Seven ways the Mets could spend the $20 million they save after Robinson Cano’s PED suspension
The Mets will have a new second baseman for the 2021 season.
Robinson Cano — the veteran second sacker who hit .316 with a 144 OPS+ and 10 homers in 182 PAs in a resurgent 2020 season — won’t be back at the position next year. MLB announced on Wednesday afternoon that Cano has been suspended an entire season for testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance. It’s his second PED-related suspension; he was suspended 80 games in 2018 for a positive test.
The good thing for the Mets and new owner Steve Cohen? They have a little more than $20 million to use to fill that hole — and other spots that need improvement with anything left over. Cano forfeits his salary for the year — Seattle chipped in $3.75 million of the $24 million on his contract for 2021 — which is a nice bit of salary relief for the Mets.
Not that money is a huge issue for Cohen, of course. The gazillionaire who grew up a Mets fan has already pledged to make his new franchise more competitive, and expectations around the industry are that he plans to spend to help make that happen. Now, he has more money to add to his budget. Cano, by the way, still has two years left on his contract at $24 million each — again, with Seattle chipping in $3.75 million each year — and he’ll almost certainly try to come back to earn that money, even though he’ll be 39 by Opening Day 2022.
So, with that in mind, here are seven ways the Mets could spend the money associated with Cano’s contract, including a couple of players who absolutely should be on Cohen’s “let’s bring this guy to Queens” list.
1. Sign D.J. LeMahieu. I mean, this one almost makes too much sense. He’s already a New York hero, after two stellar seasons at the plate with the Yankees. He’s a second baseman, though he can play either corner infield spot, too. Oh, and he’s a free agent who is certainly looking for a premium paycheck after having to settle for a two-year deal last time he was a free agent. Give him a four-year deal at $18 million to $20 million a season and it’s basically like getting one year for free.
2. Trade for Francisco Lindor. I already dove into the reasons Lindor would be the perfect type of superstar for the new-era Cohen Mets. Bring him over in a trade with the Indians — hell, just pay them off with some of Cano’s freed-up money — and then sign him to a long-term deal. Give Lindor the shortstop job and shift Amed Rosario over to second base.
3. Move Jeff McNeil to second. Here’s the thing: The presence of McNeil gives the Mets a lot of flexibility. He played more minor league games at second than any other position, and that’s where he played most of his games in his rookie year, 2017. Cano arrived in 2018 and McNeil moved around the diamond, landing primarily in left field, where he was fine. Regardless of where he plays, he’ll be in the lineup; McNeil has a .319 career batting average, with a .383 on-base percentage in his 248 career MLB games.
4. Sign Kolten Wong. Let’s just throw this one here to finish up the second-base spot, in case they don’t make LeMahieu or Lindor happen, and if they can’t find an outfielder to bring in to free up McNeil to move back to the infield. Wong doesn’t bring any sort of real power to the plate, it’s true, but a big part of winning baseball games is fielding a defensively sound team, and Wong has won back-to-back Gold Gloves at second. Wong also gets on base at a healthy rate — .356 on-base percentage over the past four seasons — and that’s important, too.
5. Sign J.T. Realmuto. This one makes even more sense than signing LeMahieu or trading for Lindor, because it has nothing to do with Cano (except a little extra money). The Mets need a catcher, and Realmuto just might be the best catcher in the game, not just the best free-agent catcher who happens to be available at the moment. He’s as good as it gets defensively and his production at the plate continues to improve. The bonus: Signing Realmuto would anger Philly fans who have wanted their club to extend him since they made the trade before the 2019 season.
6. Sign Trevor Bauer. This doesn’t have anything to do with the Cano debacle, but it’s still something the Mets should do, especially if Bauer was serious about signing a series of high-dollar one-year free agent deals. Convenient, isn’t it, that the Mets find themselves with a bunch of extra money for 2021? He’s coming off a brilliant season and would slide nicely into the Mets’ rotation behind Jacob deGrom, for just next year or for the next several years.
7. Sign George Springer. Yes, there are a lot of “sign this guy” options on the list. At the moment, the ability — ahem, willingness — to spend money should be what differentiates the Mets from a lot of other MLB franchises who are content to sit tight and see how things play out. Signing Springer to a long-term deal to play center would allow the Mets to move McNeil back to second base, and Springer would form a nice offensive outfield for 2021 alongside Michael Conforto (nine homers, .412 OBP, 156 OPS+ in 2020) and Brandon Nimmo (eight homers, .404 OBP, 146 OPS+).
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