Robinson Cano’s suspension will allow the New York Mets more roster flexibility for 2021.
For the New York Mets, the halo of perfection surrounding Steve Cohen’s introductory press conference lasted just over a week. On Wednesday, November 18, Robinson Canó was suspended without pay for the entire 2021 season after testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug stanozolol.
Based purely on this year’s numbers, Canó’s suspension is a heavy loss for the 2021 Mets lineup. His suspension comes after a productive 2020 season, in which he hit .316 with 10 home runs and 39 RBI in 49 games. Of course, his power numbers may have been inflated by his steroid use, so these resurgent numbers should be taken with a grain of salt.
However, Canó’s absence from the team next year actually simplifies the Mets’ 2021 roster construction. As far as filling Canó’s spot at second base, the Mets have several viable candidates already on the roster. Jeff McNeil has spent a significant amount of time at second base in his young career so far, playing 54 games there in 2018, 37 games there in 2019, and 12 (out of 60) games there in 2020.
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Second base is widely considered McNeil’s best defensive position by scouts and others in the baseball community, so he should be more than capable of stepping into the starting second base job next year.
Depending on what other roster moves shake out throughout this offseason, Andrés Giménez also benefits significantly from Canó’s absence in 2021. Giménez made his mark right away in the 2020 season, coming in as a defensive replacement for Canó at second in the very first game on July 24.
Though he only started four games at second base in 2020, he appeared in 19 games total at the position, with many of those other appearances also coming as defensive replacements for Canó.
Giménez made most of his 2020 defensive highlights at shortstop and third base, but he also proved that he is a major league-caliber second baseman with sound baseball instincts everywhere on the diamond. If the Mets stick with Amed Rosario at shortstop and take advantage of McNeil’s defense by playing him in left field several times a week, Giménez’s infield versatility could translate into a lot of work at second base in 2021.
As Mets fans have seen, Canó’s defense is dependable but more limited than in years past, which in 2020 translated into many games as the starting designated hitter. The Mets are also well-fixed to fill the DH slot in the lineup from within their current roster. J.D. Davis played his way into the starting third base job in 2020, but he often struggled defensively with playing hops to his left, though his arm was consistently strong. In limited action at third in 2020, Giménez showed himself to be a solid third baseman, which could allow Davis to see time as the DH next season.
Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso will likely be splitting time between first base and DH in 2021, with Smith getting some work in left field unless the Mets significantly boost their outfield depth. With Canó out of the picture, their playing time becomes more certain. Both players should be able to start regularly without worrying about an injury-prone, 38-year-old player siphoning playing time away from their promising careers.
Role players like Luis Guillorme, who has a good chance to make the 2021 major league roster even with offseason additions, may also see increased playing time in Canó’s absence.
Over the past two seasons, Canó was a valuable veteran presence in the clubhouse. Alonso referred to Canó as his hitting “professor” who coached him every day en route to his record-setting 53rd home run in 2019, and again throughout the 60-game season in 2020.
Now, Alonso and the other members of the Cookie Club will be without their “professor” in 2021. Though they may be lamenting the absence of their teammate and friend, they will hopefully get a chance to celebrate increased playing time and the continued gelling of the Mets’ offensive core.
Canó may have an impressive past, but he is not the future of the Mets. The future of their infield lies in the hands of players like Alonso, Smith, Giménez, McNeil, and Rosario (barring any blockbuster trades that may occur later in the offseason). A few years down the road, that infield could include the likes of Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, and Mark Vientos.
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As unfortunate as the news of Canó’s 2021 suspension is, the Mets are now saving millions of dollars and have one extra roster spot next year. With any luck, the new front office under Steve Cohen will use that money and roster flexibility wisely to set the team up for success next season.