In one of the more surprising moves the Mets have made in recent memory, the team acquired second baseman Robinson Cano from the Mariners along with their closer, Edwin Diaz. While Diaz was the true prize of the deal for the Mets, Cano is the one who is getting most of the attention due to his storied career and long tenure across town with the Yankees.
Most baseball fans are quite familiar with Cano, who has grown into one of the game’s premier stars over his 13-year career. However, he wasn’t exactly a highly-regarded prospect before his MLB debut in 2005. Cano was never considered to be a top-50 prospect and was rated as only a B- prospect by John Sickels heading into that 2005 season. There were many doubts about his future power potential, as well as his ability to stick at second base. For many years, the Yankees repeatedly tried to add him into trade packages, but in the end they were never able to move him.
Cano would make his MLB debut in 2005, and didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his first go-around in the big leagues. He put up a very pedestrian 105 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR in 132 games that year. He had a very solid .297 batting average, but a paltry 2.9% walk rate and a middling .161 ISO limited his overall production.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Cano really burst onto the scene. It was in that season that he earned his first All-Star appearance and Silver Slugger award after hitting a dazzling .342, though that came along with just a .365 OBP and 15 home runs, which still limited him to a 128 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR in 122 games. It was clear Cano was a good player, but still lacked the plate discipline, defense, and power to really put him over the top.
Cano spent the next few years—with the exception of 2008—as a solid, above-average second baseman for the Yankees while steadily increasing his walk rate. Then in 2010, his age-27 season, Cano took off with a career-high 143 wRC+ and 6.3 fWAR. That season was the first in a stretch of four consecutive MVP-caliber seasons with the Yankees where Cano totaled 24.6 fWAR over that span and never posted a wRC+ below 134. He started hitting for considerably more power, putting up ISOs over .200 in each of those seasons, and he raised his walk rates over 8% in three out of those four years, highlighted by his career-best 9.5% walk rate in 2013. Every issue that was holding him back offensively before had been fixed. Cano was officially a star.
He would hit the free agent market after that 2013 season at the age of 30. It wasn’t a surprise that Cano and his then-agent, current Mets General Manager Brodie Van Vagenen, were looking to cash in on all of his recent success for a record-breaking contract. Reports were at the time that he had requested a 10-year, $300 million contract from the Yankees before he hit free agency. The Yankees did not extend that offer to him, but Cano cashed in anyway with a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners.
Cano picked up right where he left off in his first season in Seattle, posting a 137 wRC+ and 5.6 fWAR in 2014. However, he showed his first signs of decline in 2015, his age-32 season. He still put up a respectable 116 wRC+ and 2.8 fWAR that year, but those were his lowest marks in both categories in any season since 2008. He rebounded in 2016 with a much more recognizable 137 wRC+ and 5.7 fWAR, but again dissapointed in 2017 with a 113 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR.
That brings us to 2018, his age-35 season. As is well-documented by now, Cano missed significant time for the first time in his career when he lost half of his 2018 a suspension after testing positive for a banned substance. Regardless, he got off to a hot start, with a 131 wRC+ at the time of his suspension on May 15. Upon his return, he showed no ill-effects of being caught, posting a 140 wRC+ over his last 179 plate appearances in August and September.
Through the years, Cano’s main strength has always remained the same: his otherworldly bat-to-ball ability. Cano has always been great at making contact and avoiding the strikeout, and that still remains true; he managed a shiny 13.5% strikeout rate last year, not far off from his career 12.4% mark. In addition, his contact rates have always been well-above average, while his career whiff rate is just 7.1%, and has never been higher than 8.7% in any season; 9.5% is considered a league-average whiff rate.
The biggest concern about Cano probably comes on the defensive side of the ball. Per the metrics, Cano has never been a consistently good defender; grading out positively in some years, while grading out poorly in others. Cano did get his first exposure to both infield corner positions last season with the Mariners, though it was not a substantial amount of time at either spot.
Off the field, Cano has been a fun player for many years and has always been good for promotion, making regular appearances in the Home Run derby, and doing other fun stuff like going on the Tonight Show to get booed by Yankees fans, or playing stickball in the streets of New York with local kids. Cano is a likeable and easily-marketable player who should sell lots of jerseys and bring some fans to the ballpark. He brings a name value and marketability that hasn’t been in Queens in quite some time.