PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Nothing is coincidental in a major-league clubhouse, so the new tenant in David Wrights corner locker at First Data Field didnt arrive there by accident.
The only person it could be is Robinson Cano, who moved in Sunday, carrying with him expectations that he never really had to shoulder during his time with the Yankees.
Starting at the age of 17, Cano was groomed to be Derek Jeters double-play partner, with the Yankees correctly predicting that he would grow into one of the most lethal hitters at second base in the sport.
But in nine years wearing pinstripes, a stretch that included seven postseason appearances, five division titles and one World Series title, Cano annually was surrounded by an All-Star cast financed by baseballs highest payroll.
They teach you how to be a champion from the minor leagues, Cano said Sunday.
But Cano isnt a twenty-something MVP candidate anymore, insulated by Alex Rodriguez to his right in the clubhouse and Jeter to his left. On these Mets, Cano now 36 is the superstar, no longer tucked away in a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest but back on a stage thats mostly familiar yet different in some significant ways.
One clear distinction is the need for Cano to be a compass of sorts for this team, with Wrights captaincy vacated and the clubhouse filled by younger, high-upside players who didnt have the same winning curriculum in place.
Not that Cano, in his first year, can be the presence Wright was as a clubhouse spokesman during his Flushing tenure. But as an eight-time All-Star himself, Cano has the stature to lead, and Brodie Van Wagenen didnt pick up the back half of his former clients 10-year, $240 million deal to have him blend in with the rest of the cast.
Nobody is going to replace David Wright, Cano said. We know what he did, and sadly he had to end his career that way. I feel special that I get to have his locker. But this is a game you play as a team. Im going to go out and do my best and give everything I got yes I will. But I dont like to put pressure on myself that I have to go out and be that guy.
Cano was suspended 80 games last season after testing positive for Furosemide, a banned diuretic that is used to help mask PEDs, so who knows what pressures he was feeling a year ago, even in a smaller market in Seattle.
In December, when the trade was announced, Cano brushed aside the PED question by saying, I want to focus on positive things. Thats a page Ive turned already. He was not asked about the matter Sunday.
If Cano struggles early on, the subject is sure to come up again, but at least hes well-equipped to handle the armada of reporters. It wont be a new phenomenon for him, and thats part of what makes the Cano trade more appealing from the Mets standpoint.
New York is an environment that Cano is accustomed to and already has succeeded in, so its not as if Van Wagenen will have to sweat out any adjustment process.
Also, as his former agent, youd have to think Van Wagenen has a decent read on Canos mindset coming over, as well as the extent of the PED situation he went through last season. He also shared Mickey Callaways belief that the Mets needed someone like Cano to fill an apparent leadership void.
We really did, Callaway said. David Wright, the captain, is gone now. To bring in a guy like Cano, a Hall of Fame- type player, that does everything the right way, thinks about baseball in a winning sense. We talked to Robby about baseball and he talked about winning. Thats all he cares about. Hes going to be able to deliver that message to all our young guys.
Cano didnt have to stick around Sunday afternoon the first official full-squad workout is Monday but he hung out in the clubhouse anyway, camped on the floor at the other end of the room next to the lockers of Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz, his former Mariners teammate. At one point, Cano called over Tim Tebow, and the group chatted for a while.
Thats the bonus behavior the Mets are seeking from Cano, aside from what they hope are the still glowing embers of those two Gold Gloves and five Silver Sluggers.
Coming back here, Im looking forward to being back in the playoffs, Cano said.
For the Mets, the feeling is mutual.