Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Mets history and how baseball works in the early stages of the 21st century had a pretty good — or pretty bad — feeling the first trade executed by the GM duo of Brodie Van Wagenen/Jeff Wilpon was going to be the trade that kept on giving in the way a middle of the night pizza binge keeps on giving.
And on Wednesday afternoon, the decision to trade prospects Justin Dunn and Jarred Kelenic to the Mariners in the blockbuster that brought Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets kept on giving, albeit in a way that would have been unimaginable a year ago.
Cano’s joint pursuits of 3,000 hits and the Hall of Fame each ended with the mid-afternoon announcement by Major League Baseball that it has suspended him for the 2021 season following a second positive test for a PED — reportedly stanozolol, considered one of the most potent as well as easiest-to-detect PEDs.
The outlook for the rest of Cano’s career is only slightly less cloudy. He’ll have two years and $48 million left on his contract after next season, but if he takes the field again in 2022, he’ll be a 39-year-old two-time PED offender roughly 18 months removed from his last big league action and five years removed from the last season in which he played as many as 110 games.
Being stuck with such an albatross of a contract is a worst-case nightmare scenario for a team that operates as if it’s a small-market franchise. Given the unlikelihood of eating a bunch of his salary to facilitate a trade, the only solution would be to try and wring some value out of Cano by wedging him into semi-regular playing time despite his advancing age, his history of cheating and the presence of better and younger players ahead of him.
Except…the Mets no longer act like a small-market franchise, and Cano’s suspension provided them a most unexpected early holiday gift.
Cano’s suspension results in the forfeiture of the $24 million he was scheduled to make next season. The Mets were responsible for $20 million of that, which means there’s $20 million in found money heading into a weird winter in which they are expected to be one of the few aggressive teams on a free agent market depressed by the coronavirus pandemic.
If the Wilpons still owned the Mets, even the $20 million in found money would have come with strings attached. Instead of being locked into the no. 2 or no. 3 spot in the rotation. Marcus Stroman would already be on the open market, either because the Mets didn’t extend him a qualifying offer worth almost $18 million or because they did so after