Suspension puts Robinson Cano's Hall of Fame candidacy into serious jeopardy

Did Robinson Cano just cancel his 2027 trip to Cooperstown?

Major League Baseball announced Tuesday that it's suspended the All-Star second baseman 80 games for violating the league's joint drug agreement. Cano reportedly tested positive for furosemide, a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent for PED use and thus prohibited by MLB.

The suspension deals a cruel blow to a Mariners team that's exceeded expectations so far this year. After winning 78 games last year, Seattle is on pace to win 93 this season. Cano has played a key role in that early-season success. He's delivered a .287/.385/.441 line that's 29 percent better than league average, after adjusting for Safeco Field's pitcher-friendly dimensions. He's also played better than average defense, and retained his status as one of the most durable players in the game, having steered clear of the disabled list for nearly 12 years.

That streak of avoiding the DL ended on Monday, when the Mariners sidelined him due to a broken bone in his right hand, suffered a day earlier. Cano's DL stint and suspension will now overlap, and he won't be eligible to return until August.

The M's will try to make do with a slapdash collection of Quadruple-A types, including Gordon Beckham and Andrew Romine. Fellow Mariner Dee Gordon has spent most of his major league career at second, but he's now Seattle's everyday center fielder, and the M's don't have any great options to replace Gordon in center if he were to move to second.

Beyond the immediate implications for the Mariners, Cano's suspension reignites debate about performance-enhancing drug use, baseball legacies, and the Hall of Fame.

Let's start here: No player ever suspended for PED use has ever been inducted. Toss a big asterisk next to that nugget, given that the league didn't modernize its PED policy until 2006, with the advent of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Still, we've already seen the first round of players suspended under the new policy become eligible for Cooperstown, only to run up against a wall of opposition.

Manny Ramirez is unquestionably one of the greatest right-handed hitters who ever lived, but he hasn't even topped 25 percent in either of his first two years of Hall of Fame eligibility after twice getting caught for violating the league's drug policy. Alex Rodriguez is one of the 15 best position players of all time, and he's widely expected to get snubbed by voters when he becomes eligible in 2022 due to his 2013 suspension, as well as his admission that he used steroids from 2001 to 2003 while with the Rangers. That's to say nothing of demigods like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who've been repeatedly denied entry into baseball's shrine of eternals on the mere suspicion of PED use.

Cano's resume doesn't approach that of legends like Bonds and A-Rod, but it's still Hall-worthy, even if he never plays another game. Baseball analyst Jay Jaffe invented a metric called JAWS that measures the combination of a player's career performance and his numbers during his peak years, as defined by his seven best seasons. By JAWS, Cano rates as the seventh-best second baseman of all time, sandwiched in between Hall of Famer Rod Carew and the criminally underrated and extremely Hall-worthy Bobby Grich. That ranking places Cano solidly above the statistical cutoff for second basemen already inducted into the Hall.

None of that, nor Cano's more conventional career stats (.304/.354/.493, 305 home runs, 522 doubles, 1,206 RBI, 1,168 runs scored while playing one of the most demanding positions on the diamond), nor his accolades (eight All-Star appearances, five Silver Slugger awards, two Gold Gloves) trump today's suspension announcement ... at least if recent history is any indication.

Evaluating the merit of that voter reticence, and of whether or not a player's legacy is irrevocably tainted if he's busted for PED use, isn't easy. On the most basic level, flouting the sport's rules to gain an edge on the competition, while hundreds of contemporaries choose to play clean, eats at the moral code held dear by many players, fans, and media members. On the other hand, baseball's treatment of cheaters has long been weird and hypocritical. We revere known amphetamine users like Willie Mays while hyperventilating over players who choose different kinds of performance enhancers. Hell, we've elected known cheaters like Gaylord Perry into Cooperstown, because apparently throwing spitballs is charming but having big muscles is deeply offensive.

If you're going to draw a line, though, there's some logical consistency to treating players like Cano, A-Rod, and Ramirez differently than you would Bonds or Clemens. Everyone from MLB owners to Commissioner Bud Selig to the players' union chose to condone PED use by not implementing any kind of coherent system of penalties until years after a series of all-time records had been broken. Moreover, suspicion of guilt and guilt are not the same thing. So if you're going to make arguments or consider Hall votes based on legacies, it might make more sense to come down harder on those players actually busted for breaking the rules than those who happened to hit long home runs or throw blazing fastballs 15 or 20 years ago.  

In the near term, Cano could return from his suspension and keep right on hitting, just as teammate Nelson Cruz and several other players suspended under post-2006 rules have done. And the Mariners could lean more heavily on Cruz, Kyle Seager, Mitch Haniger, and other key hitters as they try to snap the longest playoff drought in baseball.

But the longer-term outlook suddenly looks much more muddled. Cano's accomplishments in Seattle, and in pinstripes, now forever tainted into the minds of many. In a baseball world obsessed with cheating in a way that followers of other sports are not, a great player's legacy can turn to dust just that fast. Fairly, or not.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Jonah Keri writes about baseball and numerous other topics for CBS Sports. He also hosts The Jonah Keri Podcast, which you should subscribe to on iTunes. Previously, he served as Lead Baseball Writer for... Full Bio

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