In a move that feels like it was decades ago, the Mets acquired Robinson Cano alongside Edwin Diaz in the 2018-2019 offseason. For reference, that team was led by GM Brodie Van Wagenen and owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon. The roster included the likes of Carlos Gomez, Todd Frazier, and Adeiny Hechavarria. While Edwin Diaz has become a prominent member of the roster, for better or for worse, Cano has seemingly been forgotten after a PED suspension cost him the 2021 season. As the Mets’ focus has recently shifted with an eye toward 2022, many have been wondering what role, if any, Cano will have on that team.
Cano’s Costly Contract
The 38-year-old star is still due $24 million each of the next two years. Alongside Jacob deGrom and Francisco Lindor‘s hefty contracts, the Mets payroll is already clocking in at near 100M in just three players alone. DeGrom and Lindor will certainly be giving their all to earn their keep. So what about Cano?
Given the Mets’ thin bench depth, impending free agents, and potential introduction of the DH to the National League, it seems like a solid bet that Cano will at least be given a shot in 2022. As the roster is currently constructed, Cano would be penciled in as the opening day second baseman, with J.D. Davis at third, and Jeff McNeil and Dom Smith in the corner outfield positions.
Obviously, additions will be made to this group, pushing several of these players into a bench role. I would argue that after such a down year, Cano deserves a chance before Smith and maybe even McNeil. In addition to all of this, Cano looks perfectly suited to be a power-hitting DH. The designated hitter seems likely to come to the NL soon, particularly with the CBA expiring on December 1st.
Can Cano Still Keep Up?
Cano most recently posted a 143 OPS+ in 2020, and has only had one season below a 114 OPS+ since 2009. Despite his age, Cano has shown that he can still keep up with Major League pitching. Obviously, the PED use calls these numbers into question, but Cano is regardless one of the best hitters of his era. Looking deeper into his 2020 season, Cano’s exit velocities, hard-hit rate, and xwOBA all ranked in the 70th percentile or better. The ideal scenario here may be that Cano can mimic the trajectory of Nelson Cruz, who continues to post 30+ homer seasons at over forty years old.
On the other hand, 2019 was Cano’s worst year in over a decade, putting up just a 95 OPS+ in his first year with the Mets. It wouldn’t be hard to see a narrative in which Cano himself wasn’t sure he could keep up and took performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to revive his career.
Once again though, this is complicated by the fact that this was Cano’s second PED suspension, with the first coming in 2018. On top of this, his statistics from the last several years were all in the “juiced ball” era. All of this makes it difficult to evaluate Cano’s true talent level at this point in his career.
Cano’s Role on Opening Day
Despite the inability to properly assess Cano’s current abilities, his career pedigree will very likely earn him a spot on the 2022 roster. Given that the current infield depth consists of Luis Guillorme and Travis Blankenhorn, Cano deserves a bench role at least. The Mets are also in no position to be critical here — they have at least half a dozen holes to fill and don’t need to create a new one by lowering Cano on the depth chart.
In a perfect world, the DH will come to the National League, allowing Cano to add to his illustrious career, while the Mets pursue more athletic options (like Javy Báez) at second base.
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