Get ready for Robinson Cano to be relevant again.
With his season-long steroid banishment complete, Cano began playing in the Dominican Republic winter league in recent days and will attend spring training with the Mets. He is amped about both of those developments, according to a certain someone who is uniquely positioned to know.
"Robbie is excited to be playing baseball again," said Roc Nation Sports chief operating officer Brodie Van Wagenen, Cano’s former agent, former general manager and current agent. "He’s excited to have baseball be part of his everyday life. From a Mets standpoint, he’s very much looking forward to being part of the organization again and making as much of a contribution as he possibly can."
With Cano’s impending return come significant questions about his on-field ability and his reputation.
His positive test last year for Stanozolol, a synthetic steroid, was his second violation of MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy. In 2018 he tested positive for a diuretic, which is sometimes used to hide the presence of banned substances.
"How he is received will depend on how he conducts himself and explains himself between now and spring training," said team president Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ de facto baseball operations leader while they continue to look for a GM. "A good deal of how the fans will respond is dependent on how he conducts himself."
And his reception in the clubhouse?
"I think the same will apply," he said.
While suspended, Cano has used a carefully curated social-media presence to stay associated with the Mets. That included periodically tweeting encouraging messages directed toward the team and its players as well as frequently appearing in Mets paraphernalia in Instagram photos that showed him lifting weights, resting at a baseball field, holding baseball bats, hugging his grandma and talking with his personal chef.
"We are back!" Cano wrote on Instagram after his first game with his Dominican team, Estrellas Orientales. "Thank you to my town of #SANPEDRO and country for always supporting. I truly have been working hard for you — my fans. It was great to be back in the game."
When last seen with the Mets, during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Cano was hitting about as well as he ever had, with a .316 average, .352 OBP and .544 slugging percentage. If he can produce at a level anything like that, he no doubt will get everyday at-bats. But because of his age (39) and his year away, as well as the dubious validity of his hot two months in light of his positive steroid test, it is not clear that the most recent examples of his work are worth anything.
Either way, the Mets are curious to find out. Cano will be in Port St. Lucie, Florida, come February and will play a position or positions to be decided — maybe his usual second base, maybe third base, maybe designated hitter (if National League teams are allowed to use one), Alderson said.
"We’ll have to see," Alderson said. "I don’t think there will be any change in his [roster] status between now and spring training."
Rotation help — of varying degrees of quality — will be a priority for the Mets this offseason, Alderson said.
"Starting pitching is definitely something we need to address," he said. "If the opportunity presents itself to do something at the top end of the rotation, I think we’ll definitely consider that. Just as important, however, based on our experience last year, depth at the other end of the rotation is really important also."
The Mets’ incumbent starters come with question marks attached: Jacob deGrom (health), Taijuan Walker (terrible second-half performance), Carlos Carrasco (health, ineffectiveness), David Peterson (surgery, generally unproven) and Tylor Megill (4.52 ERA as a rookie, generally unproven). Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman are free agents.
DeGrom missed the second half of last season because of multiple injuries, including what Alderson in September called a sprained elbow. He said deGrom being healthy in 2022 is "Plan A."
"Do I expect Jacob to be back 100%? Yes," Alderson said. "But as with all pitching, we’ll see."
When the Mets settle on a GM, the next big task will be to find a manager. Alderson said he is not concerned about the late search for that role because Oakland is the only other team looking for one, and "a list [of possibilities] is not that difficult to put together."
What qualities does he seek in a manager?
"You’re always looking for leadership," he said. "That’s important. Personal character. Competence between the lines. Those are the basic principles. Leadership is the most important thing, making sure we have somebody who can keep players motivated for 180 days or so, which is not an easy task, and managing everything that goes on between Day 1 and Day 182."