Robinson Canó Is the Newest Padre, and the Oldest

Robinson Cano
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Robinson Canó will get to write another chapter to his major league career. Cut loose by the Mets earlier this month amid a roster crunch, the twice-suspended 39-year-old second baseman is reportedly on the verge of signing with the Padres. While he may not have much left in the tank, there’s very little risk involved in giving him a look, and if nothing else, San Diego could use some help for its bench.

Canó hit just .195/.233/.268 in 43 plate appearances before being designated for assignment by the Mets on May 2, the day that rosters were reduced from 28 players to 26, and then released on May 8. They parted with Canó despite owing him $44.7 million on his contract over this year and next, the final portion of the 10-year, $240 million deal he signed with the Mariners in December 2013 (Seattle still has a $3.75 million installment to pay the Mets). The Padres will be paying him only the prorated portion of the $700,000 minimum salary, which is noteworthy given that they’re less than $1.2 million below the $230 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, according to Roster Resource.

Canó was a very productive hitter as recently as two years ago, slashing .316/.352/.544 (142 wRC+) with 10 home runs in 182 PA during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But on November 18 of that year, Major League Baseball suspended him for the entirety of the ’21 season following a positive test for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing drug. Canó had already drawn an 80-game suspension in May 2018 after testing positive for the diuretic known as Lasix, hence the year-long ban. The two suspensions have carried a massive cost for the eight-time All-Star even beyond the roughly $36 million in lost salary, all but wiping out any hope that he would reach 3,000 hits (he has 2,632), surpass Jeff Kent’s record of 351 home runs as a second baseman (316 of his 335 have come in that capacity), and gain entry to the Hall of Fame, which would have been a lock given his milestones and no. 7 ranking in JAWS.

In his limited opportunities with the Mets this season, Canó showed little sign of hitting like the Canó of yore. He swung and missed on 15.9% of all pitches and struck out 25.6% of the time, rates that are both more than double his career marks. His chase rate was an astronomical 48.9%, over 14 points above his career mark, and his swing rate was 58.9%, over seven points above his career mark. I’ve played this song before — since swing rates stabilize before most other stats — but the pattern does suggest he was pressing, which is understandable given his long layoff and tenuous hold on a roster spot. Canó’s 85.4% average exit velocity, 6.7% barrel rate, and 40% hard-hit rate don’t suggest he was mashing the ball; his .359 xSLG is 91 points ahead of his actual mark, but there are more than 100 hitters with larger differentials in this offense-suppressed season, and his .264 xwOBA is still cringeworthy.

The Padres are 20–12, one game behind the Dodgers in the NL West race, but that’s more in spite of their offense than because of it. The team’s 4.28 runs per game ranks eighth in the league, and its 28 homers are tied for seventh, but its .227 batting average and .364 slugging percentage are 12th. On a happier note, San Diego’s .320 on-base percentage is fourth, and its 10.8% walk rate second. Relatedly, here’s a quirk: four of the majors’ top five teams in walk rate are in the NL West, led by the Dodgers (10.9%), with the Diamondbacks (10.6%) and Giants (10.0%) the others.

Individually, Manny Machado (.383/.460/.625, 208 wRC+) and Eric Hosmer (still hot at .367/.434/.550 with a 180 wRC+ even after I wrote about him) are carrying the offensive load at unsustainable levels. Shortstop Ha-Seong Kim (.200/.326/.388, 113 wRC+) — filling in for the injured Fernando Tatis Jr. — and left fielder Jurickson Profar (.187/.313/.402, 110 wRC+) are the only other regulars producing at a league-average clip, though Jake Cronenworth (.214/.324/.333, 95 wRC+) isn’t far off.

The problem for the Padres is that Canó isn’t any direct help at the positions where they’re getting subpar production, such as center field (57 wRC+, mostly from Trent Grisham), right field (25 wRC+, from Wil Myers, the now-injured Matt Beaty, and others), and catcher (66 wRC+ from Austin Nola and Jorge Alfaro). The problem for Canó, a lefty-swinging second baseman who can probably spot at first (he played 14 games there in 2018), is that both of those positions are manned by competent lefties, at least so long as Hosmer continues to hit. Cronenworth does have very limited experience in the outfield, mainly as an amateur, but when Tatis went down, manager Bob Melvin ruled out trying him out there in order to make room for shortstop prospect C.J. Abrams.

Thus the most likely path to playing time for Canó is as a platoon designated hitter, where he could share the job with righty-swinging Luke Voit, who has hit .184/.349/.327 (108 wRC+) in 63 PA so far. That line includes his two-homer game against the Cubs on Wednesday, his first two shots of the season in his second game since returning from a 15-game absence due to a right biceps tendon injury.

Canó didn’t do anything in his 34 PA against righties this year that contrasts with his dismal overall numbers. If we incorporate a larger sample of his sorta-recent playing time, which is to say not only his 2020 season but also his not-so-hot ’19 one, when he hit a modest 256/.307/.428 (94 wRC+), he owns a 114 wRC+ against righties (.284/.325/.480) in 464 PA in that span, as opposed to an unplayable 81 wRC+ (.231/.288/.373) in 184 PA against lefties. The Padres as a team have hit just .227/.320/.351 (98 wRC+) against righties, including .205/.304/.321 (83 wRC+) out of the DH spot against them.

But even if the bar for improvement is comparatively low, Canó’s leash may be short. Tatis is expected back sometime next month after undergoing surgery in mid-March to repair a fracture of the scaphoid bone in his left wrist; while he’s running and taking grounders, he has yet to swing a bat. It’s possible that Tatis could be the one headed to the outfield given last year’s experiment, when he played 20 games in right field and seven in center, but more likely he returns to shortstop and creates a playing time squeeze at second. That said, it’s not out of the question that the Padres would try to keep Canó around once Tatis returns. The two San Pedro de Macoris residents are close, with Canó serving as a mentor when the pair played together for Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Winter League under Tatis’ padre. And despite his recent transgressions, Canó has remained a revered teammate and is well-primed to assume an elder statesman role. When he was DFA’d, J.D. Davis described the veteran as “a centerpiece in this clubhouse… a leader.”

When it’s all said and done, signing Canó is a low-risk, low-impact move for the Padres at a time when they have a clear need. He may not stay long, but it’s reasonable to see if he he can help.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and Mastodon @jay_jaffe.

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8 months ago

I know batting average isn’t critically important, but I still did a double take when you wrote that Jackson profar has a .187 average and is a slightly above average offensive contributor (110 wRC+).

Seriously, wtf is happening this year?!

8 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

It does help that he’s walking 15% of the time is on pace to whack 25 homers. Last year the guys with OBPs in between .310 and .315 and 23-27 homers were also above average, although more like 105 than 110.

8 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

it’s nuts. My personal favorite is Brandon Lowe, whose .200/.288/.382 line suggests that he’s not getting hits, getting walks, or hitting for power and yet has a 107 wRC+

8 months ago
Reply to  Scoreboard

Offense definitely cratered this year, but I wouldn’t read too much into a single player’s batting average/wrc+ in 30 games for leaguewide trend.

Random fun stat
Yasmani Grandal 2021 1st half
62G 246PA 14HR
.188/.388/.436 wrc+ 132

8 months ago
Reply to  tung_twista

That’s a legitimately good stat line though. Brandon Lowe’s is… not.