After a trade that went from bad to worse following his second-career PED suspension, the Robinson Cano era in Flushing has come to an end.
The Mets designated Cano for assignment before Monday’s noon deadline to bring their roster down to 26 men. The Mets also optioned right-hander Yoan Lopez to Triple-A Syracuse. Cano is still owed around $40 million through the 2023 season from the Mets, who took on his contract from the Seattle Mariners in 2019.
But for a team with big aspirations and Steve Cohen, a billionaire owner who can foot the bill, all that money being eaten became a no-brainer following Cano’s disappointing start to the season.
If Cano is not claimed by another team in the next seven days, he can be put on waivers or traded. If he is picked up by another club, that team will pay Cano the minimum MLB salary of $700,000, while the Mets will cover the remainder of his contract.
At age-39, Cano hit .195/.233/.268 with one home run and three RBI, two walks and 11 strikeouts across 12 games. That sort of production didn’t fit with the rest of the loaded Mets roster, which entered Monday with the best record in the National League. Repeatedly putting Cano in the lineup became a disadvantage for a Mets offense that, despite Cano, is first in MLB in hits (203) and fourth in MLB in runs (108), among other early-season offensive accolades.
Even so, in the days leading up to Cano’s release, it was no sure thing that the Mets would make the sensible and obvious call by releasing the veteran. Manager Buck Showalter on Sunday said he was empathetic to the challenges involved for an aging part-time player. The club had expressed that Cano’s value as a 17-year major-leaguer was depicted in the form of clubhouse leadership.
But then Dominic Smith’s breakout night at the plate happened. Smith is among the few position players who still have minor-league options remaining, as well as Luis Guillorme and J.D. Davis. It’s clear that Showalter values Guillorme’s infield versatility, as he has played in 13 of the team’s 23 games so far this season. Davis is the only right-handed threat off the bench. So Monday’s roster cut largely came down to Smith or Cano.
Smith made a statement on Sunday night against the Phillies, helping lead the Mets to a 10-6 victory thanks to his 4-for-4 night at the plate with three RBI and a run scored. Cano, meanwhile, may have played his last game as a Met on Friday against the Phillies, going 1-for-3 with two strikeouts to complete his turbulent passage through Queens.
After nine seasons with the Yankees and five years with the Mariners, Cano was traded to the Mets alongside closer Edwin Diaz before the 2019 season as part of Brodie Van Wagenen’s first move as the team’s general manager. At the time the trade made little sense, as the Mets sent outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, their 2018 first-round pick, to the Mariners and absorbed Cano’s 10-year, $240 million contract he signed with Seattle in December 2013, when Van Wagenen was Cano’s agent.
The trade became worse when MLB suspended Cano for all of the 2021 season following his second-career positive PED test. After one of his worst career seasons in 2019, Cano bounced back in 2020 to hit .316/.352/.544 with 10 home runs. But that production became tainted when Cano was caught using steroids in the winter of 2020. Having once been on a Hall of Fame trajectory with 2,632 career hits, Cano’s future with the Mets came with a deadline.
Having served his season-long suspension without pay, Cano returned to the Mets this spring training with a private apology for his teammates and a public statement for his fans. The Mets gave Cano a chance to succeed, but less than a month into the 2022 season, his lack of production became more unprofitable than the other option: releasing him from the team and continuing to pay the rest of his remaining contract.
Thus begins a new era in Mets baseball, one in which the owner is willing to eat the money of an unpopular and ineffective player and, by doing so, signals to his team and fan base that the organization is dead-serious about winning.