It’s a rare day when a Hall of Fame-caliber ballplayer gets busted for PEDs and the entire fan base erupts in celebration, but such is the case with Robinson Cano at age 38, with a $24 million salary for 2021 that is now erased from the books.
And rightly so.
For as well as Cano played last season, putting up an impressive .896 OPS over 49 games, his suspension for the 2021 season is nothing short of a gift to the Mets, giving Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson even more opportunity to improve a ball club that is perhaps only one highly-financed off-season away from championship contention.
But let’s take a minute to put in some perspective what is likely a disgraceful end to Cano’s career. For all of his greatness over the years, most of it as a Yankee, he can forget the Hall of Fame now. Even in this more forgiving era among voters, a second failed PED test in the space of two years almost certainly damages his legacy beyond repair.
And while he’ll have two more seasons and $48 million remaining after his suspension, it’s hard to believe the Cohen-led Mets won’t eat the money and be done with Cano. At that point, it doesn’t seem likely that another team would sign him, even for peanuts, when it’s hard to know how much of his entire career was owed to steroids.
The speculation was out there for years, which may or may not have had something to do with the Yankees making an offer they knew Cano was going to turn down as he entered free agency. I thought it was a mistake to let him go, but, as it turns out, they were smart not to go anywhere near the 10-year, $240 million deal the Mariners gave the second baseman.
By the time Brodie Van Wagenen traded for him, however, Cano had already failed one PED test, in 2018, so take a bow, Brodie: You went all-in on a steroids-cheat because, as his former agent, you insisted you knew him better than everybody else, and that ill-fated desire to make an early splash is now your lasting legacy as a GM.
And the other shoe is yet to drop, of course, depending on whether top prospect Jarred Kelenic delivers on the potential that had so many baseball people shaking their heads in disbelief at the time.
Fortunately for the Mets, they’ve entered an era where they can overcome such a mistake, and now they get a bonus of sorts, as Alderson has an extra $20 million (the Mariners are paying some $4 million a year of Cano’s salary) in his war chest for this winter of intrigue in Queens.
How will they spend it?
Here’s how an executive from another National League team responded, via text, when I posed that question:
“Any F’n way they want to. I’d love to be Sandy Alderson right now. He’s got a lot of choices but I’d take a run at LeMahieu for starters.”
That was the widespread opinion emerging from the Cano news, and it was hard to argue against it: suddenly D.J. LeMahieu fits perfectly with the Mets at second base, and while Cohen has dismissed the idea of a rivalry with the Yankees, he has to know he could make a huge statement outbidding Hal Steinbrenner for a player who is so highly valued in the Bronx.
Who knows, it’s possible that Alderson had a notion of signing LeMahieu anyway to play third base, after seeing the impact his high-contact rate and clutch hitting had with the Yankees, but it’s just a more obvious fit now.
So maybe we’ll find out right away whether Cohen relishes the idea of going up against the Yankees — where LeMahieu is more likely to wind up than the Mets, per SNY’s Andy Martino — and wouldn’t that make for a fun couple of months.
In any case, the beauty of it for the Mets is they have so many different ways they can go to fill the Cano absence and build a winner.
Indeed, the $20 million saved is right about what Francisco Lindor will earn via arbitration for 2021, perhaps giving Alderson more incentive to pull off a trade.
Or maybe it frees up money they’d rather spend on pitching, which is perhaps their biggest need. In that case, the Mets could plug Jeff McNeil in at second base and be just fine there, while looking to sign, say, two free agent pitchers, even if one turns out to be big-ticket item Trevor Bauer.
Or perhaps the new money allows them to sign Bauer as well as George Springer, giving them two of the Big Three on the free-agent market, which also includes catcher J.T. Realmuto.
So many possibilities. Here was a suggestion from a long-time MLB scout:
“Sign Springer and LeMahieu and the Mets have a lineup as dynamic as the Dodgers. That’s how I’d do it. Then get Charlie Morton on a short-term deal and when (Noah) Syndergaard comes back you’ve got a rotation you can win with.”
That too is a tantalizing thought, especially because LeMahieu and Springer have proven they can hit elite pitching in the postseason, and for all the potential of the Mets’ offense, their failures in the clutch were an issue for much of last season.
None of this will happen quickly, since Alderson still hasn’t hired a president of baseball operations or a GM, and it’s likely this will be a slow-developing free-agent market anyway, with so many teams looking to cut costs after the fan-less pandemic season.
But it won’t stop Mets fans from doodling lineups in their spare time, now more gleefully than ever. Nor should it. If Cano was dumb enough to get caught doing steroids a second time, acting with the same arrogance his former agent did in trading for him, he deserves no sympathy.