Mariners star Robinson Cano has received an eighty-game suspension for testing positive for substances banned by the MLB-MLBPA Joint Drug Agreement, as first reported by Hector Gomez of Deportivo Z 101 (via Twitter) and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter link). Since the ban begins immediately, Cano will be eligible to return in the middle of August.
Cano was suspended for a diuretic known as furosemide that is prohibited by the JDA among other diuretics and masking agents, as Jon Heyman of Fan Rag tweeted and the league has since announced. Cano has issued a statement through the MLBPA (Twitter link) in which he says the “substance was given to [him] by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment.” And a source claims to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter) that Cano was receiving treatment for high blood pressure, with PED tests before and after the test in question coming back clean.
That claim seems to offer a potential explanation at first glance, but the full context must also be considered here. Players are advised clearly not to take substances that have not been cleared in advance, a lesson drilled in through prior suspensions in the faces of claims of innocence.
More importantly, as ESPN.com’s T.J. Quinn rightly points out on Twitter, the JDA does not treat diuretics and masking agents in the same manner it does banned performance enhancing drugs themselves. Unlike in the case of tests that reveal PEDs, intent is required to support the application of the standard 80-game ban for first-time offenders in the cases of diuretics or masking agents. Here’s the language from the JDA, Section 3(F):
“The presence of a Diuretic or Masking Agent in a Player’s urine specimen shall result in the Player being re-tested. The presence of a Diuretic or Masking Agent in a Player’s urine specimen shall be treated as a positive test result if the [Independent Program Administrator] determines that the Player intended to avoid detection of his use of another Prohibited Substance.”
Cano, 35, had been discussing the matter with the league since the test results came in over the winter, per Heyman (via Twitter). It seems fair to presume that the league felt there was sufficient evidence to support a finding that Cano had avoided detection of a PED. Cano had just hit the DL with a fractured right hand that was likely to keep him out for some time. By dropping his right to an appeal now, he can rehab that injury while serving out the suspension, though ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick tweets that the process was already underway.
The implications, to be sure, are many. Cano will not be eligible to draw his usual salary, meaning he’ll forfeit about $10MM and save the team the same amount. And he’ll surely lose some sponsorship opportunities, costing him further money. The veteran second baseman also will not be eligible to participate in the postseason if the Mariners make it in.
More broadly, a respected player on a potential Hall-of-Fame trajectory has now tainted his legacy. The former Yankees star has produced both before and after bolting to the Mariners via free agency before the 2014 season. He’s a lifetime .304/.354/.493 hitter with 305 home runs in over 2,000 games of MLB action. With defense and baserunning factored, in Cano has been valued at 67.5 rWAR and 54.5 fWAR over his career.
Cano remains under contract for five more seasons beyond the present one. He’s slated to earn $24MM per season from 2019 through 2023. While that means the M’s won’t be looking for a long-term replacement, they will need to replace him in the near-term. For the immediate time being, Gordon Beckham is up to take a roster spot. But perhaps it’s still conceivable the M’s could move Dee Gordon back to the infield while filling in for him in center with any number of other players.