Robinson Cano’s sweet swing isn’t in question, but when major league talent evaluators dissect the All-Star second baseman’s game, two significant issues are raised: the PED suspension that cost him 80 games last season and his tendency to appear disinterested.
The Mets acquired the 36-year-old Cano from the Mariners on Monday in a blockbuster that also brought stud closer Edwin Diaz to the team. The Mariners received Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak, prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, in addition to reliever Gerson Bautista in the deal. The Mets will also receive $20 million that will go toward Cano’s remaining contract. A press conference on Tuesday at Citi Field will introduce the new arrivals.
Diaz, 24, is viewed as the key to the deal by the Mets. But Cano has five years and $120 million remaining on his contract and will be counted on to bolster a Mets lineup that was among the worst in the major leagues last season. For his career, Cano owns a .304/.355/.493 slash line with 311 homers.
“I guess the biggest question is now that he got busted for PEDs, was it PEDs contributing to him having the kind of offensive years he had?” a National League executive said Monday. “If you base it on what Cano has always been, really good hitter — I love him as a hitter — really good offensive player and hangs in there against lefties. What’s not to like about him offensively? But he’s 36. If you are off the juice, at what point does some of that stuff kick in?”
In 41 games after returning from his suspension, Cano slashed .317/.363/.497 — each number slightly above his career average — with six homers and 27 RBIs. In 39 games before the suspension, he slashed .287/.385/.441 with four homers and 23 RBIs.
Cano also has a reputation for not hustling, especially running the bases, which a major league scout said has become more prevalent in recent years, since leaving the Yankees.
“Now you have got [Yoenis] Cespedes and they have got [Cano],” the scout said. “If I’m a young kid I am looking at that and going, ‘If they can get away with it, why can’t I get away with it?’”
Cano dabbled with the corner infield positions last season with the Mariners after he returned from his suspension to find Dee Gordon entrenched at second base, but Cano is expected to play mostly at second with the Mets. An AL West evaluator who saw Cano toward the end of last season said second base is still his best position.
“It is about his physical condition and motivation,” the evaluator said. “Can he hit? Yes. Can he defend? Not Yankees defend when he was there, but he will be average, and the rest of it — if he gives a [hoot] — they will have a better-than-average player who will be All-Star caliber.”
Cano’s range might be an issue, according to another AL West talent evaluator, but he is still mechanically sound.
“He’s probably lost a step or two in the field, but he can still turn a double play really well,” the evaluator said. “He’s got good hands and a good arm. [Cano] is not Jose Altuve at second base, but I have seen him the last few years and he makes all the plays that are close to him and he can still throw and turn a double play. He still knows what he is doing with the bat.”
The same evaluator defended Cano’s “low motor” playing the game.
“A lot of guys these days kind of guard when they think they have to run hard and when they don’t as far as trying to save their energy a little bit, save their legs,” the evaluator said. “I have seen him hustle and go hard on some balls and I have seen him take it easy on some balls.”
Though Cano certainly dials it back at times, he has stayed healthy. He’s been on the DL once in his career — in 2006, his second season with the Yankees — and 2017, when he played 150 games, was the first time since then he didn’t play at least 156 games.
“He’s going to hit and he will be a piece in the middle of the lineup, I’m sure,” the evaluator said, “and will be a positive influence on the other hitters around him.”
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