Robinson Cano came back, and he apparently offered an apology to the team and the press. Now, he wouldn’t tell us why he took the PEDs, but he said he might tell us one day. Of course, the answer was to return to form, but we’ll let him say it or his other excuse another day.
According to Buck Showalter, Cano is a guy who can hit until he is 50. That was actually something we used to say about former Met Julio Franco, and he nearly did. What is notable with Franco was he was a solid pinch hitter and clubhouse presence for that 2006 NL East winning New York Mets team. In some ways, you could compare him to 1985 Rusty Staub.
Of course, that pinch hitting role doesn’t quite exist anymore, at least, not in the same way it used to exist. Now, we have the universal DH. As a result, you’re not quite burning that guy who should be pinch hitting and not quite stepping on the field. Even if these Mets seem to acknowledge a sunk cost, it is difficult to imagine them paying Cano $20.25 million to fulfill that role.
That begs the question as to what his role will be. Jeff McNeil was announced as the starter for second base, which as we all know, is Cano’s position. The Mets gave Eduardo Escobar starter money, and as a result, we can assume he will be the everyday third baseman. That pretty much leaves Cano with either the DH or a utility role.
On the later, Cano is said to be working at second and first. We know he has played some third, and there are indications he could be good there. However, lost in all of that is the fact Cano is 39 and did not play at all last year. Overall, we don’t know where his conditioning is and just how much he can withstand the 162 game grind anymore.
Maybe, Cano can be the DH. However, the Mets have Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith. There is also the fact their starting outfield of Brandon Nimmo, Starling Marte, and Mark Canha have all had durability issues in their career, and they could probably use the DH break every now and then while the Mets keep their bats in the lineup.
In the end, there is really no clear role for Cano. Ultimately, that may just mean Cano sits around with the Mets picking and choosing his spots until an injury happens or someone struggles necessitating Cano to be plugged into the lineup. Whatever the case, Cano’s role isn’t so much a problem for this team inasmuch as it is something which needs addressing to make sure it won’t be an issue during the season.
The New York Mets have done a lot of work this offseason, and they have transformed their team. The Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt additions have made the rotation deeper, and with Jacob deGrom atop the rotation, the Mets are going to be extremely tough to beat.
The lineup was retooled with Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and Starling Marte. Despite that, even with the return of Robinson Cano from his suspension, the Mets likely find themselves one player short from being a real complete team. That player is Michael Conforto.
As detailed first on the Simply Amazin podcast, the Mets outfield really does remain a question mark. We got the first glimpse of that when Marte reporting to Spring Training with a strained oblique. For as good as he is, Marte has played over 132 games in a season once since 2016.
Brandon Nimmo presents a similar problem. Nimmo is arguably the Mets best hitter, and he showed the ability to be a good center fielder in 2021. However, he carries the same injury problems as Marte. In 2018, Nimmo played 140 games. That is his career best with 92 games being his second highest. Like Marte, you can’t trust Nimmo to stay on the field and be healthy for 162 games.
Canha played 141 games last season. That was a career high with his previous career high being 126. Canha is also going to be 33, and he has shown real signs of decline in his career. When healthy, this is a good outfield, but they’re not always healthy, and at their ages, there is some risk with Marte and Canha in decline.
This is where the universal DH can help the Mets. Instead of signing a player like Kyle Schwarber to be the DH, using it for Pete Alonso to get Dominic Smith to play first, trying Cano, or really any other iteration, the Mets could sign Conforto and use the DH to rotate between these outfielders to keep them all fresh and healthy.
With Conforto, you still have a player in his prime, and when healthy, Conforto is a great hitter and defender. Yes, Conforto had a down 2021, but that was in part due to his COVID infection and ensuing injuries. Despite that, Conforto still had a 118 wRC+ in the second half. Again, he showed us he can still hit.
This is also a player who has not only been a leader for the Mets, but he has also shown he can handle New York. That is something which gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. Conforto has seen it all with the Mets, and he has been a player with no controversy, emerged as a leader, and has been an All-Star. He knows what it’s like to play on the biggest stage in the biggest city in the world.
Believe it or not, even with all the moves to move on from Conforto, this roster is likely a left-handed batter short. They’re also an everyday outfielder short. Really, when you break it all down, they are a Michael Conforto short. Luckily for them, he’s still out there giving the Mets the chance to bring him back and let him lead the team to the World Series.
