PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Robinson Cano, in his age-37 season, will attempt to prove that his disappointing performance last year was just a fluke.
Cano arrived at his second spring training with the Mets on Sunday, and the expectations for his general health and season impact were very different than last year at this time.
“I feel like I’m 25,” Cano quipped with a cheesy smile last February.
This time, standing against his Port. St. Lucie clubhouse locker with new bleached blonde hair, he wasn’t nearly as self-assured. Cano said he spent his offseason working on his legs and preparing himself for the year.
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“I know I can do better and that’s my goal this year — stay healthy,” Cano said. “If I’m healthy, I can be myself. I can be the Robbie that you guys are used to seeing play this game.”
In the past, his legs contributed to eight All-Star nods, a championship ring and recurring votes for MVP. But his legs largely failed him in 2019, more than once forcing him to leave in the middle of a game clutching at his hamstring or quad.
Cano took three trips to the injured list last year — including two rehab assignments in May and August — across 107 games for the Mets. It was a drastic dropoff from the usual 150-plus game production he’s used to supplying.
“I always work hard and I love this game and this is what I know how to do,” he said. “I had a bad year last year, I was injured. That’s not an excuse, but I know if I’m healthy I can play this game the way I used to play.”
Cano has not yet been told by the Mets if he’ll play every day in 2020. The team’s options at second base include Jeff McNeil, Jed Lowrie, who showed up to camp wearing a large leg brace, and longtime infielder Eduardo Nunez, who signed to a minor-league contract last month with an invitation to spring training.
The key for new Mets manager Luis Rojas will be to use Cano intelligently — based on his performance rather than the space he’s taking up in the team’s payroll.
Cano’s numbers took a drastic dip in 2019 when compared to his career output. Every year since 2009, he batted .300 against fastballs. He used to crush heaters with ease. Last year, he hit .291 against fastballs. His exit velocity was down three percent from 2018. His hard hit percentage went from being the top 2% in the league in 2018 to a five percent decrease in 2019.
Despite the obvious drop in production, Cano spent the majority of his at-bats last year batting third hitting cleanup.
He just isn’t the same player he once was. In his late 30’s, it’s wildly ambitious to expect a radical turnaround. Perhaps staying healthy all year will get him closer to the Robbie we’re used to seeing, before he joined the Mets. If he can pull it off, it would be a refreshing surprise.
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