NEW YORK -- As the Mets mulled Robinson Canó’s future over the weekend, general manager Billy Eppler gathered all the necessary info and relayed it to team owner Steve Cohen.
Eppler told Cohen that his baseball operations department believed the best course of action would be to designate the slumping Canó for assignment. Eppler also told Cohen that doing so would mean eating the roughly $37.5 million remaining on Canó’s contract. Cohen would need to pay those dollars one way or the other.
Cohen absorbed the information, then told his GM: “Make the baseball decision.”
It may seem like a simple concept, but it’s one that egos and economics often prevent from happening. Time and again, teams around baseball hang onto aging stars because of the money owed them. The Mets have been guilty on plenty of occasions.
But Cohen’s Mets are something different, in part because their owner is worth a reported $17 billion. Cohen’s Mets simply want to win.
On Monday, that meant jettisoning Canó so that they could keep Dominic Smith, Luis Guillorme. J.D. Davis and Travis Jankowski on their roster. Canó was batting just .195/.233/.268 in 43 plate appearances. The Mets also optioned reliever Yoan López to Triple-A Syracuse to comply with MLB’s leaguewide roster size reduction from 28 to 26 players.
“You couldn’t ask for a better support than Steve’s given us,” manager Buck Showalter said. “You can tell how much he loves the Mets and the fans. He trusts the decisions being made.”
That doesn’t mean this decision was easy. For Eppler, who first met Canó when both worked for the Yankees in the mid-2000s, the decision was an emotional one -- for reasons completely unrelated to money. For other Mets players, the news was difficult to stomach. For all his baggage, for all of his struggles, Canó remained a well-liked figure within the clubhouse walls.
Shortly after Eppler and Showalter told Canó that they would designate him for assignment late Sunday evening, the clubhouse took on a funereal tone.
“Especially Robbie Canó -- he’s been around for so long in this game,” Davis said. “He’s been an icon here in New York. And he’s been a centerpiece in this clubhouse. He’s been a leader. To lose him definitely takes a little bit of wind out of our sails."
Canó came to the Mets along with closer Edwin Díaz in a Dec. 2018 trade -- the first significant transaction of Brodie Van Wagenen’s tenure as general manager. Given Canó’s advanced age at the time -- he was entering his age-36 season -- the deal was met with significant skepticism. It became even less popular as Canó struggled in 2019 and, two years later, he received a full-season suspension for violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Still, Canó’s inclusion on the Mets’ Opening Day roster was never in doubt, in part because MLB rules stipulated that teams could carry 28 players for the month of April. The deadline to slim rosters to 26 was noon ET on Monday, forcing the team’s decision. The club could have optioned Smith, Guillorme or Davis to the Minors, giving it more time to evaluate Canó. Instead, the Mets chose to designate Canó for assignment and eat the majority of the $40.5 million they owe him through 2023.
So ended the rocky tenure of Canó, who was on a Hall of Fame arc before testing positive for PEDs a first time with the Mariners in 2018. A second positive test with the Mets likely destroyed any remaining chance Canó might have had to enter Cooperstown, despite his career .302/.352/.490 slash line with 335 homers, 571 doubles and 1,305 RBIs.
Canó remains best-known for his nine seasons with the Yankees, which included five All-Star appearances and a World Series title in 2009.
The Mets technically have seven days to trade Canó or place him on outright waivers, and Eppler said he would do everything possible to accommodate the aging star -- possibly a trade, but otherwise a chance to play in the Minors or to receive his release.
Given Canó’s salary, desire for playing time and popularity throughout the game, a release is the most likely outcome. At that point, any team could sign Canó for the MLB minimum, with the Mets paying off the rest of his salary.
“I’m sure he’s somebody that five years, 10 years from now, I’m going to run into him on the island, or run into him in Florida or New York or somewhere, and we’ll share in some good memories together,” Eppler said. “But last night wasn’t one of them.”