NEW YORK — Three years after Robinson Cano returned to New York, his ill-fated marriage with the Mets is over.
Cano was cut with nearly $45 million remaining on his contract, possibly signaling the end of his decorated major league career. The veteran slugger wants to keep playing ball – but he’ll have to catch on elsewhere.
“I don’t think it’s over for Robbie,” New York manager Buck Showalter said. “But we’ve got to think about what’s right for the Mets right now.”
A slumping Cano was designated for assignment in a move announced about an hour before teams were required to trim their active rosters from 28 players to 26. Relegated to a part-time role this season, Cano was a casualty of the crunch as the first-place Mets chose to keep younger, more versatile bench players instead.
“Given the construction of the roster and how the playing time was going to be allocated, it put us in a position where we had to make some difficult decisions,” Mets general manager Billy Eppler said. “Ultimately it came to the point where it was Robbie, because we just weren’t going to have the plate appearances.”
The 39-year-old Cano, who sat out last season while serving his second suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, is batting .195 (8 for 41) with one home run, three RBIs and a paltry .501 OPS in 43 plate appearances. He homered to the opposite field with a vintage swing in the home opener April 15 against Arizona, but had appeared in just 12 of 23 games, starting six at second base and five at designated hitter.
Despite his early struggles in a reduced role, the decision to jettison Cano was still a complicated one for the Mets – and not only because of all the money he’s owed.
He remained a popular presence in the clubhouse, happy to share his baseball wisdom. Cano and several teammates said they were confident he would eventually produce at the plate if given the opportunity. And with the writing perhaps on the wall already, star shortstop Francisco Lindor said Sunday he wouldn’t be happy if Cano was cut.
Lindor said Monday night he was “sad” about the move.
“I didn’t want to see him go. But I respect the team’s decision,” he explained. “He’s a great guy.”
Eppler and Showalter delivered the news during a meeting with Cano in Showalter’s office at Citi Field after Sunday night’s victory over Philadelphia.
“He was a pro,” said Eppler, who has known Cano for about two decades since the sweet-swinging second baseman was a young prospect in the New York Yankees’ system. “This one was tough.”
Said Showalter: “It was emotional for all of us.”
Showalter said Eppler offered Cano the chance to go down to Triple-A Syracuse to get some consistent at-bats, but both believe Cano wants to hook on with another major league team.
“I told him I’ll do whatever I can to kind of help that in any way, shape or form that we can,” Eppler said. “See if there’s a landing spot for him. And if there’s not, then I will welcome him back here in a different capacity, too. If he wants that. That’s up to him. I don’t think he’s going to have a problem finding another job, in my opinion.”
An eight-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, Cano spent his first nine big league seasons across town with the Yankees and helped them win the 2009 World Series. He has won five Silver Slugger awards and was MVP of the 2017 All-Star Game.
Cano has a .302 career batting average with 335 home runs, 1,305 RBIs and an .842 OPS in 17 seasons. He has 2,632 hits, including 571 doubles.
“He’s been around for so long in this game, he’s been an icon here in New York and he’s been a centerpiece in this clubhouse, been a leader,” said Mets infielder J.D. Davis. “So to lose him, it definitely takes a little bit of wind out of our sails.”
Cano is owed $44,703,297 by the Mets from the remainder of the $240 million, 10-year contract he signed with Seattle. He has lost $35,741,935 because of the two drug suspensions.
Eppler said Mets owner Steve Cohen had no qualms about eating the rest of Cano’s salary.
“He said make the baseball decision,” Eppler explained. “Steve’s very committed to winning.”
New York has seven days to trade or release Cano, or send him outright to the minors – an assignment he would have the right to refuse because he has at least three years of major league service.
It’s highly unlikely another club would claim Cano on waivers because it would be responsible for his full salary. But if he’s released by the Mets, a team could sign him for a prorated share of the $700,000 minimum this season and also pay the $710,000 minimum in 2023.
Seattle remains responsible for a final $3.75 million payment to the Mets this Dec. 1, part of $20 million the Mariners agreed to pay New York at the time they sent Cano to the Mets in a polarizing trade made by former New York general manager Brodie Van Wagenen in December 2018.
Van Wagenen had been Cano’s agent before becoming a GM – and is currently representing him again.
In a deal that also netted closer Edwin Diaz, the Mets shipped five players to Seattle – including prized outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft. New York agreed to assume $100 million left on the final five years of Cano’s contract at the time.
Cano ended up playing only 168 games for the Mets, batting .269 with 24 homers, 72 RBIs and a .765 OPS.
In addition to cutting Cano, the Mets optioned right-handed reliever Yoan Lopez to Triple-A Syracuse ahead of Monday night’s series opener against the World Series champion Atlanta Braves.