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Padres signing of Robinson Cano says much about state of current roster

Robinson Cano, shown with the Mets during spring training, has been scooped up by the Padres for a left-handed, late-game bat.
(Sue Ogrocki/AP)

With Mets run over, Padres hope veteran can offer pinch hitting and leadership

The signing of aging legend and multi-time PED sinner Robinson Cano seems like fertile ground for some old-fashioned righteous indignation.

How dare you, Padres? What does this say to young people, including the ones working on whiskers in your own clubhouse? Is that the devil-may-care cost of winning in today’s game?

The soapbox climb, though, feels like wasted steps. The truth of things: These days, few care how the kielbasa is made.

What it does say loudly, though, is that the team’s roster inexplicably remains a winning one in spite of being a fragile one. Maybe not “Jake Arrieta’s 10.95 ERA in 12 1/3 innings in 2021 fragile,” but a rock-turning treasure hunt at every turn.

Try Luke Voit. Try Matt Beaty. Try Jose Azocar. Try Trayce Thompson. Try … Robinson Cano.

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A championship-level rotation continues to be in wont of more consistent offense — despite Friday’s flood of runs during an 11-6 rout of the Braves — to mask the occasional blemish. The big arms covet more bankable bats to keep the bullpen happy and healthy.

Instead of the one big signing, it might require tinkering with fringe-market options to create offensive alchemy until at least the trade deadline — especially with a $209 million payroll and Fernando Tatis Jr. inching toward the clubhouse.

So, Cano. For now.

“Honestly, that didn’t happen,” Cano said Friday, of whether he doubted he would land a spot so soon after a .501 OPS start with the Mets that included one extra-base hit, 11 strikeouts and two walks. “That never goes through my mind. I just went home and got ready.

“I know that I only took (41) at-bats. I’ve got a lot left in the tank and I know I still can play this game.”

As Cano fielded questions in the Padres dugout before the series opener against the Braves at Truist Park, questions percolated.

Why sign a 39-year-old backup infielder potentially on the down slide, particularly when the biggest area of need remains an offensively handcuffed outfield? Why align yourself with someone suspended 242 games in his career because of failed drug tests?

The Padres are rolling the dice on a range of whys.

They’re hunting offense and Cano, despite the troubling trendline, is a career .302 hitter with more than 2,600 knocks. The eight-time All-Star has seen a lot of pitches in a lot of situations, winning a World Series with the Yankees. He offers a been-there, done-that component at league-minimum salary that could be more valuable in clubhouse conversations than on the field.

Remember when everyone laughed at the Dodgers for grabbing a contract signature from Albert Pujols?

Who would Cano be taking at-bats away from, exactly? The Padres’ bench isn’t exactly brimming with bangers. He offers a late-game, lefty pinch-hitting option in a lineup that can feel too right-handed in stretches.

“The things he did in New York and having one of the best left-handed swings of all time, I think it’s great,” said Luke Voit, another former Yankee. “It kind of balances our lineup, having another lefty bat. We kind of get righty heavy at the bottom of our order, so I think that’s going to be huge.

“I think he can bring a lot of good things to the table. And Manny’s had a lot of good things to say about him.”

Cano also could offer a stabilizing presence for Tatis. The families live less than two minutes from each other in the Dominican Republic and are close. He knows Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Jurickson Profar and Nabil Crismatt.

Incrementally, the Padres are giving themselves options until the offense awakens or a deal for a bopper materializes. There’s almost no risk with Cano, beyond some early eye rolling.

“I think we’ve done enough things as a whole without the offense clicking on all cylinders to still be competitive and in these games,” Padres interim manager Ryan Christenson said. “So, any kind of improvements we can have as an offensive unit, with the addition of Cano or whoever it might be, is obviously going to make us even tougher than we’ve been so far.”

Bringing aboard Cano probably makes more than a few people feel like jumping in a shower. Asked about baseball benching him for 162 games in 2021, he ambled to the rosier side of the conversation.

“Every bad situation, you’ve got to take the good things out of it,” Cano said. “I got the chance to spend time with my kids, be a dad.”

What’s the impact of the second suspension on Cano’s legacy, after previously being considered a lock for the Hall of Fame?

“I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “I still play the game. I just focus in the present. I don’t want to focus on the past or the future. I just want to go day by day.”

As a pinch hitter, day to day is what Cano will be.

And with the current state of the Padres’ uneven lineup, that’s probably just fine.


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