Suspended for the season because he tested positive for a steroid, Robinson Cano has remained a presence — and a respected voice — from afar for the Mets.
Cano had lunch Thursday with Edwin Diaz, with whom he speaks frequently, and also has communicated with manager Luis Rojas, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and others, serving as a cheerleader, a sounding board and once in a while a long-distance hitting instructor, asking those individuals to pass along specific tips to others.
Diaz said Cano calls him three or four times per week. Cano recently suggested they get together in Manhattan on the Mets’ mid-homestand day off, when he happened to be in town.
"Every time he calls me, I pass the phone to the other guys and they say hello," said Diaz, who has known Cano since he was a Mariners minor-leaguer. "He says he wants to come back and play baseball. We don’t talk about personal issues. He told me, ‘I’m getting ready for next season. I’m coming ready and I’m coming to help the team.’ "
Those "personal issues" were Cano’s second violation of MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy and related fallout. When he tested positive for Stanozolol, the league banned him last November for all of 2021.
Diaz and Cano have "never, never, never" discussed Cano’s discipline. Cano hasn’t publicly commented on the PED punishments, either.
"I respect him a lot," Diaz said. "We just talk about baseball. We got a great relationship. He knows my family, I know his family. But in those things, I don’t like to talk with him about that."
So when Cano made one of his regular calls and invited Diaz to lunch, Diaz, of course, obliged. Cano paid, Diaz said with a big smile. Cano told his more than 1 million Instagram followers and almost half-million Twitter followers about it the next day.
"Thank you for the advice, my brother," Diaz wrote back in Spanish.
That advice, per Diaz: "He just told me, you’re doing great, keep your mind in the game. You guys have 15, 14 games left, so finish strong. That’s the main thing. Finish strong."
Cano is considering playing in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. That would be his first on-field action in more than a year.
The Dominican uses the designated hitter, which would benefit Cano, a second baseman. But one Mets official mentioned that it would be a good idea for him to play some third base. Such familiarity might benefit the Cano and the team in 2022.
The Mets benched third baseman J.D. Davis in favor of the hotter-hitting Jonathan Villar. Villar is a free agent after this season. Davis remains under team control for 2022 and beyond. The Mets also have a pair of third-baseman prospects — Brett Baty with Double-A Binghamton, and Mark Vientos, recently promoted to Triple-A Syracuse — approaching major-league readiness.
Cano played third in two random games with the Mariners in 2018. He would need more practice there in a scenario in which he would be relied on.
Another option for the Mets: cutting him entirely. Cano, who turns 39 next month, has two years and $48 million remaining on his contract (with $4 million per year covered by the Mariners, under the terms of the Mets’ December 2019 blockbuster trade for Cano and Diaz).
The Mets have not publicly discussed the possibility for dumping Cano. A decision of that magnitude is difficult to forecast given the unknowns at the top of their baseball-operations department.
Not letting Cano even arrive in Port St. Lucie come February would avoid any awkwardness that comes with an older star returning from a PED suspension. But given his maintained relationships with some in the Mets’ clubhouse, maybe that won’t be a concern.
Diaz relayed: "He said, ‘I want to come to play at spring training to show them I’m ready.’ "
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