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Mets position analysis: Robinson Cano's track record, big contract lock him in at second base

Robinson Cano #24 of the Mets looks on

Robinson Cano #24 of the Mets looks on against the Miami Marlins during the first game of a doubleheader at Citi Field on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. Credit: Jim McIsaac

During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Mets position by position. We already covered first base. Now, second base.

The starter: The signature move of Brodie Van Wagenen’s tenure as Mets general manager was his first one: acquiring Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz from the Mariners for prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista and major-leaguers Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak in December 2018.

And so far, that signature move . . . is a dud, in part because of Cano’s poor debut season with the Mets (and in part because of Diaz’s terrible 2019 and in part because of Kelenic’s blossoming further into one of the top prospects in baseball).

Entering the 2020 season, whenever it starts, Cano, 37, remains the Mets’ starting second baseman — and there are reasons to believe that won’t change this year. Chief among them is Cano’s long track record of All-Star-level production before last season; only time will tell if 2019 was a blip or the beginning of the age-induced end. And it is worth noting that he has an ally in Van Wagenen, his former agent, and has the second-highest salary on the team ($24 million, after Jacob deGrom’s $25.5 million).

Last summer, Cano offered hope for the future by hitting .284 with a .339 OBP and .541 slugging percentage in the second half. That came in only 42 games — he missed time with a strained left hamstring (the last of three stints on the injured list) — but is much closer to his career norms. That brought his overall line to .256/.307/.428, good for an OPS+ of 96 (just below league-average 100). In the end, Cano was almost an average hitter in 2019.

The other options: The following is a theme in this position analysis series: If the starter gets hurt, Jeff McNeil’s versatility is massively helpful. The fix in the case of a Cano absence or benching could be as simple as sliding McNeil to second and putting J.D. Davis at third — tweaks that, in 2019, would have made the Mets better than leaving Cano in the lineup.

Luis Guillorme, a defense-first utility infielder and natural shortstop, also is capable of filling in.

In a world in which Jed Lowrie is healthy enough to be comfortable playing major-league games, he would be an option. He split time between second and third in spring training, though he never got into games because of left knee/leg issues.

The future: Any conversation about the Mets’ future at second base starts with Cano’s contract. His deal runs through 2023 — three more years after this shortened or nonexistent season — and he is due $24 million per year. He will turn 41 at the end of that season. If he doesn’t rebound from his down year, the Diaz/Cano blockbuster is at risk of being a downright disaster, not just a dud. If he does bounce back, the Mets have their answer at second base for several years.

There are several scenarios in which second base opens up before Cano’s contract expires: If he doesn’t hit enough to play regularly, if he isn’t healthy enough to play regularly or if he gets moved to designated hitter (if the National League indeed adopts the DH, as some in the industry expect).

The Mets don’t have any second base-specific prospects close to the majors. Replacing Cano — in 2024 or earlier — could take many different forms, including McNeil.

If more than one of the Mets’ young shortstops — Amed Rosario, plus prospects Andres Gimenez and Ronny Mauricio — become legitimate major-league shortstops over the longer term, someone could be moved to second. Shervyen Newton, 20, mostly played second for low Class A Columbia last year, pushed off shortstop by Mauricio.

New York Sports