Due to site difficulties, this is going up a week later than anticipated, but fortunately (or unfortunately), all of what was discussed remains relevant. Players discussed during this podcast included Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Pete Alonso, Melvin Mora, Mike Bordick, Brandon Nimmo, Mark Canha, Starling Marte, Billy Taylor, Jason Isringhausen, Matt Harvey, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Josh Hamilton, David Wright, Ike Davis, Jake Marisnick, Blake Taylor, Dominic Smith, Robinson Cano, Eduardo Escobar, Shawon Dunston, Craig Paquette, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, and many, many more.
As always, thanks to Timothy Rider. It was an absolute blast. Please take a listen to the Simply Amazin podcast (by clicking on this link).
On the bright side, Cora has the experience and pedigree. He’s a baseball lifer and well respected in the game. He was a gamer who brings the same attitude as a coach.
As a coach, he has mostly been tied to Ozzie Guillen. First, it was the Chicago White Sox, where they won the 2005 World Series. Then, it was the Miami Marlins where Guillen imploded leading the Marlins to clean house.
Notably, Cora wasn’t too big to return to the minors and work his way back up to the majors. That’s exactly what he did leading to his serving the last five years as the Pittsburgh Pirates third base and infield coach.
As the infield coach, Cora was well respected and had a strong impact. When you’re a Mets team with J.D. Davis, Eduardo Escobar, and to a certain extent, Jeff McNeil (ignoring positioning cards and Mets unwillingness to play him at third), Cora is a significant upgrade who can provide a strong impact.
However, that’s only part of it, albeit the most important part of it. Cora was also hired to be the third base coach.
If you were a Mets fan justifiably frustrated with the indecisive and inept Gary Disarcina, things aren’t getting better. In fact, against all odds, it could be getting worse.
Pirates Ranks with Joey Cora (2017-2021):
· Extra Bases Taken Percentage: T-23rd
· Outs on Base at Home: T-30th
· Percentage of Successful Advances of a Runner on 2nd Base on a Hit: 30th
— Mets Metrics (@MetsMetrics) January 4, 2022
Really, seeing his work at third, you really have to wonder why the Mets hired him for the role. While the competition for his services is unknown, you wonder if the Mets needed him that much.
Understandably, the Mets are going in another direction for the bench coach. They need a more analytically inclined individual to buttress Showalter. In the case of Clayton McCullough, you get the added benefit of grooming a potential future manager.
Whatever the thought process, the Mets are better today. Cora is a good baseball man and asset to any organization. That said, some of what his brings will be offset by putting him at third where he is a detriment to the team. It just makes you wonder if there was another role other than third they could’ve offered him.
It is interesting to see Robinson Cano has already had a positive impact on the 2022 New York Mets without playing a game. Starling Marte indicated one of the reasons he signed with the Mets was to play with Cano. Eduardo Escobar said the same exact thing in the introductory press conferences.
What is interesting about that is most assumed Cano would be gone by Spring Training, or at the very least, Opening Day. Cano missed the entire 2021 season as a result of his second PED suspension. He played briefly in the Dominican Winter Leagues, and he didn’t hit for any power as the DH. Eventually, he would be removed from the roster with “back problems.” That was before he went out clubbing.
What would have been a good opportunity to get a look at him turned into a complete failure. This leaves the Mets to look at what he’s done with the Mets and really Spring Training to attempt to analyze about what, if anything, Cano can provide this team.
In 2020, the answer was probably a lot. He looked rejuvenated in that shortened season posting a 143 OPS+ and a 3 OAA+. Of course, the problem there is we know Cano was using PEDs, and it was still a shortened season, which is easier on a then 37 year old player. As such, what was promising can really be looked upon as less so.
In 2019, a year Cano did not get busted for PEDs, he was very disappointing. In a season with a juiced ball, he posted a 95 OPS+, which was the second worst mark of his entire career. He still played a decent second with a 1 OAA. Still, between the lack of hitting and the injuries, it was hard to come away with anything but less than impressed with Cano.
If we look just at the 2019 Cano, that is not a player the Mets can have play everyday in any capacity. He didn’t have the bat to DH, and his defense wasn’t good enough to overcome the poor bat. The 2020 version should be an everyday player, albeit with some allowances for his age, but then again, that was a PED version of himself.
Further complicating matters is the fact Cano missed an entire season. He will be 39 next season having not played a full season really since 2017. Maybe that means Cano is really best suited to being a utility player. The problem there is Cano has really only played second in his career. Really, in his 16 year career, he has only played 14 games at first and two at third base.
In the end, you’re left with a respected player who was an aide to getting players to sign with your team. He was a respected voice for players in that clubhouse. It’s difficult to attempt to cut him or buy him out without first seeing what he can do. However, how can you guarantee a spot to a player who has two PED suspensions and hasn’t had a good full season since 2017.
