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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Mickey Callaway placating Robinson Cano isn't helping anyone

Robinson Cano of the Mets hits an RBI

Robinson Cano of the Mets hits an RBI single in the top of the first inning against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday in Philadelphia. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Mitchell Leff

PHILADELPHIA -- Robinson Cano, the highest-paid Met in Tuesday’s lineup, and arguably the group’s worst hitter, somehow was back in the No. 3 spot.

It’s become a growing debate in recent weeks, as people rightfully wonder what the heck he’s doing there, as the Mets continue to rake around him. If this were any other year besides 2019, Mickey Callaway might have a decent argument. 

But as we sit here now, present-day Robby Cano isn’t getting it done, and even a pair of hits Tuesday night in the Mets’ 7-5 loss to the Phillies felt overshadowed by the three runners he left stranded early on.

Through 55 games, Cano is hitting .228 with four home runs, 17 RBIs and a .646 OPS. Looking for a few Mets’ comps? Tomas Nido, the backup catcher, has three homers in half as many games. Adeiny Hechavarria, the part-time infielder, has 15 RBIs in 20 fewer games than Cano. Jacob deGrom has a .660 OPS.

This version of Cano, at age 36, is clearly not the eight-time All-Star his former agent -- and current GM -- Brodie Van Wagenen assumed he was getting back by sending the Mets’ top prospects to Seattle last December. Oh, and don’t forget the $67-million the Mets are on the hook for through 2023.

But this is all, as the economists say, sunk costs. Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn are gonzo. Consider the money unmovable, too. The choices should be sitting him (doubtful) or minimizing his drag on the offense, yet the Mets are choosing to placate Cano by letting him ride out the storm (fingers crossed) tucked into his favorite No. 3 hole.

Cano showed some promising signs Tuesday, driving in a first-inning run with a 106-mph, 10-hop single up the middle. He whiffed to strand two in the second, grounded out to leave another in the fourth but later ripped a leadoff double in the ninth.

Since returning from the injured list, he’s hitting .167 (6-for-36) in 10 games. Overall, Cano raised his RISP average to .278, which ranks ninth on the Mets. Callaway was peppered with questions about the Cano strategy before Tuesday’s game, and in his defense of sticking with the 15-year vet, the manager at least agreed he has significant room for improvement.

“There’s no magic spot that’s going to allow him to hit better,” Callaway said.

If only. By every measure, Cano is a noticeably diminished offensive threat than he was even a year ago, as both his exit velocity and hard contact have dropped considerably. Also worrisome is the fact that his strikeout rate has increased (13.5 percent to 19.5) and walk rate has slipped (9.2 percent to 5.6).

Cano maintains he’s just been unlucky, as his .263 average on balls put in play might suggest. By that logic, of the 201 players with a minimum of 210 plate appearances, Cano ranks 34th on that unlucky list. Problem is, as the other numbers indicate, he’s just not driving the ball hard enough to get the same hits in the same areas he usually did. Last year, Cano’s BABIP was .329 and he’s at .318 for his career.

“I’m not feeling pressure -- the season’s not over yet,” Cano said Tuesday afternoon. “This game is not how you start, it’s how you finish. It’s not like I’m chasing a lot of bad pitches, or anything like that. Just been no luck.”

As we already mentioned, that’s not entirely true. But what can the Mets do about it? Callaway has chosen to tread very lightly around his GM’s former client -- remember the whole running-hard-to-first fiasco? And the furthest he’s dropped him in the order has been to fifth, only once, on his first day back from the IL.

So when Callaway talks about him wanting Cano to be comfortable, is that for Robby’s sake? Or the manager’s?

“It’s very important in my opinion,” Callaway said. “And very important in all of the players’ opinions. Especially when things are going bad, they want that comfort level knowing what they can hit in certain spots in the lineup.”

Deferring to a potential (PED asterisk) Hall of Famer is nothing new for a manager, particularly in their first season together. Brodie’s presence certainly doesn’t help matters, and Cano doesn’t sound like he’s ready to forfeit his favorite No. 3 willingly. When asked Tuesday if he’d be OK moving down, Cano briefly stopped smiling.

“I haven’t thought about that,” he said.

The Mets should do more than think about it. 

Robinson Cano is trending in the wrong direction in these stats (Tuesday’s game not included):

Exit velocity

2018 93.1

2019 90.6

Hard-hit percentage

2018 51.7

2019 43.8

Batting avg. balls in play

2019 .263

2018 .329

K rate

2018 13.5%

2019 19.2%

BB rate

2018 9.2%

2019 5.6%

Credit: Baseball Savant

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