The New York Mets have several free agents heading into the offseason that will need to be addressed, most notably Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Marcus Stroman, and Javier Baez. Although it is plausible that all four will not return, the team is set to bring one player back who did not play for them in 2021.
Robinson Cano came to the Mets along with Edwin Diaz a couple of seasons ago. In the two seasons that Cano has played for the team, he has performed well, at least on the offensive side. He has compiled a .275/.321/.467 slash line to go with a total of 23 home runs and 69 RBI. However, because of Cano’s PED suspension that cost him the entirety of the 2021 season, it remains to be seen how impactful a player he will be going forward.
Cano will certainly have his work cut out for him. Apart from the fence-mending that he undoubtedly will have to do to gain the trust and respect of his teammates again, Cano will enter the 2022 season as a 39-year-old second baseman. Father Time eventually catches up to all professional athletes, and Cano is no exception.
Although Robinson Cano’s return may help the Mets offense, his declining defense should give the team pause in handing the starting second baseman job to him.
Although Cano’s bat has not slowed down yet, his defense has. In his two seasons with the Mets, Cano’s defensive metrics show that he is no longer the Gold Glove second baseman that the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners had in him when he played for them. In his two seasons with the Mets, he has compiled a dWAR of -0.5, which suggests that he is hovering around the average at best.
In 2021, the Mets went with a rotating carousel at second base until they acquired Javier Baez. Jeff McNeil, Jonathan Villar, Jose Peraza, and Luis Guillorme all received playing time at the position, and all of them were markedly better defensively than Cano is currently. For reference, Villar’s dWAR was 0.1, McNeil’s 0.7, Peraza’s 0.1, and Guillorme’s -0.2, which was the worst of his career but is usually around 0.2. Cano’s, meanwhile, in 2020, was -0.4.
If the Mets re-sign Baez, he is clearly going to get the majority of the reps at second base. If the Mets opt not to bring him back, then the team is likely to give Jeff McNeil the majority of the playing time there, with the hope that he will perform better offensively in 2022 after a down year in 2021. Guillorme also figures to be in the mix for playing time as well, and the Mets may even bring Villar back given how valuable he was for them down the stretch when the regulars missed significant time with injuries.
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There is still a place for Cano on the 2022 Mets. Perhaps the National League adopts the designated hitter. Perhaps Dominic Smith is made the full-time left fielder given the Mets’ depleted outfield heading into free agency, allowing Cano opportunities to back up Pete Alonso at first base. However the situation ends up unfolding though, Cano should have to earn his way into receiving playing time. Because of his declining defensive abilities, Cano should not be the Mets starting second baseman when the 2022 season starts.