven runs across the plate. They’ve now done that only twice since 21 July. And, this time, too, they didn’t let the Dodgers take a single lead all Sunday long.

The bad news is that Sunday’s 7-2 win to stop the Dodgers’ winning streak at nine probably won’t be enough to salvage the Mets’ 2021. They’d need a finish from here that you can describe politely as miraculous to do that. Losing eleven games in the standings this 6-15 doesn’t leave room for miracles.

But let’s worry about that later. Right now, let’s savour Baez cashing in Brandon Nimmo (leadoff full-count walk, on which he sprinted up the line to first) with one out, sending one ricocheting off the left center field fence in the top of the first, with Nimmo gunning home all the way from first.

Let’s savour Davis shooting one the other way up the right field line to send Baez home, and Jonathan Villar with two outs punching a quail into short center, Davis scoring when Cody Bellinger’s throw in brought Dodger catcher Will Smith well out in front of the plate.

Let’s savour Villar trying to take second on the throw in and Smith throwing wild enough to let Villar have third on the house, before a foul out caught by Dodger starter David Price ended the inning at three for the Mets.

Let’s savour the Dodgers getting only a pair back in the fourth, when Bellinger reached Mets starter Marcus Stroman for a two-out, two-run line single to right, making Stroman pay for walking the bases loaded ahead of Bellinger—whose season has been compromised badly by a couple of nagging leg issues and not having been able to recuperate properly from off-season shoulder surgery.

Let’s savour the Mets catching Bellinger in an inning-ending rundown out, catcher to short, Baez playing his old position in Francisco Lindor’s absence, feinting a throw toward third to keep A.J. Pollock from even thinking about a score before tagging Bellinger as he tried turning back toward second.

Let’s savour Stroman managing to keep the Dodgers at bay long enough for Baez to hustle a single into a double after two swift outs in the top of the seventh and Davis, right behind him, hitting the first pitch he saw from Dodger reliever Phil Bickford on a line over the left field fence.

Let’s savour the Mets loading the pads with one out in the top of the ninth off Dodger reclamation project Shane Greene—Nimmo’s base hit to right, Pete Alonso taking another plunk for the team, then Baez taking another plunk for the team.

And let’s savour Davis yet again, a day after he’d swung through a Max Scherzer meatball with the bases loaded for a strikeout. This time, Davis recovered promptly from falling into an immediate 0-2 hole. He wrung his way from there to a walk on four straight balls, resisting the temptation to pull the trigger on a sinker that sunk just a little too far below the strike zone floor for ball four and Nimmo trotting home.

But let’s not fool ourselves. These Mets may have a few energy reserves left, but there’s just a little too much still missing to give them much more than prayers. On paper, they’re only seven games out of first in the National League East. On the field and at the plate, Sunday’s showing is what they’ll need only every day from now on, practically, to have the prayer of even a prayer.

It may require what they may not have the rest of the way.

So just spend today thinking about Baez maybe playing his way into an extension that would keep him around the keystone with Lindor, when Lindor returns days from now.

Think about the Good Javy re-joining Lindor to turn the second base region into the swamp where base hits get sunk into ground outs. Lindor may have struggled at the plate this year but he remained a shortstop Electrolux. (Thirteen defensive runs above the league average shortstop before he was injured.)

Think about the Good Javy who turns the plate into his personal game-changing playpen, providing an energy jolt through this team that not even Con Edison could deliver, just the way he did Sunday afternoon.

Don’t think about the Bad Javy who chases pitches that deserve to escape, the one who tries a little too often to hit eight-run homers on pitches that provide the power just by the bat giving them a kiss. Not until or unless he shows up again, that is.

Think about the Good Javy outweighing the Bad Javy enough to convince Mets owner Steve Cohen it’ll be worth it to keep him around and use him as the perfect out to purge Robinson Cano, who’s due back for 2022.

Don’t say the Mets “will eat” Cano’s money for the final two years of his deal. That meal already went through the digestive tract and out the other end. They accepted him as part of the deal when they wanted relief pitcher Edwin Diaz that badly from the Mariners. Once his current suspension ends, Cano’s going to get paid whether or not he suits up for the Mets again.

Cano isn’t the defensive second baseman he used to be. He hasn’t been the hitter he once was since 2016, either. That’s something to ponder especially if wisdom finally prevails otherwise and the designated hitter finally becomes universal to stay.

The Mets may not be that inclined to have back a 38-year-old millstone drydocked an entire season over actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances, his second such suspension in four years. The Good Javy showed up in time Sunday to start helping make that decision so simple for the Mets that even Joe Biden could make it without screwing the proverbial pooch into a blood bath.