The Robinson Cano experiment will go down in Mets’ history as a colossal failure.
Money aside, in Cano’s days with the Mets, he was never the player he was in Seattle and was nowhere close to the top-flight hitter and defender he was for the Yankees. That was just when he was on the field, and the suspension that terminated his entire 2021 season made the blockbuster trade even harder to stomach. Cano, an unquestionably great player at his peak, wasn’t helping much when he was in the lineup and certainly wasn’t contributing while sitting out a whole year.
Because of all of this, Cano’s recent designation for assignment made perfect sense from a baseball standpoint, even if the financial ramifications and Cano’s All-Star pedigree made the move a tinge surprising.
Two things are true now: Cano is not playing another game for the Mets, and other teams are at least going to do their due diligence on him. Every team in the league gets to use a designated hitter now — opening up much more possibilities for Cano — and other clubs have taken fliers on guys like Albert Pujols, Steven Vogt and ex-Met Jed Lowrie this year, who are either older than or similarly-aged to Cano and not being relied on for massive offensive numbers anymore.
The intangibles will be an important factor for any club that’s evaluating Cano, but there are also a few that could use a left-handed hitter that can still play a passable second base in emergencies. Mets fans can also take some solace in the fact that Jarred Kelenic, the uber prospect that ex-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen parted with in the Cano tradehas been even worse than Cano in several statistical categories this year.
Of course, one is a 39-year-old on his way out and the other has played less than 162 MLB games, but the early returns on Kelenic make the move much more palatable for the time being, especially with Edwin Diaz more than holding up his end of the deal.
As the baseball world awaits his next move, there are some teams that would make a bit of sense for Cano on paper. It’s not that simple, though.
When a player is designated for assignment, they have seven days to either be traded or placed on outright waivers. Nobody is going to give something up in a trade to acquire this version of Cano. If a team claims him off waivers, they also are responsible for the remaining money left on that player’s contract. With Cano, that’d be financial malpractice.
This means that, should Cano clear waivers as expected, he’ll become a free agent. But, because he has more than five years of MLB service time, Cano is still owed the guaranteed money remaining on his contract. That means that any team who wants to take a chance on the complicated slugger has to cover the rest of the money he’s owed this year, as well as the $24 million for 2023.
Therein lies the rub. Players like Pujols, Vogt and Lowrie hit open free agency, which allowed the teams that signed them to give them a contract much more reflective of their current value. None of those three signed for more than one year or $2.5 million, a minuscule sliver of what Cano would be owed through the 2023 campaign.
Essentially, any team that wants to try their hand at fixing Cano would have to pay an exorbitant fee that frankly wouldn’t make any sense whatsoever. Nobody is going to eat that much cash for a player who provides so little on the field at this point. The other problem with Cano during his brief time with the 2022 Mets was that in order to prove his worth his, he needed to be playing every day. This created the conundrum of the team either having to run Cano out there five times a week and letting him get his groove back in real games that matter, or leave him on the pine as the most handsomely paid bench ornament this side of Ben Simmons.
A team like the Toronto Blue Jays — unapologetically trying to win now, short on left-handed bats, no immutable options currently entrenched at DH or second base — would have been the most logical fit. But that contract that Cano signed with the Mariners nearly ten years ago still looms unbelievably large.
The domino effects of that deal (which the Mariners negotiated with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports agency, a group that now includes Van Wagenen, who is Cano’s agent again), are fascinating. Had former Mariner GM Jack Zduriencik not gone so high on the dollar amount, his successor his Jerry Dipoto would n’t have been so desperate to move Cano during the initial stages of the Mariners ‘rebuild. Had Van Wagenen never gotten the Mets’ GM job, the team almost certainly doesn’t agree to the 2018 trade that forced them to take on Cano’s remaining salary.
At the same time, if there was no trade, there’d be no Diaz, who could very well be the guy closing out games that clinch a postseason berth or win a potential playoff series. If the Mets don’t trade for Cano they might also never have gotten Starling Marte, another critical piece of the current puzzle who openly said that he has a good relationship with Cano and always wanted to be his teammate.
The ins and outs of this situation could make anyone’s head spin. But DFA’ing Cano also brought some clarity, finality and common sense to the Mets, a team that could make everyone quickly forget about this miniature saga if they parlay their strong start into a strong season.