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:
|HOF AVG WITH CANÓ||.490|
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.