Mets’ best hope for Robinson Cano: a star they traded too young

Jeff Kent was involved in one of the worst trades in Mets history, going to Cleveland as part of their ill-fated July 1996 deadline acquisition of Carlos Baerga.

The Mets failed to appreciate the signs of Baega’s decline while he was still an Indian and wound up seeing him perform horrendously in their uniform for 2½ seasons. Baerga has been invoked a lot in recent days, as have Juan Samuel and Roberto Alomar. They were veteran star second basemen who tanked after being obtained by the Mets (Samuel as a center fielder).

The Mets are trying again to get it right, this time with Robinson Cano. Yes, the key to their trade with the Mariners was landing 24-year-old closer Edwin Diaz. But Brodie Van Wagenen does not just see taking on Cano as the tax to secure Diaz. He believes Cano has good years left as an elite hitter to help the Mets win now.

Once the contracts of Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak are stripped away and the $20 million the Mariners paid to complete the trade are added together, Cano essentially costs the Mets $63 million over the next five years, which would be Cano’s ages-36-to-40 seasons. Second basemen do not have tons of sustained success in that age range.

But you know who did? Kent.

Since 1941, a player whose primary position is second base has reached 400 plate appearances in a season with an OPS of .800 or better just 13 times. Kent is not only the lone player to do it more than once, he owns the four highest totals, ranging from .861 to .889 from 2004 to 2007.

In his age-35 season, Cano had an .845 OPS last year in 348 plate appearances — he was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a banned substance. For the commitment the Mets are making in Cano, they would probably want a minimum of 2,000 plate appearances (an average of 400 per year) at above-average production for the rest of the contract.

In the Live Ball Era (since 1920), only 22 primary second basemen amassed even 1,000 plate appearances from 36 on (one of them is Ben Zobrist, who is still playing). Six exceeded 2,000 plate appearances: Craig Biggio, Rabbit Maranville, Kent, Eddie Collins, Joe Morgan and Davey Lopes. All but Kent and Lopes are Hall of Famers. Kent, Collins and Morgan were particularly effective at that late stage, as were Tony Fernandez, Charlie Gehringer and Lou Whitaker with fewer than 2,000 plate appearances.

Kent and Morgan, though, were the only second basemen to stay steadily productive through age 40.

Like Kent and Morgan, Cano has been a historic second baseman, though his PED-related suspension raises concerns about his sustainability moving forward. It also is possible that, at some point, Cano can move to first base, though the Mets are hoping the long-term solution there is Peter Alonso.

The current plan is for Cano to be the Mets’ second baseman for at least the near future. When it comes to upholding excellence at that position into his late 30s, will Cano be a can’t or a Kent?

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