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Here's what Mets can do next without Canó

@mike_petriello
November 18, 2020

Robinson Canó has been suspended for the 2021 season after a violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and given that it's his second such suspension -- he was popped in 2018 as a member of the Mariners, too -- the conversation is going to clearly be about

Robinson Canó has been suspended for the 2021 season after a violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, and given that it's his second such suspension -- he was popped in 2018 as a member of the Mariners, too -- the conversation is going to clearly be about how he has sullied his own reputation and likely prevented his own induction into Cooperstown. It is, above all else, a sad story about a great player.

Still, those are long-term questions about morality and character, and there will be time enough to worry about his legacy. The short-term question is a much more baseball-focused one, in the sense that having suddenly lost an eight-time All-Star who just hit .316/.352/.544 might actually be ... not so bad?

If that sounds unusual, that's because the Mets have long had a misshapen roster, one that often seemed to be less than the sum of their otherwise talented parts. They've had a first baseman playing left field (Dom Smith), a DH playing first base (Pete Alonso), another DH playing third base (J.D. Davis), a corner outfielder playing center field (Brandon Nimmo), and a second baseman playing everywhere except second (Jeff McNeil). Think that's been a problem? In the last two seasons, they've had, by one notable metric, baseball's second-worst defense. It's not hard to see why, and it's not just about skill.

In 2020, at least, they had the designated hitter to help offload some of that. (Canó and Davis started 25 of the 60 games at DH, with Alonso taking another 17 while Smith moved to first.) But at the moment, it's unclear if the NL will have the DH in 2021. Something was going to have to give regardless.

Without Canó, some of the roster pressure gets alleviated. New options open up. Again: This is not guaranteed to be a positive thing, because you do lose his bat. It just gives you a little more opportunity for creativity, knowing you're not locked into a 38-year-old second baseman on a roster where he never quite fit in.

So: What could or should they do now? Here are a few options ...

1. Do nothing at all.

OK, this is clearly not going to happen. We're just starting off here to level-set, to remind you what it all looks like right now, today, with no Canó, no DH available, and with each position's ranks via 2021 FanGraphs projections.

Catcher: nope (25th)
First base: Alonso / Smith (5th)
Second base: McNeil / Luis Guillorme / Andrés Giménez (6th)
Shortstop: Giménez / Amed Rosario (21st)
Third base: Davis / McNeil (13th)
Left field: Smith / McNeil (15th)
Center field: Brandon Nimmo (8th)
Right field: Michael Conforto (5th)

It's not perfect, obviously, but it's already simpler. We had saved these same positional WAR projections from earlier in November, with Canó included, and second base is actually improved from 9th, because McNeil is projected to be a better hitter and comparable fielder. The outfield defense is still a problem. This team could really use a DH.

It still doesn't fix your catcher problem, and it still doesn't do what you really need to do, which is to move Nimmo out of center, where he's below-average, back to a corner, where he's capable. With Canó, it was difficult to do that, because second base wasn't open to shift McNeil back to. But now, the possibilities are wide open.

2. Sign the right-handed bat you desperately need.

This is key, because the Mets are heavily left-handed, even without Canó. Smith hits lefty. So do Nimmo, McNeil and Conforto. So do Giménez and Guillorme. In 2020, the Mets had the highest share of pitches seen by lefty batters in the game:

56.3% -- Mets
55.1% -- Rays
53.9% -- D-backs
53.8% -- Pirates
53.2% -- Reds / Indians

To that end, there are two obvious righty free agent targets here. Every Mets fan on the planet wants the team to sign catcher J.T. Realmuto, arguably the best catcher in the game. There is absolutely no chance the team enters 2021 with Tomás Nido and Ali Sánchez behind the plate. Signing Realmuto would crush the Phillies. It's a perfect fit.

George Springer is that perfect fit, too, as a strong righty bat who can play center field now and the corners in a few years. While generally catchers are scarcer, one might argue Springer is more important, since the only other starting-caliber center fielder available is Jackie Bradley Jr., and bats left-handed.

But now, the Canó news opens up another door. Twenty-four hours ago, you wouldn't really consider signing another veteran second baseman. But now, suddenly, DJ LeMahieu is an option, and you could really pick and choose whether you wanted him or McNeil at second or third. (This has the added benefit of turning Davis into the multi-position bench bat role he is probably best suited for.) If there's an added benefit of tweaking the Yankees, well, all the better for a new owner.

