Robinson Cano's path may still lead him to Cooperstown in the end, but it just got a lot less direct.
With eight All-Star appearances and a laundry list of statistical feats under his proverbial belt, the Seattle Mariners' veteran second baseman entered Tuesday as a fairly surefire future Hall of Famer. But he's exiting the day with a black mark that promises to throw that into question for years to come.
Major League Baseball announced that Cano has been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for Furosemide, a banned substance. In a statement posted to social media, the 35-year-old acknowledged the suspension and offered his side of the story:
The key passage reads: "This substance was given to me by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment. While I did not realize at the time that I was given a medication that was banned, I obviously now wish that I had been more careful."
Anyone with access to WebMD can look up that Furosemide does indeed have benefits as a medical treatment. Among the ailments it's used to treat is high blood pressure. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com heard from a source that it was exactly that which necessitated Cano's using it.
Even still, this is one for the file labeled "That's Not Gonna Fly."
Furosemide is banned by both MLB (and the World Anti-Doping Agency) because it's a diuretic that can be used as a masking agent for performance-enhancing drugs. Per stipulations in the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the league only needed to prove that this is why Cano was using it.
As T.J. Quinn, an investigative reporter for ESPN, pointed out, the league was apparently able to do so:
The timing was right for Cano to give up the fight. He was already due to be sidelined for a while with a broken hand that he suffered Sunday. He's going to kill two birds with one stone by serving his suspension while he's also recovering from his injury.
The Mariners will miss him, though. Cano had been hitting .287 with an .825 OPS. In light of the team's starting pitching issues, that offense was extremely valuable. Not having it for 80 games could end up costing the Mariners their first trip to the postseason since 2001.
Even if they get there, Cano won't be joining them. The rules state he has to sit October out, too.
At least the Mariners will save about $12 million out of Cano's $24 million salary. Alas, they're only going to be halfway through his 10-year, $240 million deal when this season is over. That second half now looks even more iffy than it already did relative to Cano's age and up-and-down production.
Considering all this, there's no way to spin Cano's suspension as anything other than a dark chapter in his career. And according to some sections of Twitter, he can already kiss a possible Hall of Fame plaque goodbye.
For example, here's Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone:
And yet, maybe it's too soon to be so sure.
If nothing else, Cano is going to have the numbers. He's hit 293 of his 305 career home runs as a second baseman, which is second only to Jeff Kent. That comes with a career .304/.354/.493 slash line that places him among the best hitters ever at the position.
When Cano's overall performance is viewed through the lens of wins above replacement, Jay Jaffe's WAR Score system (JAWS) characterizes him as a Cooperstown-worthy second baseman right now.
Of course, all this is doomed to be a mere footnote in the debate about whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
The current voting bloc has made it plenty clear that it does not approve of anyone with tangible ties to PEDs. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are still a long way off from entry after six years on the ballot. Ditto for Gary Sheffield after four years on the ballot.
Then there's Manny Ramirez. He was suspended for 50 games in 2009 and ducked a second suspension in 2011 by retiring. Despite having 555 career homers to his name, he only got 22 percent of the vote in his second go-round this year.
If anything, being suspended is an even greater black mark on a player's record now than it was in Ramirez's time. PED-related penalties would not have gotten harsher if players weren't mostly in favor of it. Whereas users once fit into the status quo in baseball, now they're going very much against it.
From another perspective, however, the harsher penalties mean there's less of a question whether confirmed users have paid a big enough debt. That lessens the need for Hall of Fame voters to serve justice retroactively.
What may further help Cano's cause is he clearly didn't reach for the Furosemide because he wanted to get paid. He already has one of the largest contracts in MLB history, and it's not running out anytime soon.
As for what may have motivated him, something he told Gabe Lacques of USA Today in February seems revealing: "I’m getting older. You have to focus on things that are really going to help you out down the road, to stay healthy and also give you power."
These are the words of a guy who's recently come face-to-face with his own career mortality. Between that and the reality that Cano had never before been popped for anything, there's already an argument he deserves the benefit of the doubt that this transgression is a one-time thing.
It will only get stronger if he returns from his suspension to be something like the player he was before it. If Pittsburgh Pirates star Starling Marte and Mariners teammate Dee Gordon are any indication, it can be done.
So, don't take it for granted he has already earned permanent prohibition from Cooperstown. He may have only turned an easy debate into a difficult one.
Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.