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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Cano’s ban imperils what was a certain trip into Hall of Fame

Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano watches from the dugout

Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano watches from the dugout during a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians in Seattle, Sept. 24, 2017 Photo Credit: AP / Ted S. Warren

Robinson Cano’s 80-game suspension for testing positive for furosemide, a banned substance, will cost him $12 million this season. That’s a hefty chunk of cash that alone should be enough for a player to fight such a penalty, if he indeed was innocent.

But Cano decided to drop his appeal this past week, days after suffering a fractured hand that landed him on the disabled list. Roughly half of that suspension will be spent on injury rehab anyway. So what is the actual cost to Cano — a player on schedule to make $300 million in career earnings through 2023?

The only thing left that isn’t guaranteed to anyone: enshrinement in Cooperstown.

Cano, 35, was a lock for the Hall of Fame before Tuesday’s jarring announcement. The eight-time All-Star already had accumulated enough WAR (67.6) to place him 11th all-time among second basemen — eight of the 10 ahead of him are in Cooperstown — and he already has surpassed recent inductees Roberto Alomar (67.1) and Craig Biggio (65.5).

Even if Cano didn’t play another game, he likely was in, based on many of the measures used by BBWAA voters. But because he was under contract to play another five seasons for the Mariners, it was a safe bet that he would reach 3,000 hits (583 to go) and get the 73 home runs he needed to vault over Jeff Kent into the top spot for the career lead for second basemen.

Now those milestones, and that heap of WAR, essentially have been rendered meaningless on his Hall of Fame resume. Regardless of how the BBWAA’s electorate has bent recently on notorious greats such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, there remains an unbreakable wall between those suspended by MLB and Cooperstown.

Despite the whispers that swirled around players such as Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell, they all made it to the Hall — with Rodriguez charging in on the first ballot (Piazza had to wait four years, Bagwell seven).

As Brian Cashman said this past week while speaking generally about PEDs — not strictly about Cano’s case — “Knowledge is one thing, suspicion is another.”

Turns out there seemed to be plenty of whispers involving Cano, too, but we didn’t hear as much about them until he actually was suspended. Take Mark Teixeira, a former Yankees teammate of Cano’s from 2009-13, who excoriated him during Thursday’s appearance on ESPN’s “The Michael Kay Show.”

While Teixeira said he wasn’t surprised by the suspension, he suggested guilt by association for Cano, based on who his friends were in the clubhouse during those years, as well as a link to the 2013 Biogenesis bust that took down Alex Rod riguez and a dozen other players. Cano’s assistant, Sonia Cruz, was on a client list for Anthony Bosch, who operated the clinic, but Cano was not implicated at that time.

“Let’s just use this situation here,” Teixeira told ESPN radio. “Robbie Cano’s assistant was on the list for Biogenesis. Now, of course, [he] had an assistant, you know, buy stuff for him. Alex Rodriguez got popped by Biogenesis, and Melky [Cabrera] got popped. They were best friends. When someone gets lumped into that group, it’s because there’s evidence. There’s a paper trail. There’s a smoke trail.”

Of course, nobody was bold enough to publicly hammer that connection back in 2013. Yankees people had to be wary of it, but when Cano became a free agent at the end of that season, the team still was willing to give him a seven-year deal worth $175 million to stay in the Bronx. The Mariners ultimately blew that offer away with their own 10-year, $240-million contract, and Cano wound up getting suspended only two months into Season 5.

As is often the case, Cano provided the usual defense in Tuesday’s statement, saying he took Furosemide, a diuretic, while under the care of a “licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment. While I did not realize at the time that I was given a medication that was banned, I obviously now wish that I had been more careful.”

Cano also made sure to emphasize that Furosemide is “not a performance-enhancing substance.” While that’s a correct statement, MLB considers the drug a masking agent, or a way to quickly flush out PEDs from a player’s system to avoid testing positive. Cano’s decision to drop the appeal suggests his usage was of the darker nature, even as another Hall of Fame- bound player, the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, rallied to his defense in the Detroit Free Press this past week, saying he knows “[Cano] didn’t cheat.”

“His doctor prescribed the medication. I think he got all the paperwork,” Cabrera told the newspaper. “Why he get positive? I don’t understand that. If it’s something for him to get better.

“If I lived in Venezuela [Cabrera’s native country], I might test positive, too. If I need some medicine, I gotta take[/DROPCAP]. If I gotta take something to get better if I’m sick, I’m going to take it. I’m going to do the same thing Cano do because I need it. If I’m in Venezuela, not here in the United States.”

Cano’s case is somewhat similar to Manny Ramirez, another player who once appeared to be on a Cooperstown track and remains on the Hall of Fame ballot. Ramirez was suspended 50 games in 2009 after testing positive for human chorionic gonadotropin, a banned female fertility drug that can be used to cover up PED use. Ramirez, a career .312 hitter with 555 home runs, retired in 2011 after a second positive test.

Ramirez received 22 percent of the votes on the 2018 ballot, down from 23.8 percent for his first year of consideration. A player must earn 75 percent for enshrinement in the Hall.

The only other Cooperstown-worthy player who has a positive test on his record is Rafael Palmeiro, who was suspended 10 games (MLB was far more lenient then) when he was busted in 2005 for stanozolol, a PED — only six months after emphatically wagging his finger and defiantly telling Congress that “I have never used steroids. Period.” Palmeiro insisted it was a tainted vitamin shot.

Palmeiro is one of only six players to reach 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, yet he dropped off the Hall ballot in 2014 after receiving only 4.4 percent in his fourth year of eligibility.

The next test case for those looking ahead to Cano’s election will be A-Rod, who will first appear on the ballot in 2021. During a 2009 confession, Rodriguez admitted taking steroids after appearing on the (confidential) 2003 survey-testing list, but he was never suspended until the 2013 Biogenesis investigation linked him to the PED lab. He wound up with a 162-game suspension.

Upon his 2015 return, A-Rod initially was treated like a pariah outside of the Yankees. But he steadily has rehabbed his public image since then, and in some ways, he has never been more popular, with two prominent broadcasting jobs and numerous speaking appearances. He’s even dating Jennifer Lopez.

And yet it would be shocking if the doors to Cooperstown don’t ultimately remain closed to A-Rod. What we know about Cano’s offense doesn’t come close to measuring up to A-Rod’s uncovered litany of PED crimes, but it shares one important distinction: he’s on record now with a positive test and penalty.

To paraphrase Cashman, you can’t demonize someone on suspicion. Knowledge, however, will keep a player out of Cooperstown. Even with the BBWAA’s evolving attitudes, that’s very unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

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