ATLANTA -- When the Braves brought Michael Harris II to the Majors with less than 200 games of professional experience, they simply needed him to be more productive than journeyman Travis Demeritte had been while filling an outfield role.
Robinson Canó’s task is similar. The eight-time All-Star doesn’t need to be as great as he was when he was annual MVP candidate during the first half of the 2010s. He simply needs to give the Braves more than what Phil Gosselin and Orlando Arcia can provide while filling Ozzie Albies’ void at second base.
Canó made a favorable first impression as he recorded two hits in his Atlanta debut on Monday night at Truist Park. But his contributions went for naught as the Braves were subdued by Max Scherzer in a 4-1 loss to the first-place Mets.
“That’s what we got him for: to be a good left-handed bat,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I thought he looked OK.”
Canó was acquired from the Padres in exchange for cash considerations on Sunday and he arrived in Atlanta on Monday, just in time for the start of a three-game series between two of the three organizations that have employed him this year. His former Mets teammates now sit 2 1/2 games ahead of the Braves, who are 29-9 since the start of June.
While making five season-altering deals before last year’s Trade Deadline and the big deal that landed Matt Olson in March, the Braves drained most of their prospect capital. How barren were the available assets? Well, former Braves top prospect Drew Waters’ stock dropped so significantly that he was dealt to the Royals for the 35th pick in the 2022 MLB Draft and the accompanying $2.2 million in bonus pool money.
Fortunately, the Braves don’t have nearly as many needs to fill leading up to this year’s Trade Deadline. But with Albies out for at least another month, there was a need to find somebody more productive than Gosselin and Arcia, who had combined to produce a .583 OPS since Albies fractured his left foot on June 13.
Canó had a .501 OPS in the 12 games he played for the Mets this season before being released on May 8. He played sparingly for the Padres over the final two weeks of May and then started to find a groove once he started playing every day for Triple-A El Paso in the middle of June. He hit .369 with a .947 OPS over his final 14 games for the Chihuahuas. That was enough to tempt the Braves to make this no-risk move.
“I know that I can still play this game,” Canó said. “Thank God, I was able to put up some of the numbers.”
There’s always reason to be skeptical about Minor League numbers. But Canó showed there is life left in his swing when he hit a 109 mph single off Scherzer in the third inning and a 112 mph single off reliever Adam Ottavino in the eighth. He accounted for two of the game’s four hits with the highest exit velocities.
“He’s been getting regular playing time for the last month,” Snitker said. “So all these [matchups against right-handed pitchers] will be good for him.”
Canó also showed the Braves he still has some range and soft hands. His presence helped limit the damage Max Fried incurred while issuing a career-high five walks over five innings. It was an uncharacteristically rough night for Fried, and the Braves couldn’t solve Scherzer until Riley hit his 24th homer with two outs in the seventh inning.
So, the Braves ultimately didn’t get the result they wanted during Canó’s first game. But they still have to feel good about the chance they are taking on the experienced second baseman, who will cost them just the pro-rated version of $700,000, which is MLB’s minimum salary this year.
If Canó ends up helping the Braves win a fifth straight NL East title, there will be some disgruntled Mets fans, especially those who realize their club could end up paying the second baseman approximately $7.5 million to play the rest of this season for Atlanta.
“You’re hoping you get what Robinson Canó is capable of,” Snitker said. “I think it was worth a try.”