A big blow to the Seattle Mariners’ season ballooned into something much more dire for their playoff hopes.
Second baseman Robinson Cano has been suspended 80 games without pay for violating major league baseball’s joint drug agreement after Cano tested positive for Furosemide, a diuretic.
Cano said he didn't know it was a banned substance. It was given to him by a doctor in the Dominican Republic for what Cano said was to treat a medical ailment.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said the Mariners’ front office learned on Monday before Cano’s suspension – one certainly crippling to the Mariners’ 2018 season – was handed on Tuesday.
“Robby, after speaking with him in person, he feels terrible,” Dipoto said. “He was very apologetic and he realized he made a mistake and he wanted me to convey that to the team – that he feels terrible and that he let his teammates down.”
MLB released a statement saying Cano's 80-game suspension is effective immediately. Cano's time on the disabled list because of his fractured hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch on Sunday will count toward his suspension.
But even if the eight-time All-Star recovers quickly, the suspension would keep him out until Aug. 14.
And even if the Mariners were to end their 16-year postseason drought (the longest active streak in major American professional sports), Cano is ineligible to play in the postseason, per an amendment to MLB’s drug agreement added in 2014.
“We’re not going to deviate from the plan,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The plan is to get to the playoffs and that will continue to be the goal.”
Dipoto said Cano wanted to relay another message:
“That he did not use performance-enhancing drugs,” Dipoto said. “It’s a diuretic and unfortunately it’s the same as if it was. … We support him in this meantime. In this particular instance we’re going to be without one of our best players and we got to find a way to bridge the gap.”
That echoed what Cano released in a statement earlier in the day.
"This substance was given to me by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment," Cano said in the release. "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.
“For more than fifteen years, playing professional baseball has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life. I would never do anything to cheat the rules of the game that I love, and after undergoing dozens of drug tests over more than a decade, I have never tested positive for a Performance Enhancing Substance for the simple reason that I have never taken one.
“Today I decided to accept MLB’s suspension. This was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life, but ultimately the right decision given that I do not dispute that I was given this substance. I apologize to my family, friends, fans, teammates and the Mariners organization.”
But the MLB drug agreement states that the presence of a diuretic or masking agent in a player's urine specimen is treated as a positive test result if it's determined (through an independent administrator) that the player intended to avoid detection of his use of another prohibited substance.
This will cost Cano almost $12 million of his 2018 salary.
The Mariners had placed Cano on the 10-day disabled list with the first significant injury of his Mariners tenure. Dipoto said Cano is likely to have surgery on his fractured finger in his right hand on Wednesday. Cano was in Philadelphia on Tuesday morning to see a hand specialist.
The 35-year-old No. 3 hitter for the Mariners was widely considered a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame after his career ends, though any link to steroids or PED use would certainly tarnish his career accomplishments as it did for many before him.
IMPORTANT ON CANO: players are NOT automatically suspended for using diuretics. The suspension means MLB was able to prove he was using it to mask a drug. Cano tested positive before the season, appealed and dropped the appeal. https://t.co/3l47Mkya46— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) May 15, 2018
And Cano isn't the only player on the Mariners' current roster to have been suspended for drug use.
Nelson Cruz got a 50-game suspension in 2013 for an "error in judgement" he said for his ties to Boigenesis of America, a defunct anti-aging clinic in Miami. He said he was seeking help from the clinic to recover strength lost because of a gastrointestinal infection.
And Dee Gordon received an 80-game suspension in 2016 with the Marlins after testing positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol, performance-enhancing substances.
Gordon spoke about his own experience being suspended.
“I’m going to do anything I personally can to make sure (Cano’s) OK,” Gordon said. “Your teammates are big for you and you can’t be around them … it sucks. Those three months (for me) were terrible. I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve had some low points in my life and that was definitely one of them.”
Every player has access to the league’s list of banned substances, but Dipoto said some players don’t always read the fine print and he indicated that was the case for Cano.
“It’s a matter of what you are interested in looking at,” Dipoto said. “We’ve all had the opportunity to take a look behind the curtain. Some choose to, some choose not to. I think that’s what Robbie said – in his world he wishes he would have done things differently or been more careful. … Clearly he knows he’s done something wrong, but he didn’t know that going in.”
Servais, who's career as a major league catcher ended in 2001, said losing Cano is a blow but it won't change his standing on the team.
"We’ve got plenty of talent on this team – we’re going to stay competitive in a very competitive division," Servais said. "We need all the guys pulling together and I think this will help rally our team together.
“We love Robinson Cano, we really do, and what he means to our ball club and the organization. Just like when a family member makes a bad decision or bad choice, you still love them. Robinson will be back and will be a big part of our team going forward, but in the short term he’s not going to be here.”
Cano was hitting .287 with four home runs and 23 RBIs in 39 games.
Earlier this season Cano passed Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby for second-most home runs by a second baseman in major-league history. His 305 career home runs trail only Jeff Kent (377) for most by a player who spent the majority of his career playing second base.
Cano was also on pace to join the 32 players in major league history who have 3,000 career hits (he's currently at 2,417). Only two second basemen have more than 3,000 career hits and both are in the Hall of Fame (Eddie Collins and Nap Lajoie).
Cano is a two-time Gold Glove winner, a five-time Silver Slugger and he was last year's All-Star game MVP.
Since his debut with the New York Yankees in 2005, no one has played in more games than Cano (2,037). Cano has appeared in at least 150 games each of the past 11 seasons.
So how do the Mariners replace him?
Dipoto and Servais met with Gordon on Tuesday afternoon about moving him back to second base, where he earned a Gold Glove in 2015. They committed this offseason to ensuring Gordon would only have to focus on playing center field in the major leagues for the first time in his life, but they never expected to lose Cano for this long.
But Dipoto also left open the chance that the Mariners could acquire a second baseman and keep Gordon in center field. Gordon took ground balls at second base for about 20 minutes before Tuesday’s game, though he was starting in center field, with Gordon Beckham at second base.
Dipoto said that the almost $12 million they won’t be paying Cano during his suspension could be used to acquire other players.
“That’s part of this,” Dipoto said. “This has been less than 24 hours that we’ve had a chance to process this and not something we’ve spent a great deal of time on. But we’ve certainly looked at outside alternatives as a possibility.”
Cano’s test irregularity was found in an exam over the winter in the D.R. In meantime there were discussions about possible appeals. cano decided to drop appeal in last few days.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 15, 2018
We have issued the following statement on today’s announcement by Major League Baseball that second baseman Robinson Canó has been suspended for 80 games for a violation of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program: pic.twitter.com/VNEPgahIRS— Mariners (@Mariners) May 15, 2018
Robinson Cano tested positive for the diuretic Furosemide during the offseason, multiple sources confirm. An independent program administrator then determined that the diuretic was used to conceal PED use. This is customary procedure under MLB's joint drug agreement.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) May 15, 2018
MLB confirms Robinson Cano tested positive for Ferosemide, otherwise known as a “water pill.” Helps to flush body of liquid causing more urine, and for a drug test, a diluted sample.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) May 15, 2018
The Major League Baseball Players Association is releasing the following statement on behalf of Robinson Canó: pic.twitter.com/PIirT9gs7g— #MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) May 15, 2018
According to a source, Robinson Cano will indeed require surgery to repair his fractured hand. With 80-game suspension, recovery time won’t be an issue.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) May 15, 2018
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677