Cano, 39, is owed $44,703,297 by the Mets from the remainder of the $240 million, 10-year contract he signed with the Seattle Mariners in 2013. Through 43 plate appearances this season, he is hitting just .195 with one home run, three RBIs and a .501 OPS. He has appeared in 12 of 23 games, starting six at second base and five at designated hitter.
Mets general manager Billy Eppler -- who has known Cano dating back to their times with the New York Yankees -- said the conversation with the infielder was one of the most difficult of his entire career.
"We had to make some difficult decisions and ultimately it came to the point where it was Robbie," Eppler said. "We just weren't going to have the plate appearances."
All MLB teams had to reduce their rosters by two players, to 26, by Monday. The Mets also optioned right-hander Yoan Lopez to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday night as one of those moves. Relegated to a part-time role this season, Cano was a casualty of the crunch as the first-place Mets chose to keep younger, more versatile bench players instead.
Cano received the news from Eppler in Mets manager Buck Showalter's office after Sunday night's game. Eppler said the conversations around how the Mets needed to address their roster crunch started early last week, and the move to let go of Cano was brought up by Eppler to team president Sandy Alderson and team owners Steve and Alex Cohen by Sunday evening.
"It was emotional for all of us," Showalter said. "You can expect him to get another opportunity and it wouldn't surprise anybody for him to contribute to another club."
The decision to jettison Cano was still a complicated one for the Mets -- and not only because of all the money he's owed, but because of his status as a popular veteran in the clubhouse, always happy to share his baseball wisdom. Cano and several teammates said they were confident he would produce at the plate if given the opportunity and with the writing on the wall, star shortstop Francisco Lindor said Sunday he wouldn't be happy if Cano was cut.
"He's been around for so long in this game and he's an icon here in New York," Mets utility man J.D. Davis said. "He's been a centerpiece in this clubhouse, been a leader. To lose him, it definitely takes a little bit of wind out of our sails."
New York has seven days to trade or release Cano, or send him outright to the minors -- an assignment he would have the right to refuse because he has at least three years of major league service.
Eppler said he was given the green light by the Cohens to make a purely baseball move and not think about the financial implications of letting go of Cano, despite his massive salary.
"Steve is very committed to winning and when I talked to Steve or when I talked to Alex Cohen, it's do what's best for the team, for the roster and present them with facts and options," Eppler said. "It makes the job pretty fulfilling to be able to display everything in their direction that we can do, but they want to know what's best for the club."
"You know, he owns our club and he's the one that made the commitment to take the club and buy the club and always, it's his prerogative to do whatever he wants," Showalter said. "Everything with Steve has been about baseball and what's best for the team and the fans and the organization, not just this decision but every turn we've taken."
The Mets acquired Cano from the Mariners in 2018, in a trade that also brought closer Edwin Diaz to New York. The Mets surrendered prized outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic as part of the package sent to Seattle.
In three seasons with the Mets, Cano hit .269 with 24 home runs and 72 RBIs. He was suspended for the 2021 season after violating MLB's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
An eight-time All-Star, Cano has a career average of .302 with 335 home runs and 1,305 RBIs in 17 seasons. He has 2,632 career hits, third most among active players.
Cano's agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, who was the Mets' general manager at the time of the blockbuster trade, told the New York Post that his client "absolutely still wants to play."
"Given the right situation, he can still make a meaningful contribution for a team," he told the newspaper.
Van Wagenen added that Cano has a "great deal of respect" for the Mets and "understands they had a tough decision to make. He wishes them well going forward."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.