Nationals

Robinson Cano’s suspension complicates spending in NL East

Nationals

The initial reaction to Robinson Cano being suspended for 2021 because of a second PED violation was simply: Mets.

This is what happens in Citi Field. No influx of good news -- like the richest owner in baseball now running the organization -- is ever without a disastrous counter. New owner Steve Cohen spent the last two weeks wooing Mets fans. Cano gave them yet another reason to grouse, to wonder if Charlie Brown might as well be running the franchise, because what would ultimately be the difference?

However, there’s a slice of light in the Cano news for Mets fans. His $24 million salary -- of which the Mets handle $20.5 million -- is vanquished for a year. A team touting potential expenditures now has a fuller back pocket and a second base need. DJ LeMahieu is the lock-and-key fit there for the Mets. Which makes things more complicated for the Nationals, who have extensive revamping of their own to do, and LeMahieu would help several of their issues.

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This is tricky in many ways for Cohen and whomever joins Sandy Alderson in the Mets’ baseball decision-making. They remain locked into Cano’s contract. He’s untradable because of the sum, his deterioration at the plate and in the field -- despite a 2020 offensive rebound-- and his age (37). The Mets would like to be graced by the designated hitter in the National League. They could then rationalize having Cano around until the end of his contract. Or at least make it slightly palatable.

 

For now, the Mets are suffering through something the Nationals have been lucky to avoid to this point. New York is saddled with an aging veteran at the end of his massive contract. Washington may be staring at a similar situation in five years if Stephen Strasburg does not age well on the mound. However, to this point, they have avoided the doom of an overwrought deal which handcuffs them at a later date.

Currently, this furthers the fight for LeMahieu. The Mets would like to acquire him in a vacuum, but adding the enticement of pulling him from the Yankees and filling a clear hole makes LeMahieu all the more engaging to them.

However, the remainder of Cano’s contract could make how the Mets have to handle this more stifling than it first appears. The Mets are free for a year. And it is probably a year when money is cheap during an uncertain winter for free agency. Extrapolations from a season truncated by coronavirus will be felt for years. How money is spent -- or not -- is among the first alterations and is happening now.

This could also turn into a matter of who blinks first. Will the Mets’ new hole at second base prompt other teams to make swifter moves? To perhaps spend more than they planned? Or will they sit back, let Cohen throw his money at the Mets’ numerous problems and react?

Cano’s second positive test could well ruin his Hall of Fame chances. It frees up more than $20 million in salary for the 2021 Mets roster. And it’s among the first tests for Cohen’s desperation to bring a World Series title to Citi Field.