With a Second Doping Suspension, a Solid Career Is Reduced to a Footnote

Robinson Cano ruined his Hall of Fame chances more than two years ago, when he was first suspended for using a banned substance. His second suspension, a 162-game ban announced by Major League Baseball on Wednesday, turns his career into a farce.

That is a shame, because Cano has some of the best statistics in major league history for a player at his position. Only eight second basemen have compiled more hits than Cano, who has 2,624. All have plaques in Cooperstown, and only two — Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio — have been active in Cano’s lifetime.

But Cano, who turned 38 in October, will soon disappear into baseball’s memory hole, becoming more of a historical footnote than a headliner. He will be one of those guys you will think of, years from now, and shrug: He could really hit. I guess.

For the Mets, this development is probably just as well, excising another symbol of the last two discouraging seasons. Upon taking control of the team this month, the new owner Steven A. Cohen fired Brodie Van Wagenen, the general manager who engineered the bold but disastrous trade for Cano in December 2018, about six months after Cano had flunked a drug test with the Seattle Mariners and been suspended for 80 games.

That time, Cano was caught using furosemide, a diuretic better known as Lasix, which is frequently used as a masking agent for performance-enhancing drugs. Cano said the substance had been given to him by a doctor in the Dominican Republic for a medical ailment and, without specifying the ailment, insisted that he “would never do anything to cheat the rules of the game that I love.” Van Wagenen, who was Cano’s agent before working for the Mets, soon echoed his point.

“I don’t want to get into semantics, but I do think it’s important remembering Robbie was not suspended for a P.E.D.,” Van Wagenen said after making the trade. “He was suspended for a diuretic.”

Cano then had his worst season in more than a decade.

He improved in 2020, but Wednesday’s news offered a possible reason: He tested positive for Stanozolol, an unsophisticated and easily detectable steroid developed in the 1960s that has led to suspensions for the All-Stars Rafael Palmeiro, Jorge Polanco and Ervin Santana, the former Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia and the 2008 No. 1 overall draft pick, Tim Beckham.

Cano’s current agent, Kyle Thousand, did not respond to a request for comment.

Cano’s positive test essentially invalidates his 2020 stats: a .316 average with an .896 on-base plus slugging percentage, his best mark since 2013, when he was with the Yankees. Cano became a free agent after that season, and the Yankees offered him seven years and $175 million to stay.

If Cano had accepted, the deal would have just expired. Instead, he wisely took advantage of a bad team’s desperation to be relevant. The Mariners splurged on Cano for 10 years and $240 million, and could hardly believe their luck when the Mets took the second half of the deal off their budget — and gave up the franchise’s best prospect, outfielder Jarred Kelenic, for the privilege.

The deal was bigger and even worse than that, of course — the Mets got a closer, Edwin Diaz, whose struggles in 2019 may have cost them a chance at the playoffs, and also gave up a pitching prospect, starter Justin Dunn, who had a solid debut season for Seattle last year. To help offset the cost of Cano, Seattle took the highly paid veterans Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak.

As for 2021, Cano took the contract off Cohen’s payroll all by himself, an unexpected gift to the owner and his new team president, Sandy Alderson, who preceded Van Wagenen as general manager. In a statement, Alderson said the team was “extremely disappointed” in Cano.

“The violation is very unfortunate for him, the organization, our fans and the sport,” he added.

Unfortunate for Cano? Absolutely, although he is still signed through 2023. But the sport has been through this with him before, and the organization and fans should be happy. Cohen is the majors’ richest owner, so the savings from lopping Cano off the payroll are all relative. But it cannot hurt to have even more financial freedom and an open spot at second base with D.J. LeMahieu available in free agency.

LeMahieu just led the majors in hitting, at .364, and has been the Yankees’ best player in each of the last two seasons. Even without LeMahieu, the loss of Cano can help the Mets, who could shift Jeff McNeil to second base and clear left field for Dominic Smith.

Then again, the Mets can think even bigger under Cohen. They could engage not only LeMahieu, but also the other jewels of the free-agent market: starter Trevor Bauer, closer Brad Hand, catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielders Marcell Ozuna and George Springer.

Nothing is off-limits, it seems, except Cano’s access to major league ballparks in 2021.

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