Robinson Canó: Home in Queens

On October 29, 2018, Brodie Van Wagenen was announced as the 13th General Manager in New York Mets history. During his first press conference, Van Wagenen promised fans that the team would win now and in the future. However, in order to create the winning culture that he and the fan base crave, Van Wagenen had shape up the roster to contend as soon as the 2019 season. Van Wagenen needed proven All-Star caliber players. So in his first big splash, Brodie did exactly that. He traded prospect right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn and outfielder Jarred Kelenic, along with Gerson Bautista, Anthony Swarzak and Jay Bruce. However, it’s what they got in return that ran shockwaves through the baseball world. The Mets acquired 24-year-old, All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, who was fresh off winning the 2018 American League Reliever of the Year Award. But there was one more player involved. A player too familiar in New York to go unnoticed. A household name in the city for the first nine years of his career. Robinson Canó was coming back to New York. However, this time instead of the Bronx, he’d playing for the team in Flushing.

Van Wagenen, who was Canó’s agent before he took on his new role with the Mets, knew the upside of trading for the superstar-caliber player. The team was looking to make noise in the off-season after finishing in fourth place with a 77–85 record in the 2018 season. There wasn’t many bigger names than Canó’s swirling in trade rumors. Van Wagenen took advantage of the opportunity of acquiring one of the best at his position.

“Robinson is one of the best second basemen in the history of the game,” Van Wagenen said. “He will immediately impact the middle of our lineup. He will increase run production in a meaningful and significant way.”

Now in his 15th season, Canó has been a model of consistency. He has been a key piece on championship-caliber teams. The Mets got one of the most durable players in all of baseball. Since 2007, the Dominican native has played in 1,824 games, which is currently the second most of any player in baseball. During that span leading up to the 2019 season, he has played at least 150 games in 11 of his last 12 seasons. The eight-time all-star also leads all players in hits (2,150), doubles (459) and ranks fourth in runs batted in (1,093) over that same time frame with the Yankees and the Seattle Mariners. Despite that level of production, Canó failed to reach the playoffs in five seasons with the Mariners, who he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with after the 2013 season. But despite the team’s failures, Canó was able to learn a few lessons.

“I learned that in order to build a great team, everything takes time and patience,” Canó said. “Unfortunately we didn’t make it to the playoffs but I’m happy to be here and I think with all of the pieces that we have, we can win this year but patience is key.”

During his five years in the Northwest, the 2009 World Series champion grew into a player he was not required to be when he was with the Yankees because of the influx of veteran players that those teams had. Canó’s sole focus was putting up all-star numbers like the .309 batting average and 204 home runs, while finishing in the top-6 for MVP four times during his first stint in New York. However, he knew that it was time to step into that role once he arrived in Seattle, with perhaps the most impressive resume on the team at that point.

“When I was with the Yankees I didn’t have to be a leader,” said Canó, who has five years remaining on his contract. “We had older guys like [Derek] Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex [Rodriguez] so I didn’t really feel like I had to be the leader, I could just go out there and play…but in Seattle with being one of the older players, I wanted to take on and grow into that leadership responsibility.”

One of Van Wagenen’s goals was to build a winner in the present and future. In order to have a future, a team needs its young players to improve and eventually grow into star players. This past spring, Canó tookseveral players under his wing. In the clubhouse before workouts and games, you will see him sitting talking baseball with the younger latino players like Diaz, Amed Rosario, and Juan Lagares. However, he is leaving a lasting impression on fellow Dominican 23-year-old, Rosario. The 14-year veteran believes a player with all of the tools like Rosario can eventually become one of the game’s elite. A household name similar to the one Canó has been his entire career.

Canó and Rosario quickly embraced each other this spring, and it has translated over into this season. Their lockers are close to each other so Rosario can pick his brain. The two hit in the cages together and workout together. If you watch batting practice closely, you can see Canó giving advice and showing Rosario what adjustments he can make at the plate. The young shortstop is learning as much as he can from Canó and is beginning to feel more comfortable on the defensive side of the ball with his new double-play partner. The main takeaway though is just believing in himself.

“Playing with [Cano] gives me more confidence,” Rosario said. “He told me not put too much pressure on myself, we’re coming along on the defensive side and I think I’m improving more and more each day…He’s a great player and person on and off the field so he’s definitely helped me get better.”

With Canó’s experience, Manager Mickey Callaway essentially has another coach on his team. After having made the playoffs seven times in his career, Canó has the ability to take the pressure off of the younger players and take charge in the clubhouse. The Mets will be able to benefit from the second baseman’s contributions other than the pure numbers that he has been able to post year in and year out. Callaway has noticed the impact right away.

“It means everything,” said Callaway, who is embarking on his second year as Mets manager. “We can sit there and tell the guys we think this is the best way. They have to own it and Robbie Cano went out there today and he owned and showed them how to do it.”

This spring, Canó was given the locker of former Mets great, David Wright who was forced to retire after the 2018 season because of injuries. While some expect Canó to replace Wright, he knows that it is impossible to replace a Mets legend like David. In fact, he’s grateful to be mentioned in the same breath as the former third baseman among Mets fans, especially after he saw how they treated Wright during his last game at Citi Field.

“Well first of all, nobody is going to replace David Wright in this organization,” Canó said. “We all know what he was. Sad that he has to end his career that way. I played with David, against him in the minor leagues and in the bigs. Like I said, he’s a guy that no one is going to replace and I feel special I get to have his locker…The way all the fans showed up and showed their love to David, that’s impressive.”

Despite being the oldest player on the roster, the 36-year old Canó says he still feels the same as he did when he was playing in the Bronx a decade ago. Last season, he batted .303 with 10 home runs and drove in 50 runs regardless of missing 80 games. There were some scouts who thought he was playing more like “vintage” Canó during the stretch run of the season. Something that should bode well for the Mets this season.

“It was hard missing all of those games and not being able to go out there with my teammates,” said Canó, who made his major-league debut on May 3, 2005. “I still feel like I’m 25, I always feel like that…I feel good physically and mentally. For me that’s what matters to me this year.”

Being back in New York has Canó and the rest of the Mets thinking about championship aspirations. The two-time gold glover was excited when the idea of playing for the Mets was first introduced to him.

“When I received the call from Seattle that they had a deal set up, I said yes right away,” said Canó, who had to waive his no-trade clause in order for the deal to be completed. “Brodie called me and told me of his plans and I knew this was going to be the right situation for me, I’m so excited to be here.”

In his 14-year career, Canó has gathered many individual accolades, but he’s not interested in talking about winning MVPs, gold-gloves or silver slugger awards. None of that will matter if the team is not playing deep into October.

“Like I said before I just want to win again,” Canó said. “I don’t care about an MVP, winning is the most important thing for me…Once you win one ring, you want more because it’s the best feeling. I want to have that feeling again this year. With the team we have, I think we can get it done.”

It had been six years since Robinson Canó last played a home game in New York. On April 4th he got that opportunity to do so again, this time in the orange and blue while looking to lead a franchise that has not won a championship since 1986. He is a baseball historian and knows the history of the Mets coming up short in the World Series twice in the last two decades.

“We’re going to get the job done,” Canó said. “That’s the goal, I know the team has been close to winning before, but I want to be able to deliver a championship to the fans and the city because of the love they have for this team…I can’t wait to play in front of the fans. I feel blessed right now.”

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