Actually, wait a minute. These are the "new" Mets, right? OK, so ...

3. Sign two of the right-handed bats you desperately need.

There you go. Now we're talking. Let's spend someone else's money. We'll go with Springer and LeMahieu here. That's right, not Realmuto. Why? Because as we said above, Springer might be more important, LeMahieu will be less expensive, there are other catchers to be had, and with the need to add a pitcher, we can't expect the Mets to sign all the nine-figure contracts.

What about the young pair of Giménez and Rosario, you ask? We're not opposed to letting them fight it out, because we still believe in Rosario despite his down season, and despite Giménez's impressive debut, a 102 OPS+ on offense isn't exactly a guarantee of stardom. Let the best shortstop win -- and trade the other.

4. But probably don't sign Marcell Ozuna.

It's not that Ozuna isn't a strong righty bat, because the man did just hit .338/.431/.636 and finish third in the Majors in slugging, and so you understand why they may be connected in rumors. (Or why every agent wants their clients to be connected to the Mets in rumors.) But aside from "the Mets can't have every player," we did just talk about how much defense has been an issue, and Ozuna is a truly weak outfielder. The Braves knew this, which is why he started 39 games at DH in the regular season and didn't need his glove at all in the postseason. Not only that, if the DH doesn't come back in 2021, now you're leaving Nimmo in center, too. This is not the way.

5. Don't make that trade.

What that trade means is up to you, but it probably means Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado or Francisco Lindor. We're here to say: Not that trade. (Fine, why? Bryant is coming off a dreadful season with a worrisome decline in hard-hit rate; Arenado's situation is complicated, between no-trade clauses, opt-outs, and Colorado's likely insistence on high-end talent; and as for Lindor, well, we're already adding Springer and LeMahieu, aren't we? Let's try to stay in the realm of borderline reality, knowing that the 2021-22 shortstop market is ludicrously stacked.)

We're not saying don't make trades. We're saying don't make trades for big names just for the sake of the names.

6. Don't forget about the pitching.

Obviously. They have an ace, in Jacob deGrom, and a solid mid-rotation starter in Marcus Stroman. They have Seth Lugo, valuable in whatever role they choose to use him in, and Edwin Díaz, who still keeps striking out hitters around generally being difficult to watch, and a handful of veteran relievers in Dellin Betances, Jeurys Familia, Miguel Castro and Brad Brach. Maybe they'll get some time from Noah Syndergaard.

The obvious name here is Trevor Bauer, and yet again, we're not simply going to assume they'll get every top free agent. Jake Odorizzi or Masahiro Tanaka, perhaps; Liam Hendriks would be quite the add in the bullpen.

7. It's OK to shoot lower at catcher.

We assume that Springer and LeMahieu would ease the sting of not adding Realmuto, but you still need a catcher. Maybe that's James McCann, or Tyler Flowers, or Jason Castro. Maybe that's a different deal with Cleveland for Roberto Pérez, who didn't hit at all in 2020 but hit 24 homers the year before and is regarded as a truly elite defensive catcher. It might actually be two of these names, because they could use depth here almost as much as they could use a star.

8. Accept that there's a deal you'll never see coming.

It's so easy to say "throw money at every free agent," as we've done here, and maybe it is that easy. But we're reminded of the last time a major market team changed hands like this, back in May 2012, when the Dodgers were saved from bankruptcy by new owners. (A process, ironically, in which Steve Cohen was one of the final bidders.) Months later, they shocked the baseball world by trading six players to Boston for a quarter-billion dollars worth of Adrián González, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, announcing their intention to compete immediately.

We're not saying that the Mets are going to do that, exactly, but "just sign all the free agents" is simplistic. Maybe they'll scavenge a team looking to shed payroll by, say, taking Elvis Andrus or Rougned Odor off the hands of the Rangers in a bid to get Lance Lynn.

Most likely, they'll do one or two of the things we've said above, and then something completely unexpected. That is, after all, the luxury you get with a well-heeled owner who is motivated to make a big splash.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Ballpark Dimensions podcast.