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That Cano Has Sailed

I had come around on Robinson Cano [1] in 2020, a man we learned Wednesday won’t be a Met in 2021 [2]. I had come to not automatically grimace at the sight or thought of him in a Mets uniform. I even got over my distaste for No. 24 being taken out of informal retirement on his behalf in deference to his having been named for Jackie Robinson and 42 not being available. Willie Mays wore 24. Then, save for the Kelvin Torve hiccup of 1990, only Rickey Henderson wore it thereafter. Nobody’d touched it for nearly twenty years. It was reserved for legends whose backstory merited it. Robbie, at his best, wasn’t quite in the Willie/Rickey stratosphere, but he’d been fairly close. We saw evidence that he could still resemble his younger, outstanding self, the perennial AL All-Star whose path to 3,000 hits and probably Cooperstown would require only decent endurance and a little forgiveness from a previous suspension time might sweep down the memory hole. After 2020, he’d have three seasons to build out his statistical portfolio and enhance his reputation anew.

Once he found his Met footing, Cano’s revitalized offense and the universal appreciation he seemed to elicit from his younger teammates for his informal coaching and words of veteran wisdom made me forget what an absolutely asinine trade had been executed to bring him and the shall we say inconsistent Edwin Diaz to Flushing in exchange for our top outfield prospect about ten minutes after the kid was drafted. I’d even decided to overlook that Cano viewed running the 90 feet to first base as purely optional.

Maybe it started with the three-homer night against San Diego and the hot streak he carried into an unfortunate infield injury in the summer of 2019, just as the moribund Mets were coming to life. The amazing part wasn’t that he was tearing up a hamstring just as he was tearing up a new league. The amazing part was that he picked right up where he left off when he returned in September, and essentially kept it going once baseball returned ten months later. Wow, I had to admit, Robinson Cano can still hit.

Insert here your own rhetorical question of gee, just how, as he approached 38 years old, did he manage to effect such a renaissance?

I guess the proof is in the positive.

Robinson Cano has been suspended for 2021 after testing thumbs-up for Stanozolol, previously known to us as the steroid of choice for fallen mid-2010s closer Jenrry Mejia. That makes it two suspensions in less than three years for Cano; the first was for the diuretic Lasix and cost him half a season. Cano forfeits his $24 million salary for next year, which is quite a paycheck to risk under an otherwise guaranteed contract. Perhaps it speaks, perversely, to a desire to win at all costs. Or tells us athletes, no matter how undeniably veteran or presumably wise, believe they are impervious to niceties like testing for banned substances.

The Mets themselves didn’t owe Cano all $24 million for ’21, incidentally. The Mariners were on the hook for a percentage. So call it merely a ton instead of a spit ton of money the Mets are off the hook for in the coming year, a welcome savings even for a franchise now connected to plenty deep pockets. And call it good fortune that the Mets are deep enough in perfectly viable second basemen — Jeff McNeil, Andrés Giménez — so that there is nothing glaringly debilitating from a competitive standpoint as one begins to construct hypothetical lineups for the season hopefully ahead. And if the Mets want to take a run at a free agent like DJ LeMahieu, hey, look — about $20 million just got freed up!

The news is not a terrible bruise to the Mets’ aspirations, but it’s too bad anyway. Cano was part of the team we came to embrace in 2019 and gave us a lot of hitting in 2020, hitting that added up (.316/.352/.544) and hits that still count as having happened. I watched him closely at FanFest last January, the last time I was inside Citi Field. He impressed me just by showing up and then by being one of the guys. I expected aloofness. I witnessed warmth. (With his contract, why shouldn’t he always beam?) I entered a George Foster post-1982, pre-July 1986 mindset with Robbie. The commitment to an aging star had been proven overly optimistic, but here was a once top-flight player now and again reminding you why he was considered it worth it — or in Cano’s case, worth it to a general manager who has since been relieved of his duties.

We don’t know how much of his 2020 production was Stanozolol-enabled and how much was simply good old baseball knowhow and residual reflexes remaining in working order. I understand it’s nearly impossible to say anything positive about a player who has just tested exactly that for a second time without sounding naïve or Pollyannish about the whole thing. Still, I came to kind of like the guy, and, as I’ve grown older, I’ve hesitated to be overly judgmental about people’s mistakes, especially if they don’t particularly hurt anybody else. We’re all capable of making them more than once. We’re all capable of learning from them eventually.

That said, yeesh. I can hear Norm Macdonald’s voice reporting, “Experts have announced they’ve discovered a way to NOT forfeit $24 million in guaranteed salary after testing positive for PEDs: DON’T use PEDs.”

Also, don’t trade Jarred Kelenic.

Cano has two years on his contract lingering lavishly beyond 2021, carrying him through his age 40 season. One wishes to believe the new regime can negotiate and easily cover a buyout. Once that deal is done, please deposit No. 24 at the front desk on your way out.