Wednesday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced that New York Mets second baseman Robinson Cano had tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug Stanozolol. Because it is his second positive test, Cano has been suspended for the entire 2021 MLB season. He was also suspended 80 games under the banned substance policy in 2018.
Cano, 38, will forfeit $24 million in salary because of the suspension. The Mariners are responsible for $3.75 million of Cano's salary with the Mets on the hook for the rest. In 2013, Cano signed a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Mariners and will have two years and $48 million remaining on his contract after sitting out 2021. The Mets traded for Cano in December 2018, and departed with two of their top prospects in the package.
While the trade is one the Mets would like to have back, the suspension gives the club an unexpected and additional $20.25 million for the 2021 season. It could make a significant difference as new billionaire owner Steve Cohen tries to make a splash this offseason.
Here are three ways the Mets could use the extra cash as they try to return to contender status:
1. Sign DJ LeMahieu
Cohen has already made clear that he's going to be very willing to spend big this winter. With the extra $20.25 million suddenly cleared up for the 2021 season, Cohen could use that to push the Mets to steal free-agent second baseball DJ LeMahieu from the crosstown rival Yankees. This seems unlikely, but never say never.
LeMahieu, 32, is coming off a stellar 2020 season in which he picked up his second batting title (he's now won a title in each league) and finished third for the American League's Most Valuable Player honors. The Mets could use a top-of-the-order bat, and LeMahieu also boasts an impressive versatility in the infield. So, with Cano gone, he can take over at second base or the Mets can use him at either of the corner infield spots and put super utility man Jeff McNeil back at second, which is his natural position.
If it turns out LeMahieu is already gone before the Mets can throw their hat in the ring, or if Cohen wants to invest elsewhere, they could go after the other top free-agent second basemen in Kolten Wong or Enrique Hernandez.
2. Sign a pair of top free agents
Now this option could figure to be the most valuable for the Mets. Some of our CBS Sports MLB staff actually predicted two of the top free agents this offseason ending up in Queens: outfielder George Springer and catcher J.T. Realmuto. In reality, everything's an educated guess, but Springer and Realmuto prove to be great fits for the Mets.
If the Mets really want to make the most of this surprise money, they should go after the biggest names and perhaps front-load the deals before Cano is back on the books in 2022. That would not only immediately signal to the rest of the league that Cohen wasn't playing around when he spent $2.5 billion for the Mets, it would also immediately push the Mets closer toward World Series contention.
The addition of Realmuto would solidify the Mets catching situation. They haven't had reliable production from their backstop in recent years, and it's their biggest weakness on the position player side. Realmuto, who will turn 30 ahead of the 2021 season, is a perfect and obvious fit. Signing a new catcher would have been an offseason priority for the Mets even if the Cano suspension never occurred. The extra payroll seemingly makes this a no-brainer.
Springer would be the final addition to close out a strong offensive outfield, playing alongside Conforto and Nimmo. Adding Springer would also help the Mets permanently (or at least until Cano's return) keep McNeil in his most comfortable position at second.
Outside of Springer and Realmuto, top free agent starter Trevor Bauer could also be a potential fit for New York. The Mets could use another sure thing to help fill out their rotation for the 2021 season. Bauer, the 2020 NL Cy Young winner, recorded a 1.73 ERA and a 5.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 11 starts and 73 innings.
3. Trade for an infielder
The Mets can rather easily replace Cano at second base with an in-house player like Jeff McNeil, Andres Gimenez or Amed Rosario. And furthermore, Cano's absence in 2021 could also mean a clearer infield picture. McNeil could move back to second base and J.D. Davis could become the club's full-time third baseman.
The domino effect would continue to favor the Mets and allow them to put Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo in the outfield corners, or move Davis to left and Nimmo to center. With the designated hitter expected to come to the National League, Davis could also work as the Mets' best option for a primary DH.
Outside of the Mets' best internal options, the club could pursue a trade for a top infielder like Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, or even, Francisco Lindor. Rosario, Gimenez and top prospect Ronny Mauricio could be part of a package.
All three of expected to be included in trade discussions this offseason. Cleveland is expected to trade Lindor specifically ahead of his free agency to save money, Arenado wants to play for a contender, and finally, the Cubs are expected to cut payroll and in turn, break up their core. It could be worth it for the Mets to pursue one as a season rental for the 2021 season and then reevaluate once Cano's future with the Mets becomes more clear.