Has there been a better second baseman in Major League Baseball from the time Robinson Cano arrived in 2005? Probably not. At the end of each calendar year, baseball writers submit their Hall of Fame ballots for the following year and we hear the results in the middle of January. Names that appear on at least 75 percent of ballots earn election to the Hall. On Monday, if those same writers casted ballots of up to ten active players, the current limit on how many players they can vote for, Robinson Cano’s name would almost certainly appear on at least 75 percent of them.
What a difference 24 hours can make. Yesterday, news broke that Cano will be suspended 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s joint drug agreement. The Seattle second baseman reportedly tested positive for furosemide, which is essentially a water pill that created a diluted sample to remove excess water and salt from the body. Cano’s explanation in a statement he released yesterday was that the substance was given to him by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic and he was unaware that it was banned. However, speculation grew instantly that such a diuretic could be used as a means of masking something bigger and that Cano was taking it to avoid testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, which explains why said diuretic would be banned in the first place.
Immediately, questions arose as to what yesterday’s news does for Cano’s Hall of Fame chances. Should Cano return in August as the same player he’s been his entire career, and continues to be that player in 2019 and beyond, this may be easier to overlook for some voters when Cano is eligible for the Hall. Let’s assume that Cano calls it quits when his massive contract with Seattle expires in 2023 following his age 40 season. That may be on the conservative side too given Cano’s been a durable player in his career having appeared in at least 122 games in each of his previous 13 years and at least 150 games in the last 11 seasons. However, under that assumption, Cano would play the remainder of 2018 after he returns, and then another five full seasons. Sitting at 2,417 hits right now, that would seem to be plenty of time for him to reach 3,000 hits. Since Cano’s rookie season in 2005, only Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols rank better in Wins Above Replacement than Cano, as Brian Kenny referenced on MLB Now yesterday.
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Beltre and Pujols are first ballot locks and there’s no doubt that Cano’s performance credentials are worthy of entry. But, imagine what the discussions will be about the Hall of Fame and drug users if Cano is elected? While it’s possible this is the only black mark for the Dominican second baseman, by the time Cano is or is not elected, the list of potential Hall of Famers with checkered pasts concerning drug tests will only be longer. There are already several that have dropped off the ballot by failing to earn five percent of the vote and there’s another wave that gets just enough to stay on each year but will never get close to the necessary 75 percent. Ivan Rodriguez’s induction last year was the latest in terms of players who entered Cooperstown despite a cloud of doubt surrounding steroid usage.
If we’re continuing to operate under the assumption that 2023 will be Cano’s final season in the big leagues, that means he would not be eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2029. That gives us at least 11 years of waiting before we know how this will impact Cano’s candidacy. I’m of the belief that if he does avoid any further violations and returns at the same level he was performing at before the suspension, he will reach 3,000 hits and earn election. But, that will only further the never-ending debate regarding performance-enhancing drugs and the Hall of Fame. While there’s over a decade until this question is answered, don’t think the discussion is going away.