It was never going to be easy for Robinson Cano in Queens. Coming over in a blockbuster trade in exchange for some serious talent and bringing with him the lion’s share of a big money contract, he had an awful lot to live up to. And while there’s plenty of room for debate as to where responsibility lies (spoiler alert: with basically everyone), one thing is certain: he did not live up to it.
Cano came to the Mets having averaged .296/.353/.472 in Seattle, playing at least 150 games a year until a PED suspension shortened his 2018. As a Met, he played just 107 games and slashed .256/.307/.428, his worst season in over a decade. Done in by injuries and a slow start, even a sizzling hot end to the year couldn’t soften the blow.
After an Opening Day home run off of Max Scherzer, there was justifiable optimism that the 36 year old would continue his impressive stretch of consistency, but by mid-May he was mired in a deep slump, with just three home runs and a sub-.250 batting average. And that, in true Mets fashion, is when the drama started.
During one memorably poor night at the plate, Cano didn’t run hard during one of his two double plays hit into. Never one to be described as scrappy or speedy, this was not a new approach to the game for Cano, and arguably it was a successful one for him, as he had avoided injuries for the vast majority of his career, well into his thirties, while hitting well enough to make up for his lack of all-out sprinting. No longer hitting well and under a frenzied New York media microscope, the criticism was loud and immediate and manager Mickey Callaway, feeling the heat over the team’s collective failures, benched him for lack of hustle. In the least-surprising turn of events imaginable, Cano hit the injured list with a quad injury from running out a grounder just two days later.
What followed was a series of injury mismanagements that would be laughable if it wasn’t actively threatening the career and health of a human being. Just two weeks after his injury, with the team playing exceptionally bad baseball, Cano was activated and played all of five innings before exacerbating the same injury and landing on the injured list once again - in the span of less than a month, matching the total number of stints on the injured list he had across five years with the Mariners.
Even after a mid-June return, Cano appeared to still be injured, looking shaky at the plate and in the field and with the statistics to back it up. He had only just started to look more like himself, hitting the ball with authority and moving comfortably at second base when he partially tore his hamstring. This time, though, he finally got a decent stretch of rest to recover and it showed when he returned a month later and had a fully Cano-like September, hitting .277/.364/.492 to wrap up a dismal year.
There’s no shortage of blame to dispense over Cano’s disappointing season. Brodie Van Wagenen certainly earned his share, first by putting an ill-advised burden on his blockbuster acquisition by failing to follow up the Cano trade with other significant moves, but moreover by putting a clearly injured player on the field, repeatedly and in spite of all around poor performance. The Mets’ issues with pressuring players to play through pain predate Van Wagenen, but ultimately, he is the only person who can put a player on and off the injured list and he owns the responsibility when those decisions are made poorly.
The coaching staff also carries some of the weight of Cano’s failures. Callaway dropped the ball by putting pressure on the veteran to play the game in a style not his own and hitting coach Chili Davis was a poor match to help Cano take advantage of the juiced ball.
None of this is to let Cano off the hook for putting up a bad season. He fell short of even the most pessimistic projections and no one else was up there at bat there except him. Though the already-brutal media coverage of him would have boiled over had he publicly stated he was too hurt to play, it was still a choice available to him that he didn’t make.
With a lost season behind him, it’s time for Cano to immerse himself in rest and rehabilitation and make a commitment to stay true to what made him a star, what made the Mets want him to begin with. September offered a ray of hope that his underlying talent is still there, that he still has more to offer than his considerable clubhouse presence. He has four more years in New York, let’s let this one be the one we all forget.