With Robinson Cano suspended for the entire 2021 season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, there will be massive ramifications for the Mets.
Cano had been expected to be a regular lineup staple in 2021, whether at second base or DH (assuming the DH is used again in the NL). His absence could theoretically create an opening at two positions.
When it comes to the payroll, with Cano forfeiting his entire $24 million salary for 2021 due to his suspension, the Mets now have a lot more money to play with. And they already had a solid amount before this.
What happens with Cano if/when he returns for the 2022 season at 39 years old and how that impacts the Mets remains to be seen, but for 2021, things have changed in a big way….
What happens at second base?
The most logical solution could be simply letting Jeff McNeil become the regular second baseman. It’s the position he’s most comfortable at, and would open up third base or left field.
Another option could be to use Andres Gimenez at second base and have McNeil play third. This assumes that Gimenez is not part of a deal this offseason to acquire a player such as Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Yet another option could be signing free agent infielder DJ LeMahieu, though it can be argued that it would be wiser for the Mets to allocate their dollars elsewhere — such as catcher, center field, and the starting rotation.
What happens at DH?
This is a huge question and one it would be nice to have an answer to before the offseason kicks into high gear.
Will the NL again use the DH in 2021?
If it does, the Mets — without Cano as an option there — would have an easier time fitting Dominic Smith or J.D. Davis into a regular role. They could also use Pete Alonso at DH and Smith at first base.
The Mets have interest in adding free agent center fielder George Springer. Let’s say they end up signing him and wind up using Brandon Nimmo in left field. Without Cano on the roster and with the DH at their disposal, the Mets would still be able to have Smith or Davis in the lineup every day.
Suddenly, the Mets’ roster crunch has gotten a bit easier to figure out.
What does this mean for the payroll?
Prior to the Cano suspension, when factoring in Marcus Stroman‘s salary for 2021 and accounting for projected raises via arbitration, the Mets had roughly $153 million committed to the payroll for 2021.
When you subtract Cano’s $24 million, the Mets now have roughly $129 million committed to the payroll for 2021. That puts them roughly $81 million under the luxury tax threshold.
Owner Steve Cohen said during his introductory news conference that the team would spend wisely (not like “drunken sailors”). They should continue to operate with that philosophy.
But the Mets now have a huge chunk of found payroll space, putting them in even better position to take advantage of what is expected to be a unique market.
Who should the Mets pursue via free agency and/or trade with this extra money?
While the Mets can now theoretically fit Springer and Lindor and Trevor Bauer all on the payroll for 2021 without exceeding the luxury tax, it doesn’t mean they will — or that they should.
Still hanging over them is the $48 million total Cano is owed in 2023 and 2024. Those dollars are more damaging when it comes to factoring in the luxury tax payroll than Cohen’s ability to outbid another team for any player the Mets want, but they’re still damaging.
Let’s examine one potential offseason scenario…
With Cano’s money off the books for 2021, the Mets could easily make one big free agent signing (Springer or Bauer or J.T. Realmuto), trade for Lindor ($19.5 million salary for 2021), and still easily have room in the budget to address other areas. Or they can make two big free agent signings instead of trading for Lindor or another expensive player.
It can be argued, though, that the Mets should look to spend the $24 million originally allocated to Cano on shorter-term deals. For example, a one-year deal for a pitcher like Charlie Morton and a one-year deal for a reliever.
This way, the Mets can get their stars, get other legitimate help, and keep their payroll situation in good shape for 2022 and beyond.
Either way, new avenues are now open that were not open prior to Cano’s suspension.