This is a conundrum for the Mets. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The best case scenario is Cano shows the Mets something in Spring Training, including but not limited to, an ability to play some third base. If that happens, they will be in a much better spot than just cutting loose a player the entire team seemingly wants to be a part of the 2022 Mets.
October 4, 2016. Rogers Centre. American League Wild Card Game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays tie the score 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth. In the seventh inning, Buck Showalter used Donnie Hart to relieve Mychal Givens in the seventh. He went to Brad Brach in the eighth and ninth. When Brach was in trouble in the ninth, Showalter went to Darren O’Day. After using Brian Duensing to record an out in the 11th, Showalter went to Ubadlo Jimenez, who would lose the game.
The Orioles would be eliminated from the postseason, and it all happened while Zack Britton waited around for a save opportunity. That year, Britton was unequivocally the best reliever in baseball with a 0.54 ERA. He was awesome, but with elimination on the line, Showalter went with a number of different pitchers including Jimenez, a starter.
Buck: "Playing on the road had something to do with it too."
— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) October 5, 2016
This was not an isolated instance in Showalter’s career. Go back to Game 5 of the ALDS. After pushing David Cone too far, the game was tied in the bottom of the eighth. Instead of going to John Wetteland, he opted for Jack McDowell, a starter. McDowell would lose the game in the 11th.
A lot changed in baseball from 1995 until 2016, and yet, Showalter hadn’t changed. Yes, there were instances he used a closer in a non-save situation on the road (Matt Mantei, Game 4 NLDS), but ultimately, this is who Showalter has been for better or for worse. He is not one to worry about leverage, stats, etc. He is going to manage by his guy more than anything else. As he puts it, he wants to use them to verify himself, not the other way around.
That’s not to say he hasn’t or won’t evolve. After all, his Orioles teams did implement shifting, and in an attempt to put his team in the best position to win, they tracked the results all season. However, when all is said and done, he’s going to do what he thinks is best. Again, this works at times and fails other times.
Here’s the big problem. He would be working for Sandy Alderson and Billy Eppler. Alderson notoriously wanted to minimize the manger role, and he wants constant input. It was something which beleaguered former Mets manager Luis Rojas, who had to strictly follow the scripts given to him.
Eppler was the Los Angeles Angels General Manager when Mike Scioscia “stepped down.” He then went with a more analytical and modern manager in Brad Ausmus, who was replaced after one season when the owner wanted Joe Maddon.
Another note here with Alderson and Eppler is the type of team they are building. They are clearly going heavy on older veterans in an attempt to win now. Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, Starling Marte, and Max Scherzer are all in their 30s and have played for several years. That has usually been a bad mix for Showalter.
As noted when he was fired by the Arizona Diamondbacks, their veteran laden roster needed less of a disciplinarian and more of a player’s manager. That’s been his career. He is exceptional with younger teams teaching them the right way to play. He gets the most out of them. After a while, his personality and style of managing tends to wear on players, and he’s out.
None of this is to say he’s not a good manager. Showalter is a very good manager. If this were the 2019 Mets, he was a perfect fit for that younger team learning how to win. This is not that team. This is a very veteran team who needs a manager better suited to getting top performances from top players. They need more of a collaborator with the front office who will demand it.
Who the Mets new manager should be remains a very good debate. If they do wind up hiring Showalter, they will certainly win games. However, at the end of the day, this is a poor fit with Showalter and the Mets being better suited to finding a different match.
Sometimes, it’s not about the player. Sometimes, it’s about the timing. Jumping the gun to sign Eduardo Escobar is terrible timing.
Looking at the stats and metrics, Escobar is a second baseman. As a third baseman, he’s not good. He was a -3 OAA last year and a -6 for his career. The obvious problem here is he’s been presumably signed to play third.
It’s not like he particularly has a bat which is going to play well at the position. He’s a player with a career 99 OPS+. He’s been better since 2018 with a 108 OPS+, which is an improvement but not great.
Keep in mind, this is a player who will play his age 33 and 34 seasons with the Mets. Honestly, his walk rates, hard hit rates, etc. are all over the map that it’s really hard to know what he’s going to give you year-to-year.
Overall, your best bet is a roughly 2,5 WAR player. Yes, that makes him a useful player. The problem is the Mets need more, and they need better.
Keep in mind, there’s still a lot better available. There are players like Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, and even Kyle Seager. There’s other shortstops the Mets could try to move to third like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, or Trevor Story.
Really, it’s just the beginning of free agency. There are so many options and possibilities. Instead of exploring those, the Mets opted for Escobar, who does little to almost nothing to improve the team as an everyday player.