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What does Robinson Canó have left in the tank?

The likely DH is a ball of question marks heading into Opening Day.

New York Mets Robinson Cano as seen before a spring training game in Port St. Lucie, Florida Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

The story of the Mets and Robinson Canó is a strange one, and has never been stranger than it is right now. The expensive add-on to the Edwin Diaz/Jarred Kelenic trade, the Mets are hoping that Canó, coming off a year-long suspension for performance enhancing drug use, can be a useful and productive piece for the team. This will likely come in the form of being the team’s primary designated hitter, as well as being a bench piece and a reserve second baseman. But is this a realistic expectation for the former future Hall of Famer?

Canó is 39-years old, and has not played more than 107 games in a season since 2017, losing half of 2018 to suspension and part of 2019 to injury. In the 2020 shortened season, Canó looked more like his old self, albeit in a limited capacity. In that season, Canó started 13 games at DH and rested 11 of the 60 games. Perhaps this is a sign that a more reduced work load will allow Canó to be more consistent at the plate, which would fit nicely into what the Mets hope his role will be.

But it is impossible to talk about the second half of Canó’s career without speculating about the effects of performance enhancing drugs. Leaving aside the morality and legality of the situation, the Mets simply don’t have good data for what Canó has left in the tank. If he is popped for a third PED suspension, it is a lifetime ban and a voiding of his contract, and so it is unlikely Canó would be so risky with his future.

What that means is that the Mets have, essentially, three options when it comes to Canó: they can play him in a starting role and hope he still has some baseball left in him, make him the most expensive bench player in the Majors, or cut him and eat the 48 million dollars owed him over the 2022 and 2023 seasons. It seems like the Mets will hope for the first option, but won’t be afraid to move onto one or the other if need be. If Canó’s talent level at this point is a further diminished version of his 2019 season, the decision may be easier to make than we think.

If Canó can still hit, and is putting up numbers closer to his 2018 and 2020 seasons than his 2019, the Mets’ will have a very useful piece. Canó has averaged 24 home runs and 41 doubles over his career; if he can get close to that level of performance, all of the worries about his production are gone. But that, like everything else with Canó right now, is a huge if. Between age, lack of playing time, and natural degradation of skills, a career norm performance is asking a lot.

Canó is one of a handful of DH candidates for the Mets, and will likely share the role with J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, at least initially, with an occasional Pete Alonso appearance as well. While this gives the Mets some options, the limited defensive profiles of Smith and Davis means that when they’re not DHing, they are either playing out of position, or not playing at all. While Canó theoretically can still play second base, I can’t imagine Buck Showalter trotting him out there with any regularity if Jeff McNeil is healthy. And while he played a little first base this spring, he’s easily fourth on the depth chart at that position. And so, in the best case scenario, Canó seems likely to be the primary DH who spells McNeil now and then at second. But if the bat isn’t there, it will be very hard to derive any value from Canó on the field.

While it is easy to recall the perennial All-Star who played in the Bronx and has put up 69.6 bWAR over his career, that player is likely gone. The question is whether or not what Canó can do in 2022 is worth the salary and roster spot If it is, the Mets’ lineup looks much deeper and more formidable than it does without him. If not, the Mets have some tough decisions to make.