Maybe, finally, the Mariners have their answer for why their $240 million-man has been struggling so much in the second year of a decade-long contract. News has come to light, today and over the weekend, that Robinson Cano has been battling a stomach illness for some time now.
USA Today's Jorge Ortiz has the story today, citing Cano's grandfather's passing and now this ailment as two tough things the second baseman has had to deal with here in 2015.
"When things go well, people like everything you do,'' Cano said. "When things don't go well, people look for 1,001 explanations, and they don't understand you're a human being.''
Cano was in the midst of his sixth All-Star season last year when he started experiencing stomach discomfort in August. With the Mariners in the playoff chase, he didn't get it checked until their season was over, in October. Cano said he was told he had a common parasite, which was treated with antibiotics, but he was left with acid reflux to this day.
"It still affects me,'' Cano said. "Sometimes you drink water and it makes you feel like vomiting. I can't eat the same way I did. It's hard to deal with, especially being the first time this has happened to me. Sometimes I eat only once a day before playing, because I feel full. And you just don't have the same energy.''[...]
"Sometimes I play without any strength or energy, but you have to play, give the best of yourself,'' Cano said. "Some people may say, 'Cano, he's listless.' But (the energy) is not the same.''
This isn't the first such mention of the illness, as it's something Cano shared with Oakland Athletics broadcaster Eric Chavez during this past series, who then relayed it on the broadcast.
Boy, that'd be a nice and tidy explanation for Cano's struggles. For many throughout baseball, it's been quite the struggle to figure out what's troubling this generational great. We've taken a look here in the past, but even the data I pointed to previously was just that, data—a symptom and not a cause.
Maybe this is that cause. Hopefully, for the Mariners and their fans, this is that cause.
But to present the full picture, there are other data points here that are interesting to track. You can understand why Cano wouldn't want to make excuses—because you can bet most people don't want to hear them—but you wonder about the quotes and comments back in February, when Cano said his noticeable weight loss was intentional.
Here's Ryan Divish, right around the time a slimmed-down Cano and everyone else reported to spring training:
Cano weighed in at 212 pounds in his official physical Tuesday — down 13 from last season.
When he was playing in New York and on the east coast, the oppressive heat and humidity in the summer would cause him to lose weight. He’d start the season around 220-225 and finish at 205-210. However, with the moderate Seattle climate, Cano did not shed those pounds.
So he decided to come in a little lighter this season, something the Mariners also wanted. It should take some pressure off his legs. Cano’s goal always is to play in as many games as possible; being a little lighter should help.
The weight loss was impressive considering Cano had to take six weeks off to rest a broken pinky toe he suffered in Japan while playing for a touring MLB all-star team.
That isn't to say this isn't happening now, because it most assuredly is—or even that these two incidents of weight loss were related. In fact, if they were separate, and Cano dropped himself down to a weight that the illness then took down even further, you can begin to see how performance might start to spiral.
So, hopefully, they get this resolved and Cano returns to being his normal self, and we can officially discount genuine decline as the reason for his slip in performance. That was the note over on Grantland earlier today, where Jonah Keri pointed out (with help from Fangraphs) that players have had a tough time maintaining their performance past the age of 30 since MLB started cracking down on performance-enhancing drugs. This, you'd assume, isn't that.
Buuuuut there's a weird parallel here. If you were to ask Nelson Cruz why one might take PEDs, he'd say this could be a good reason, based on his own experience:
But what exactly happened two years ago, when Cruz decided to seek treatment from the now-shuttered Florida clinic, Biogenesis, that was infamously linked to more than a dozen MLB players? What drove him to make such an egregious "mistake," as he has called it?
"It was something about my health that made me go in that direction," Cruz said. "I lost 40 pounds during the offseason. I went to different doctors — they didn’t find what was going on with me, why I kept losing weight.
"And finally they found I had a parasite. And then spring training was close. That’s why I made the decision."
I'm not saying Robinson Cano should've juiced. Because duh. But if you're to ask the players who took PEDs—and they were telling the truth, which, ehhhh—this is the type of thing they'd say they used them for before. When people think of PEDs prolonging players' careers and throwing off the aging curve, they imagine 37-year-olds taking The Cream and The Clear with a dash of Stanzolol sprinkled in, when really it could be some basic recovery-aiding supplements that weren't banned then but are now.
I only note that point because answers are never so easy and tidy as "he's sick, he'll get better." I had hope on Dustin Ackley's bone spurs and Justin Smoak's thumb, and while Robbie Cano is so very much not those guys, there's a lot going on here—as there always is.
But with this, hopefully Robinson Cano can get right. We've seen this type of ailment rob the Mariners of a cornerstone player once before, and it'd be nice for that to not happen again.
So feel better, Robbie—so we all can too.