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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2018 — No. 22: Robinson Cano suspended for PEDs

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We’re a few short days away from 2019 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2018. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

We’re used to a handful of players being suspended for PEDs each year. What once was scandalous is now just part of the big league season. Once in a while, however, a big star fails a drug test and in 2018 one of the bigger stars in some time did so: Robinson Cano.

Cano was suspended on May 15 after it was revealed that he tested positive for Furosemide, a diuretic. In a statement released through the MLBPA, Cano said, “This substance was given to me by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment.” He said he didn’t realize it was banned. Which, true or not, is no defense under the strict liability regimen of the Joint Drug Agreement. The onus is on players to know what is being put into their bodies and the league and the union both maintain lists and readily brief players and their representatives on what is approved and what is not. Accident or not, Robinson was out 80 games.

The thing about it, though: Cano likely would’ve missed considerable time in the middle of the season anyway. Just a couple of days before his suspension he was hit with a pitch on his hand, breaking a metacarpal. He had surgery on it the day after his suspension was announced. The recovery time would’ve been paid if he hadn’t gotten suspended, of course.

Either way, it was a big blow to the Mariners, who were expected to challenge for the postseason in 2018. They lost a guy who was hitting .287/.385/.441 with four home runs and 23 RBI in 169 plate appearances prior to the suspension and injury. Dee Gordon, who had been converted to the outfield upon coming to Seattle, moved back to his customary second base. It was a downgrade on offense at the keystone for the M’s.

It was also a blow to Cano’s legacy and, perhaps, to the future of the Seattle Mariners.

While not necessarily a shoe-in, consensus had built over the years that his durability and production was forming the basis of a strong Hall of Fame case for Cano. Given how players who have tested positive for PEDs in the post-drug testing era have fared on the ballot thus far, Cano’s candidacy may have been killed before his career even ended. As it was, when he came back from his suspension the Mariners didn’t even put him back at second base, slotting him in as a DH and giving him a little time at first and third.

Cano still hit well after coming back — he posted a line of .317/.363/.497 in 40 games in the second half — but the Mariners’ season petered out eight games behind the Athletics for the second Wild Card slot. Soon after the season ended, the M’s began a wholesale teardown of their roster and a long and painful rebuild is in their future. Do the Mariners play better and, perhaps, make the playoffs if Cano had not been suspended? Do they embark on that rebuild if that happens? Hard to say, especially given that we do no know how much time he would’ve missed due to the broken finger, but Cano’s suspension and the Mariners disappointing 2018 will always go hand-in-hand.

That rebuild, though, does give Cano a chance for redemption. In early December the Mets agreed to take Cano off of Seattle’s hands in a trade. He’ll be back at second base and back in New York, where he first gained fame. While one can never wager big on things to go right for the Mets, they have been pretty aggressive so far this offseason and appear to be taking aim at the NL East title in 2019 and beyond. Cano, who is now 36, likely has a couple of years of productivity left and could prove to be a big part of that if everything breaks just right. If he helps bring some glory to the New York Mets it could be enough to put his legacy back in order.

In the meantime, though, the eight-time All-Star who has done so much in his 14-year career once again has a lot to prove.

Phillies-Mets could get contentious tonight

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As the Mets were wrapping up a 9-0 shellacking of the Phillies on Tuesday night, reliever Jacob Rhame threw a pitch up and in to first baseman Rhys Hoskins with two outs in the ninth inning. The pitch sailed behind Hoskins’ back. The slugger wasn’t happy about the scare, understandably. Players began to trickle out of their respective dugouts, but a fracas was avoided.

Hoskins was skeptical that Rhame simply missed his spot. Per MLB.com’s Thomas Harrigan, Hoskins said, “He didn’t miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I’ll let you decide. I would assume teams are pitching me in because that’s where they think they can get me out, and that’s fine. That’s part of the game. Again, I think most guys are capable of pitching inside and not missing that bad.”

Teammate Bryce Harper said, “I don’t get it. I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it’s baseball and you’re going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the [butt]. Not in the head. You throw 98, it’s scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That’s bigger than the game.”

Indeed, two Mets were hit by pitches on Monday night. José Álvarez hit Jeff McNeil in the seventh inning, which advanced a base runner. In the very next at-bat, Juan Nicasio hit Pete Alonso with a first-pitch fastball. It was obvious neither was intentional as the Phillies were only down two runs and hitting both batters advanced base runners and led to runs scoring. It is less obvious that Rhame’s pitch to Hoskins was unintentional, but he showed empathy in his post-game comments. Rhame said, “When you accidentally sail one, it’s probably pretty scary. I’d get [angry], too.”

Will Wednesday night’s series finale be contentious? Despite being “fairly upset,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, “We do not retaliate, and we do not throw at anybody intentionally,” Jake Seiner of the Associated Press reports.

Mets manager Mickey Calloway didn’t give as straight an answer. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Calloway said, “I think at this point, you just go out there and beat people, and win. … For now, I don’t feel like anything has been intentional at us that has warranted anything from our side.” If that changes, however, Calloway said, “They’re going to have each other’s backs.”

Hopefully, neither side decides to take justice into their own hands. But, welcome to the NL East in 2019. The Mets lead the Phillies by one game, and the Braves and Nationals by 1.5 games. It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out division fight all year long.