Some fans and analysts believe the Seattle Mariners missed a plum opportunity by packaging Edwin Díaz with Robinson Canó together in today’s trade with the New York Mets. They contend Seattle should’ve maximized its return for Díaz by trading him separately. On the surface, that’s a sound argument.
It’s very likely general manager Jerry Dipoto would’ve recouped more value for Díaz in a solo deal. The 24-year-old is one of the best relievers in baseball, relatively inexpensive, and under team control through 2022. Still, including Díaz facilitated something more important to the Mariners’ future than acquiring better prospects – moving Canó.
Why The Rush?
Why the Mariners were so heavily motivated to deal Canó this particular offseason likely remains a well-kept secret by the organization. But several potential reasons exist for moving past the eight-time All-Star after five seasons. A $120 million financial commitment through 2023; an 80-game PED suspension this year; rumblings he wasn’t a positive clubhouse influence.
Any of the reasons just stated are justifiable on some level. For me though, the sense of urgency for moving Canó is a matter of time.
While the back of Canó’s baseball card tells us he’s been extremely productive through his age-35 season, history suggests he’s on the brink of falling victim to an undefeated foe – Father Time. This should give Mets fans reason to pause before celebrating the arrival of their new second baseman and elite closer.
At the moment, all is well. In 348 plate appearances last season, Canó slashed .303/.374/.471 with 10 home runs. His 136 wRC+ ranked 21st among hitters with 300-plate appearances. Defensively, the two-time Gold Glover still provides value at second base. Yet, time waits for no one – even Robbie Canó.
To help illustrate how availability and value decline with age, I identified players between ages 22-40 with 500-plus plate appearances and least starter-level value since 2009 and tallied them by age. For the purpose of this discussion, starter-level value begins at two wins above replacement (WAR).
As you’d expect, peak performance occurs during the mid-late twenties. Then, the totals steadily decrease until reaching single digits by age-38. The few players who remained available and delivered value into their late-thirties were familiar stars with one exception.
In 2012, Jamey Carroll and Derek Jeter satisfied our 500 PA and 2.0 WAR criteria. Carroll proved to be an outlier with the highest WAR (3.4) of his 12-year career at 38-years-old. The middle-infielder and third baseman played one more season before hanging up his cleats for good.
Jeter finished seventh in MVP voting during his age-38 season, but it was the last good year for “Captain Clutch.” He’d miss nearly all of the following season due to injury and returned to slash a meager .256/.304/.313 with four home runs during his farewell tour.
Injuries limited Hall of Famer Chipper Jones at age-38, but he rebounded to earn an All-Star selection the following year. Chipper retired at 40-years-old, but finished stronger than Jeter with 14 home runs and a .287/.377/.455 slash.
Alex Rodriguez wasn’t available for his age-38 campaign due to a season-long PED suspension. A-Rod returned the following year in a big way, he flamed out like a supernova receiving his released from the Yankees the next season.
The only player to meet our criteria more than once after age-37 was David Ortiz. “Big Papi” had at least 500 plate appearances and over 2.0 WAR in his age 38-40 seasons. In fact, he was an All-Star during his last two years and a top-10 finisher in MVP voting at 40-years-old.
It’s hard to know for sure why Ortiz remained available and productive until the very end of his illustrious career, although being a full-time designated hitter certainly helped. Unfortunately, for Canó and the Mets, that option won’t be available on a regular basis.
Where To Play Canó?
Obviously, Canó will remain a position player, presumably at second base. Depending on how the Mets handle the situation, it may not bode well for the club. If you thought the numbers were bad for the general population of 30-somethings, they’re even worse for second basemen.
This time, I’ve narrowed my search to players in their thirties since we’ve already established that’s when age-related regression accelerates. To qualify for inclusion, individuals had to spend 70% percent of their playing time at second base and have 500-plus plate appearances.
As you can see, no one over age-37 qualified during the last decade. Perhaps Canó bucks this trend, but that’s a lot to expect based on recent history.
An alternative would be transitioning Canó away from second base, which he’s resisted thus far. Since DH isn’t available, perhaps splitting time between first and second base helps both player and team. It’s a subject I broached three years ago when it appeared he’d end his career as a Mariner.
Even if Canó eventually accepts a move to first base without resistance, Mets fans have to be cringing – at least I think they should be.
New York acquired a premium closer, but had to fork over several well-regarded prospects and accept an aging middle-infielder, who’s under contract for five more seasons and likely to fall off a statistical cliff in the near future. That’s a significant burden to accept just to acquire four years of Díaz.
Conversely, the Mariners avoid the age-regression of Canó and the challenge of convincing him to change positions. From my perspective, Seattle is the winner of this trade; even if they had to sacrifice Edwin Díaz to cement the deal.