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Roster construction and the current importance of Robinson Canó

While it was not likely the plan going into the season, the 2022 New York Mets look to be heavily reliant on the 39 year old second baseman.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson Canó’s Mets tenure has been, in a word, tumultuous. After a somewhat controversial trade prior to the 2019 season that saw him and Edwin Díaz get sent from Seattle to Queens for a package surrounding soon to be top prospect Jarred Kelenic, Canó had an up and down first year as a Met.

He started slow, struggling to a .240/.287/.360 (73 wRC+) first half, raising immediate questions on whether or not Canó was, for lack of a better term, completely washed. However, he came back in the second half of the season looking like a completely different player. He hit .284/.339/.541 (127 wRC+), making the first half of the year look like a blip due to a hamstring injury and everything that goes along with a trade off the field.

He continued that energy into the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, hitting .316/.352/.544 (142 wRC+), good for the third best wRC+ among all second basemen (minumum: 180 plate appearances). He was one of the better hitters in what was a legitimately excellent Mets offense, and looked like he would be a solid contributor over the next few years, despite his age.

And then 2021 happened.

On November 18, 2020, Canó was suspended for performance enhancing drugs a second time, banning him for the entire 2021 season. Not only was it a blow for the Mets last year, it also threw his future into question: how much of his good performances in the second half of 2019 and all of 2020 was aided by the steroids? Would he test positive again? These are all questions neither we, nor the Mets, know the answers to.

Despite all of that uncertainty, Canó is going to be a huge part of the 2022 Mets, whether the front office planned for him to be or not. While the last we saw of Canó was him putting together a strong offensive season, he has not played much professional baseball in over a year, outside of 17 games in the Dominican Republic (10 in the Dominican Winter League and seven in the Caribbean Series), hitting .344/.419./406 in those contests. While the bat to ball skills were promising and the lack of power worrying, it was also a whopping 17 game span in a winter league: it tells us virtually nothing about Canó. And he is going to play a lot for the 2022 Mets.

While he will likely cede all of the starting second base reps to Jeff McNeil, Canó is going to be the designated hitter a lot of the time. The DH spot is the biggest spot of contention in the Mets lineup, barring a new starting caliber bat being brought into the fold. Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, and Robinson Canó are all going to fight for that DH spot on a nearly daily basis, with all three of them not having a clear place in the field and the Mets not having a clear DH on the roster. On top of that, Smith is likely the fourth outfielder on the roster, and Davis would slot into third base on a regular basis should something happen to Eduardo Escobar. Canó likely would man the keystone if McNeil would get hurt. There is a truly thin line until we get to “everyday player Robinson Canó” which is almost certainly not something anyone expected coming into the season.

Robinson Canó’s importance to the roster — as a key backup and one of the presumed regular starters at DH, highlights the rather interesting roster construction the Mets find themselves with. The bench is rather inflexible, with Luis Guillorme and Tomas Nido locking down the backup infield and catcher duties, but with Smith, Davis and Canó all lionizing each other. It is easy to see Davis play most of the time against left handed pitching, Smith and Canó will fight for time against righties. While, right now with everyone healthy, the trio will split time in a convoluted DH platoon, but each of them are one injury away from a lot of playing time, something that is inherently risky considering their profiles. And the riskiest of the bunch is Robinson Canó.