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Robinson Canó’s Mets tenure and the fragility of baseball

Robinson Canó was a really good player until he was not, and the Mets had no choice but to move on.

MLB: Game One-San Francisco Giants at New York Mets Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets, a surging baseball team with one of the best records in baseball over the first month of the 2022 campaign, were faced with a roster crunch and a tough choice. They made the correct one, however, designating veteran Robinson Canó for assignment.

Canó, barring an absolutely stunning outcome, has played his last game as a New York Met, and will end his tenure in Queens with a rather pedestrian .269/.315/.450 (106 OPS+) in 168 games, but his time as a Met was anything but.

In early December of 2018, then-general manager Brodie Van Wagenen made his big swing by acquiring Canó and Edwin Díaz for a package surrounding Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. The trade was controversial from the jump, as Kelenic had barely spent any time in the Mets organization before the deal, as he was drafted just months prior, and Canó was an older player who was handsomely paid, something that was typically a bar for the Wilpon-owned Mets.It didn’t help matters that Kelenic immediately exploded as a prospect, which made his perceived value quite high, even though he has been woefully bad in the major leagues thus far.

Canó struggled for the first half of that season, looking mostly lost at the plate. He hit .240/.287/.360 in the first half, struggled with hamstring injuries, and sent shock waves of worry throughout the fanbase. Canó, to his credit, did a lot of work to erase those worries in the second half, hitting a robust .284/.339/.541, making his first half woes look less grave and injury-based.

2020 was a fresh start for Canó, and he was splendid in the COVID-shortened campaign. He hit .316/.352/.544, his best season since 2013 by both OPS+ (143) and wRC+ (142). While the Mets as a whole had a rough season, he was one of the bright spots, and it seemed as though he would be a contributor for years to come despite being 37 at the time.

And then, in between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Canó got suspended for performance enhancing drugs. Again. He would be suspended for the entirety of the 2021 season, and his future went from “aging vet who can still swing it” to “would he even be on the 2022 Mets?”.

He would be on the 2022 Mets, and it was nothing short of a disaster. In 12 games split between second base and designated hitter, he hit a paltry .195/.233/.268. While it is easy to point to a sample size of 43 plate appearances and say he simply is in a cold stretch, there were legitimately concerning signs in his profile.

Baseball Prospectus’ Jarrett Seidler pointed out in late April that Canó had yet to pull a ball in the air all season. He played a few games after this tweet and got one hit — an opposite field single that saw him barely get his bat around on a middle middle fastball. His bat speed was hilariously gone by this point, and it was clear that even through 43 plate appearances it would be difficult to justify keeping him on the roster — he looked cooked.

The only thing that potentially could have kept him on the roster was the roughly $40m he was owed for this year and next. The Mets made the decision to keep the 26 best players on the roster at the time, regardless of their price tags, as they absolutely should have DFA’ing Canó.

Robinson Canó’s Mets tenure represents the frailty of a baseball career. Canó was one of the premier players in the entire sport, and he had some truly excellent times in Queens — from his hot second half on a fun 2019 Mets team, highlighted by this game

to his 2020 season that was better than he’s been since 2013, despite the small sample size. Regardless, his legacy will be a confounding one; his career .302/.352/.490 line, paired with 2632 hits and 335 home runs scream Hall of Fame, especially for his position, but his reputation will understandably be wrapped up in being suspended for PEDs not once, but twice. Canó will always be primarily remembered as a Yankee and a Mariner, but his Mets tenure will be an interesting footnote in his career — one that had sky high highs, and basement level lows, and ultimately ending with an unceremonious whimper, punctuated by a single tweet: