Cano’s suspension wounds Mariners, his Hall of Fame chances

Six years ago, when the steroid police caught Robinson Cano’s good pal Melky Cabrera, the San Francisco Giants shook off the loss of the slugger and won a championship without him. Cabrera was having a career year — he was hitting .346 and was the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game — but the Giants would not even activate him for the World Series. They won in a sweep, anyway.

But the loss of Cano, a steady run producer for many years, cuts much deeper for his team, the Seattle Mariners. Cano was suspended 80 games Tuesday after testing positive for the diuretic Furosemide, and the Mariners will not even have the option to activate him in the postseason. Since 2014, players who violate baseball’s drug agreement during a regular season are also barred from the postseason, even if they have completed their suspension by that point.

For the Mariners, just making the playoffs has been an unsolvable riddle. They last appeared in 2001, when the New York Yankees bounced them from the American League Championship Series. Every other team in Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL has reached the postseason since then. (Yes, even the Cleveland Browns, in January 2003.)

The Mariners have spent nearly $1.8 billion in salaries since that last playoff appearance. Ten people have managed the team for at least 50 games since then, and four full-time general managers have tried nearly everything. The Mariners have traded prospects who soared for veterans who slumped. They have traded veterans with value and received little in return.

Their boldest move was for Cano, who got a 10-year, $240 million contract in December 2013 to help revive Seattle’s fan support, which had dropped by half since 2002. Cano, now 35, has largely lived up to the investment, posting an .824 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Mariners after his .860 mark across nine seasons with the Yankees.

This spring training, he said it was important to stay productive throughout his contract.

“If you can have a good year at the age of 34, why not have it at 35?” he said. “If you keep working hard, you tell your body that you’re ready to go — not like guys that start sitting down, they’re gaining weight, they don’t care. I have fans out there, I have my son, I have to be a good example. I feel comfortable now because I got the money, but money’s not everything.”

Cano maintained that he used the drug to treat an unspecified medical condition, although baseball rules state that the league will treat a diuretic as a positive test if its independent program administrator “determines that the player intended to avoid detection of his use of another prohibited substance.”

So Cano will now most likely sit with his old Yankees teammate and mentor, Alex Rodriguez, on the Hall of Fame sidelines someday, barring a shift in attitude of voters, who have so far denied entry to Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and others tied to performance-enhancing drugs.

Rodriguez and Cano would seem to have an even harder path to Cooperstown than Bonds and Clemens, because — like Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez — they were caught during the testing era and served a suspension for their decisions.

The Hall of Fame issue will be decided much later. For now, it is hard not to feel a twinge of compassion for Mariners fans. Their team, which is stocked with veterans, was 23-17 when Cano — who had broken his hand when he was hit by a pitch over the weekend — took his suspension. Now, the Mariners’ hopes have dimmed significantly, and even if they do reach the postseason — a big if in the best of times — Cano will not be there to help.

When he does return, the stain of past PED use will be thick on the Mariners’ lineup card. He will be the third prominent Mariners hitter with a PED suspension in his past, joining Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon.

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