In a day in age where a Major League manager’s most important job is managing clubhouse personalities, one of the biggest challenges that new Mets manager Buck Showalter faces in his inaugural season as the team’s skipper is navigating the Robinson Cano playing time situation.

At 39 years old and having missed the entire 2021 season owing to a second positive performance-enhancing drug test, Cano is set to make $20.25 million that will count against the Mets luxury tax in 2022, according to Spotrac. For most teams in MLB today and for the Mets under previous ownership, not starting a player making that much money is simply not an option. But that may very well be one that Showalter needs to make.

It is too early to bury Cano and say that he is finished. After a lackluster first season in Flushing, he bounced back in 49 games during the shortened 2020 season to hit .316/.352/.544, good for a 143 OPS+, his best since his last year with the Yankees in 2013 and third-best of his career. But Father Time is undefeated against anyone not named Tom Brady, and so you have to wonder what he will be able to do after a full year off.

If Cano returns in 2022 and doesn’t have it, it should be an easy decision to make him a part-time player. Steve Cohen has shown an irreverence toward the new Competitive Balance Tax rules, and with that in mind it wouldn’t be surprising if he is more in favor of his manager benching a $20 million player than most owners would be.

The more interesting problem for the Mets – and it would be a good one to have – is what to do if he comes back and is a productive hitter? The addition of the designated hitter to the NL gives the club a little more flexibility, but there is already a logjam there before Cano is thrown into the mix, as Brian Joura wrote on Sunday.

There is, of course, the old standby of second base, where Jeff McNeil struggled through an injury-plagued 2021 season. If McNeil struggles again in 2022, it might be an easy play to find Cano more regular at-bats as a second baseman and have McNeil fill a utility role that Cano cannot.

And then there is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is New York City’s private sector COVID-19 vaccine mandate and how that may impact the Mets. Casting 100% aside any political opinions on the mandate, there is a very real chance that this has a huge impact on the Mets season and the kind of team that they will be able to field at home.

We don’t know Cano’s vaccination status, nor do we for a majority of the Mets players. We do know that in 2021, the Mets were among the least-vaccinated teams in baseball, but obviously a lot has happened since then both societally and on the Mets roster. Right now though, it doesn’t seem like there will be exceptions carved out for Mets and Yankees players, nor should there be – it either applies to everyone or no one, no exceptions because you are a pro athlete.

If he is vaccinated, it’s easy to see a role where he is someone who plays most at home filling in for those who are prevented from playing and then takes on a bench role on the road. If he isn’t, maybe the opposite is true, where he plays a starting role away from Citi Field.

7 comments on “Robinson Cano could create a problem for the Mets

  • Brian Joura

    In a story about Francisco Lindor, where he said he was vaccinated – here are other Mets players who won’t have to worry about the mandate:

    “Other Mets players who have indicated in recent days that they are vaccinated include Max Scherzer, Jeff McNeil and Robinson Cano.”

    I would have put McNeil in the category of guys I was worried about, so glad to hear that he’s allegedly vaxxed. Would be nice to hear the same about Nimmo and Alonso.

    • BoomBoom

      pretty sure Alonso is vaccinated. he did a pro vaccine commercial early on.

  • Wobbit

    Two things that aamze me:
    1. How is it a player violates a league rule and still gets paid 100%?
    It seems that if a player willfully breaks the rules of the game, there should be some contract ramification. What’s stopping Cano from juicing again in order to keep up with his competitors, and caught and suspended again? It’s an insult that the guy still gets 20M.

    2. If there are players that refuse to vax, they should forfeit that part of their salaries that are negated. I mean, any employee of any company has to abide by the rules that allows them to work. If they refuse to abide, the are technically removing themselves from their respective rosters… voiding the contract, no?

    I’m not trying to start a political argument here. I’m frustrated that after a three-month lockout, all these guys gotta do is take a shot… it ain’t political.

    • Bob P

      On Cano, I believe he now has 2 strikes and one more positive test and he is banned for life.

      With the vax I think the reason that they still get paid is that it is not an MLB requirement to get vaccinated but a rule enacted by a particular city (NYC in this case but there are a few others). I guess theoretically it’s not the player’s fault that the city won’t allow them to play and MLB can’t force them to get a vaccine, so their club has to pay them. Now whether that all makes sense is a whole other discussion. People make up CYA rules that don’t really make any sense, just like unvaccinated players being able to play basketball in NYC as long as they are not part of the home team.

      My son plays baseball in college and last year his conference required all of the players to wear masks when they played (vaccinated or not). It seemed to me that during some of the hot days the kids had a better chance of dying from heat stroke while wearing a mask than they did from contracting Covid outside playing baseball.

      But like you said, just get the damn shot and play ball.

  • MikeW

    Maybe someone can slip Cano a banned substance and he gets kicked out if baseball for good. If that doesn’t work, maybe he will ride the pine for a while and get a splinter injury so he can go on the DL for the year. I really don’t like Cano being on this team.

    • Metsense

      Cano does not appear to have a position on the roster.
      On paper, Davis is a better choice for the DH. Smith with his power surge this spring and he is healthy again. Smith will be to be Davis’ competition. Not Cano.
      Second base is McNeill to lose per Showalter. Maybe Cano will be an expensive back.
      Forget the money for a second. Cano, in his time for the Mets, has accumulated 1.7 bWAR and that’s including his tainted 2020 season. He is a substitute bench warmer, even at that. An injured player might be the only way Cano could get at bats.

      • Metsense

        One other thing. Cano is untradeable. He is old, expensive and he has a no trade clause. He has no trade value. Davis and Smith could be appealing to other teams. They need at bats to maintain or establish their market. If the Mets have a need to trade one of them, then they have to play them in order to get the most trade value.

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