One of the interesting things about a player review series like this is you often see the lengths a team goes to in order to try and cover up an injury to one of their key players. In 2021 it was the catcher position for the Atlanta Braves, where they rotated an “interesting” cast of characters through the active roster while waiting for Travis d’Arnaud to return from a thumb injury. In 2022, it was the Braves trying to cover second base after Ozzie Albies suffered a fractured foot during an at-bat in Washington on June 13.
One of the fliers that the Braves took was on veteran second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano came in with some buzz, but ultimately his stay in Atlanta was quite brief.
The Braves acquired Cano from the San Diego Padres in exchange for cash considerations on July 10. Cano started 2022 with the Mets, but was released four weeks into the season. The Padres played him in the majors for a few weeks before releasing him, and he then agreed to play for their Triple-A team for about a month rather than going elsewhere — he was traded before earning a return to San Diego.
The Braves designated Cano for assignment on August 1 when they acquired Ehire Adrianza from the Nationals in exchange for minor league outfielder Trey Harris.
What were the expectations?
The Braves were hoping that Cano could pair with Orlando Arcia to help cover second base while they awaited Albies’ return. There weren’t any real expectations beyond something worse than a warm body with some experience, honestly — Cano had a dreadful -0.9 fWAR in just 77 PAs before the Braves acquired him. He was showcasing bad defense, bad baserunning, awful hitting, you get the idea. He wasn’t projected to be a regular before the season began, but the reality was even worse than “okay bench player.”
Cano’s season began with the Mets, as he returned to the roster after missing the entire 2021 season due to a PED suspension. Despite a salary of $24 million, Cano was unable to find much of a role with the Mets. He appeared in 12 games while going 8-for-41; the Mets released him on May 8.
Cano signed with the Padres five days later on May 13, but again was unable to hold onto a spot on the major league roster. He appeared in 12 games with San Diego, but went just 3-for-33 at the plate. He again was designated for assignment and ultimately released. Cano was unable to find another major league offer and then returned to the Padres on a minor league deal and reported to Triple-A where he put up good numbers hitting .333/.375/.479 with five doubles and three home runs in 33 games.
It was there that he caught the eye of the Braves who decided to take a flier. Unfortunately, it was more of the same at the Major League level for Cano who was just 4-for-27 in nine games with Atlanta before he was again dropped from the roster. He finished the 2022 season with -1.4 fWAR in 104 PAs. His xwOBA was bad, his hitting outputs were bad, his defense was bad. The results were, quite simply, bad.
What went right? What went wrong?
Not much went right for Cano other than making $24 million from the Mets while he banged around San Diego and Atlanta trying to hold onto a roster spot. Per Baseball Savant, his max exit velocity was in the 81st percentile, but the rest of his skills have pretty much cratered. This was especially clear defensively where he put up -2 Outs Above Average in just nine game during his stint with the Braves.
Amazingly, Cano actually managed to have two games with positive WPA in his nine contests with the Braves. It was marginally positive, but still. The best was in a 6-3 win over the Nats, where he hit a hard, leadoff double in the third against Paolo Espino in a scoreless game, and later came around to score on a Matt Olson three-run homer.
That was one of his few nice moments as a Brave, and it didn’t really make up for his horrible game two days earlier. In that one, though the Braves prevailed 5-4 over the Nats, Cano went 0-for-3 while grounding into two double plays. While the first came while the Braves had a lead, the latter happened in a tie game.
Fortunately for the Braves, Michael Harris II hit a homer immediately after Cano’s second twin killing of the day for a lead the Braves wouldn’t relinquish.
Cano still hasn’t officially retired, but at 40 years of age and coming off a tough 2022 season, it appears that the writing is on the wall. At one point, he appeared to be a near-lock for the Hall of Fame, but that opportunity is finished after two PED suspensions. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him latch on with someone during the spring, but it would be hard at this point to see him contribute in any meaningful way to a big league club. He’s replacement level at this point, and given his 2022, that might be a generous assessment.