Yoenis Cespedes Mets ‘hope’ comes with expected MLB coronavirus change


Fifth in a series analyzing the New York Mets.

If MLB plays a season and Yoenis Cespedes returns to the active roster, he will be near or beyond the two-year anniversary of his most recent game for the Mets.

Since that last appearance on July 20, 2018 — which occurred following a two-plus month absence from the lineup because of injuries — the veteran outfielder has undergone separate surgeries to remove calcifications in each heel and recovered from multiple right ankle fractures sustained during an encounter with a wild boar on his ranch last May.

Now 34, Cespedes is attempting to reclaim the thunder that captured the Mets’ fancy in trading for him in 2015 before twice re-signing him, to contracts totaling $137.5 million (although that number has been reduced following a settlement he reached with the club after the accident on his ranch).

Cespedes took live batting practice, but still hadn’t appeared in a Grapefruit League game when spring training was suspended March 12 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The hope previously was he would soon begin running the bases, showing he’s capable of playing left field on at least a semi-regular basis. His fortune might now lie in the idea of a universal DH that will likely be implemented by MLB if this season is played.

Yoenis Cespedes
Yoenis CespedesAnthony J. Causi

But completing a layoff of two calendar years, can Cespedes still be anything of a force?

“For most people I would say no, but I have actually thought about him and I think he would be the perfect guy to be their full-time DH,” a major league talent evaluator said Thursday. “I don’t know about his mobility, but in some of the films I saw of him in spring training he looked really good at the plate in terms of getting into a good hitting position and strike-zone discipline, and his swing path looked good, so I wouldn’t discount him. I would actually be comfortable with him being my full-time DH.”

The Mets have plenty of DH options, from 37-year-old Robinson Cano to players such as J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, who are miscast in the outfield. But Cespedes’ chances of playing full time would likely decrease if he were expected to play mostly left field.

“I would be more confident in his ability to hit and secondly would be run the bases and third would be defense in terms of level of confidence,” the talent evaluator said. “The fact they are going to have the DH gives me hope for him and for the Mets. He’s really in my mind an American League player, which is not a knock on him. I just think he would be an effective designated hitter.”

Cespedes’ last semblance of a full season was 2016, when he appeared in 132 games and slashed .280/.354/.530 with 31 homers and 86 RBIs. With free agency looming (in addition to incentives that can boost his contract for this season), Cespedes will be motivated to return and perform at a high level.

“He’s made out of concrete, the guy is in incredible shape, he’s really strong, he hasn’t lost any of that,” the talent evaluator said. “It’s just the baseball skills, that is what you worry about as guys get into their 30s and then you start missing time. You don’t know how this is going to affect anybody. What is Jacob deGrom going to be like when he gets back? What is Michael Conforto going to be like? These are guys that have had success. You are asking them to miss almost one year, what would it be like to miss two years? That is a big deal.”

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