PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Robinson Canó rattled off the names: Derek Jeter. Alex Rodriguez. Gary Sheffield. Mariano Rivera. Jorge Posada.
Early in his career, Canó played alongside all of them, marveling at how those successful Yankees managed to thrive into their mid-to-late-30s. At the time, Canó was a 20-something player breaking into the league. His body was still in peak shape. He did not have to worry about the stiffness and tightness that would set in as he aged.
“All those guys played 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 seasons in the big leagues,” Canó said. “To be able to go out every day -- and not only go out, but perform and play at a high level … as a kid, you always dream, ‘Man, I want to be like that when I get to that age.’ Because you never know what the future’s going to bring.”
Now, Canó is the veteran, entering his age-37 season with the Mets. He’s coming off a year that saw him miss significant time due to multiple quad, hamstring and hand issues, posting an uncharacteristic .256/.307/.428 batting line in part because of his inconsistent presence in the lineup.
Canó understands that staying healthy won’t become easier as he continues to age, so he is taking added precautions. This winter, he spent more time than usual focusing on strengthening his major leg muscles. Upon arriving at camp, he skipped the first week of Grapefruit League games, debuting Friday with two plate appearances as the Mets’ designated hitter, going 0-for-1 with a walk in their 3-2 win over the Cardinals. Behind closed doors in Port St. Lucie, Canó underwent testing to make sure his hamstrings and quads are firing as they should. He plans to DH on Sunday and play second base for the first time on Tuesday, with days off in between.
“Your body’s always going to tell you how you feel,” Canó said. “I never want to get into the situation that my body says, ‘You know what? You’ve got to rest or you need to work more.’ That’s why I always learned from the best when I came up, and saw all the things that they did -- why they lasted so long in this game, why they played so good at an old age, how they played so good, how they kept themselves in the game.”
When Canó arrived in Flushing two winters ago, he said he wanted to be an everyday player despite his advanced age. This year, he’s not putting a number on it, understanding he and the Mets are going to need to have constant conversations about how he’s feeling.
That doesn’t mean Canó is taking a step back in his mid-30s. To the contrary, he still sees himself as a daily fixture in the lineup; he’s simply leaving open the possibility that he could take a day here or there when, in the past, he might not have done so.
“I think sometimes even with my presence in the lineup, I can make a difference,” Canó said. “It’s not the same when you’re sitting in the dugout or [saying], ‘I’m tired today.’ I’m the kind of guy that I take care of myself. I rest as much as I can and do the exercises that I need. Also in the past, when I say, ‘Oh, I would like to take a day off today,’ then I go and get three or four hits. I’m like, ‘Why do I need a day off?’”
Committed to Canó for four more years and $96 million, the Mets have a vested interest in keeping him healthy -- whether that means using him in 130 games, 140, 150 or beyond. When manager Luis Rojas discussed Canó’s workload with him this spring, the two determined they would not set a goal for how many games he might play.
Instead, Canó will let his body talk. When it does, he promises to listen.
“At this point in my career,” Canó said, “I just want to go out, help the team to win games and be able to win another World Series.”