The Robinson Canó trade will haunt the New York Mets for a long time

Robinson Cano

Robinson Canó is becoming a problem for the New York Mets, while Jarred Kelenic is becoming a sad reminder of what could have been.

Recently, Jarred Kelenic has been popping up everywhere. Of course, his name haunts the minds of New York Mets fans already. But this spring training, he’s making appearances all over baseball media.

There were videos of his batting practice at Mariners camp. He was featured in a story by Greg Johns of MLB.com and a video by Lauren Smith of the Tacoma News-Tribune, both about the Mariners’ youth. Then, Friday, Rustin Dodd of The Athletic released another story on Kelenic.

“For Seattle, Jarred Kelenic represents hope,” the headline read. “For the Mets, he could haunt.”

The week before the 2018 MLB draft, Dodd reported that Mariners officials — including general manager Jerry DiPoto — watched Kelenic in a private workout and liked him enough to move him to the top of their draft board. Then the Mets swooped in and drafted him with the No. 6 pick.

“Still, DiPoto knew one thing,” Dodd writes. “If Kelenic ever became available, they’d be first in line.”

It’s funny: there’s an entire genre of jokes about how Robinson Canó‘s age. When Manny Machado signed with the Padres last offseason, it was fashionable to point out that when Machado played the final game of his 10-year contract, he would still be younger than Canó at the moment the Mets acquired him.

But with Kelenic in the news, a new line presents itself.

Let’s say Kelenic makes his debut on July 16, his 21st birthday, and he hopes to according to Dodd. Kelenic could play until 2036—and still be younger than Canó is going into the 2020 season.

To be fair, of course, Canó and Kelenic are different players with different roles. Canó isn’t a Met to bring hope for the future. He’s in Queens because the Mets thought he might have a few years left in his bat and his contract allowed the team to acquire Edwin Diaz. But the fact remains that for Mets fans, it will be awfully difficult to look at the Seattle Mariners’ outfield for the next decade without wondering what could have been.

Because for the Mets, Canó has become a problem. With his former agent in the general manager’s office, his salary exceeding $20 million, and the impressive offensive career he had before last season, he’s sure to receive playing time.

Last season, Canó put up a .736 OPS but still started almost every day when he wasn’t hurt. Canó might well improve this season—he showed positive signs in the second half last year, with an OPS of .880 in 42 games—but the Mets would be foolish to count on it.

Canó has certainly done some good things as a Met: By all accounts, he’s a positive clubhouse presence, and he was also essential to Amed Rosario‘s breakout. But he’s also 37, and as everyone knows from hearing it almost every time he’s mentioned, he’s not getting any younger.

He used to be durable: from 2007 to 2017, Canó played in at least 150 games a year. But in 2018, after landing on the injured list with a hand fracture, he was suspended 80 games for performance-enhancing drugs. Then, in 2019, he had three separate stints on the IL, two for a persistent quad injury and a third for a torn hamstring.

Clearly, Canó’s age is catching up with him. Last season, according to Baseball Savant, he was in the 27th percentile for Outs Above Average and the 14th for sprint speed. Among 79 qualified second basemen, Canó’s sprint speed ranked…79th. He was slower than the barely-ambulatory Dustin Pedroia. He was even slower than Wilmer Flores.

Canó famously doesn’t even sprint as much as most players. Last season, after facing criticism for not hustling out of the box, he tried to beat out a grounder to short—and strained his quad before he reached first.

Meanwhile, can you imagine what the Mets’ future would look like with Jarred Kelenic waiting in the wings? Nimmo and Conforto in the outfield, with a Kelenic call-up possible by midseason. Jeff McNeil at second base and J.D. Davis at third, or the opposite, with Luis Guillorme in the mix. Justin Dunn fighting for a spot in the rotation. And of course, an extra $20 million or so available to spend on free agents.

But the Mets made the trade, so they don’t have any of that. Instead, they have a prohibitively expensive 37-year-old second baseman who can barely field or run, who suddenly looks injury-prone and whose bat has declined steeply. The Mets’ chances still look decent this season, and if they play well, the trade might sting a little bit less.

But they already lost out on Jarred Kelenic. Every base he steals will be a gut punch, every home run a knockout. For Mets fans, Jarred Kelenic will be a constant reminder of lost potential, a living symbol of a decision that was bad when it happened and seems worse every day.

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