Five years before the New York Mets landed Robinson Cano in a blockbuster trade with the Seattle Mariners, members of the Met front office met with the second baseman and Jay-Z — his agent at the time — during his 2013 free agency. While a deal was regarded as unlikely from the onset, the New York Post took it upon themselves to Photoshop Cano into a Mets uniform to tease a scenario that appeared destined only for the fans’ imaginations. Five years later, Brodie Van Wagenen made it a reality, completing his first significant move as general manager and, in the process, supplying his new club with a sorely-needed middle-of-the-order bat.
The numbers speak for themselves: Cano has a .304/.355/.493 slash line, 311 career home runs, a 127 wRC+, a .189 ISO, and a 69.2 bWAR across 14 major league seasons. He has also been named to eight All Star teams and finishing top-10 in MVP voting six times. Cano ranks first in wRC+, home runs, runs batted in, batting average, OPS, and bWAR among all major league second basemen since his 2005 rookie year. There’s a good chance he will find himself enshrined in Cooperstown when all is said and done.
His impressive numbers extend beyond his time with the crosstown New York Yankees. Since signing a 10-year deal with the Mariners prior to the 2014 season, Cano has put up a .296/.353/.472 slash line with 107 home runs, a 129 wRC+, and a 23.7 bWAR in five seasons. His age seems to be one of the main gripes among the trade’s most vocal detractors, but there’s not a lot of evidence to suggest he’s in a decline.
Cano has played in at least 150 games in each of his first four years with the Mariners — in total, he played in at least 150 games over 11 consecutive seasons from 2007-2017 — and recorded at least 20 doubles and a .780 OPS in each of his five season in Seattle. For at least the next two or three season of the five he has remaining on his contract, the Mets will likely get an above-average bat and someone who can play defense dependably up the middle. For a team that sees itself in win-now mode, those are valuable assets.
Last year was a bit unusual for Cano, as he played in only 80 games as the result of a failed performance-enhancing drug test. The suspension came after the test came back positive for Furosemide, which is a diuretic and a banned substance. Cano — who was on the disabled list at the time with a fracture in his right hand after being hit by a pitch — acknowledged his wrongdoing but added that he had not used it as a performance enhancer and had it prescribed by a licensed doctor to treat a medical ailment.
Despite the road block, Cano still put up fine numbers in a half-season’s worth of work. The 36-year-old hit .303/.374/.471 with a 136 wRC+ a .168 ISO, and a 3.2 bWAR in 310 at-bats. Among the 42 second basemen who registered at least 300 plate appearances in 2018, Cano finished first in wRC+, third in OPS (.845), fifth in batting average, seventh in strikeout rate (13.5%), and 13th in walk rate (9.2%). His numbers also improved after returning from the suspension, as he posted a 140 wRC+, a .180 ISO, and an .860 OPS in 167 at-bats after August 14.
Cano — who will likely bat third in the Mets’ lineup this season — arrives with lofty expectations, but the onus of fixing the Mets’ offensive woes shouldn’t rest entirely on his bat. Along with Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie, the team has a solid new offensive core that will improve what was one of the worst offenses in the National League last year. In addition, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto’s continued growth will take some of the heat off of Cano and will give the team a solid nucleus and a much-improved lineup.
The prospect of getting to watch one of the game’s best players has been lost in the debate over whether the trade was worth the price the team had to pay. While it’s a valid question, it’s hard to argue with the team picking up a player of that caliber, especially given their recent offensive shortcomings. In five, ten, maybe fifteen years, we can debate the success of the trade and whether parting with Jarred Kelenic was worth the production the team received from Cano (and from closer Edwin Diaz).
For now, Mets fans should sit back and enjoy watching one of the best second basemen of our lifetime play baseball on a daily basis. It’s not everyday that a player of that stature suits up for your team.