ATLANTA — Veteran infielder Robinson Canó arrived at Truist Park on Friday afternoon under no illusions. The Padres, his new team, made it clear when they offered him a job earlier this week that he will not play every day. He will come off the bench to pinch hit sometime in his first few days, once they determine he is ready after spending nearly two weeks away from the major-league game. After he is brought up to speed on how the Padres operate, he will still play pretty sparingly.
The circumstances were drastically different from the last time Canó accepted an assignment with a new team, one that made him the cornerstone of a blockbuster trade. But the 39-year-old, who had been keeping himself fresh at his father’s baseball facility in their native Dominican Republic after being let go by the Mets on May 2, didn’t hesitate to sign with the Padres. The job suited him just fine.
“I’m ready for it,” he said.
Canó may not have been quite as ready for it eleven days ago, when Mets owner Steve Cohen green-lighted jettisoning Canó and paying out the remaining $40.5 million on his contract in favor of keeping first baseman Dominic Smith on the major-league roster. He had collected eight hits and 11 strikeouts in 41 at-bats over 12 games.
Canó hasn’t produced at rates above replacement over the course of a full season since 2017, when he was last an All-Star for the Mariners. That successful year was followed by an 80-game suspension, handed down after he tested positive for the banned diuretic furosemide, classified as a masking agent in MLB’s joint drug agreement. His 2020 production — when he batted .316 and posted a wOBA (.376) and wRC+ (142) that led all National League second basemen with at least 180 plate appearances — was also called into question. After that season’s conclusion, Canó was banned for all of 2021 because of a positive test for the performance-enhancing drug stanozolol.
Canó, who batted .285 with 59 doubles, 33 home runs and 119 RBIs from 2018 to 2020, had needed to prove he belonged with the Mets. He entered the season understanding that he would spend more time on the bench this year than he ever had in his career. But adapting to his new reality proved challenging.
Canó said he didn’t want to blame his early-season struggles on his slow adjustment to getting less playing time, “but it’s something that I’m not used to,” he said. “It’s something that is going to take me time.”
“The mentality is already switched. It’s just going to take time no matter what,” Canó added when asked what he needed to change to accept his fate. “It’s like, you’ve been doing the (everyday) role for the last 15, 16, 17 years. It’s just a role that’s going to take time (to adjust to) regardless that you have your mindset ready.”
Although the Mets determined they couldn’t afford Canó the luxury of time, the Padres had little to lose by taking on Canó at a league-minimum rate. At best, they would find an adequate platoon partner for designated hitter Luke Voit, who is batting .204 after a 2-for-5 performance in an 11-6 win over the Braves on Friday. At worst, they’d keep Canó around as a mentor until there isn’t enough space on the roster to justify his presence.
Canó, of course, believes he has more to offer.
“I still got a lot left in the tank,” he said Friday, “and I know I still can play this game.”
With shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. not expected back until sometime next month, Canó has weeks to prove himself useful to an offense that is batting .233 with a .697 OPS through 33 games.
“We’ve done enough things, I think, as a whole without the offense clicking right now on all cylinders to still be competitive and in these games,” acting manager Ryan Christenson said. “Any improvements we can have as an offensive unit with the addition of Canó, or whoever it might be, is obviously going to make us even tougher than we’ve been so far.”
(Photo: Rich von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire via AP Images)