With a universal DH starting this season, the New York Mets and Robinson Cano could benefit from it beyond just the 2020 campaign.
While there’s still no official agreement on a return to play plan between Major League Baseball and the players union, at least for now, both sides appear to be on board with adding a designated hitter to the National League over the next two seasons.
With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 campaign, there’s a very good chance these two sides will agree to implement a DH in both leagues for the foreseeable future.
For the New York Mets, their team will undoubtedly benefit from adding another slugger to their lineup in 2020. Whenever the season begins, the team will be able to utilize Yoenis Cespedes in that spot, if he’s healthy, allowing the veteran slugger to focus solely on his results at the plate.
With that said, the Mets will further benefit from having a DH in their lineup after the 2020 campaign. Even though Cespedes will likely become more productive in the scorebook this season, he’s set to become a free agent this winter and probably won’t return to Queens in 2021.
As a result, the Mets will need to find someone else to fill that role next season. Luckily, the team already has a player on their roster who’d be perfect for the job, Robinson Cano. While the veteran second baseman could be against leaving the infield, he could improve his overall production by making this transition.
Last season, Cano was limited to just 107 games because of three separate injuries — his quad, hamstring, and foot. Entering his age-37 season in 2020, these health concerns will likely continue popping up if the 6-foot second baseman doesn’t spend less time on his feet as he inches closer to 40-years-old.
Despite earning a pair of Gold Glove awards during his nine seasons with the New York Yankees, the former Bomber’s defense has been slowly declining over the last few seasons and it took a massive hit during his opening campaign with the Mets.
Over his 804.1 innings at second base in 2019, Cano committed five errors but generated a -1 OAA (tied for seventh-lowest among all second basemen with at least 800 innings played), -6 DRS (third-lowest), -0.8 UZR (seventh-lowest) along with a -1.5 UZR/150 (fifth-lowest). In particular, Cano struggled while ranging towards second base, producing a -2 OAA during those plays last season.
In order to convince the Dominican Native to change positions, the Mets would likely still need to provide him with some playing time at second base even if it’s just 20-25 games in the field. At that point, the eight-time All-Star could potentially play 140-150 games, 120-125 games as the DH, over the final stages of his career.
Along with keeping Cano healthy and limiting his defensive shortcomings, becoming the everyday DH starting in 2021 would probably help him improve his results at the plate. Following his disappointing offensive production from last season, this type of transition could help him rediscover his dominance in the batter’s box from his younger days.
While no one is expecting Cano to hit 30-plus home runs along with 100-plus RBIs, as a primary DH, he definitely would have the potential to replicate his results from the 2017 campaign.
During his last full season in Seattle, the five-time Silver Slugger award winner produced 33 doubles, 23 home runs, 97 RBIs, .172 ISO, .294 BABIP, .334 wOBA, 7.6% walk rate, 13.1% strikeout rate, 112 wRC+ score, 3.1 fWAR rating and a slashing line of .280/.338/.453/.791.
Unfortunately, Cano was suspended for PEDs during the following season — limiting him to just 80 games. After being acquired by the Mets after the 2018 campaign, the former Mariner saw his production at the plate decline even further over his 423 plate appearances in 2019.
In total, the left-handed batter recorded 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 39 RBIs, .172 ISO, .280 BABIP, .308 wOBA, 5.9% walk rate, 16.3% strikeout rate, 93 wRC+ score, 0.8 fWAR rating along with a slashing line of just .256/.307/.428/.736.
With this season expected to consist of 60 games, it’ll be very difficult to gauge Cano’s offensive value in 2020 or any other player’s value for that matter. Nonetheless, his rapidly declining metrics at the plate and in the field suggest a move to DH could help him attempt to live up to the four years, $96 million remaining on his current contract.
As for Cano’s replacement at second base, Andres Gimenez seems to be the best internal candidate to take over during the 2021 campaign. While the 21-year-old has primarily played on the left side of the infield, his outstanding range, quickness and soft hands would likely make for a smooth transition over to the right side.
Despite his impressive defense, the left-handed batter produced just nine home runs, 37 RBIs, .137 ISO, .316 wOBA, 5.0% walk rate, 21.3% strikeout rate, 105 wRC+ score and a slashing line of .250/.309/.387/.695 through 479 plate appearances at double-A Binghamton last season.
Without a minor-league season, Gimenez could be forced to wait until the Arizona Fall League to participate in live games. As a result, the Mets could scour the free-agent market this winter for a veteran middle infielder to compete against their top prospect in 2021.
Depending on how much money general manager Brodie Van Wagenen is willing to spend, the team could target Eric Sogard after this season concludes. While the 34-year-old only emerged as a productive hitter last season — hiting a career-high 13 home runs and 40 RBIs — the veteran infielder would be able to provide above-average defense at second base and he’s capable of playing at third base, shortstop and in the outfield as well.
With Cano nearing the end of his career, his days as the everyday second baseman appear to be numbered. Even though the Mets are stuck with his overpriced contract, moving him to the DH spot could make a significant impact on the team’s lineup over the next few seasons.