The upcoming season remains uncertain for Yoenis Cespedes. He arrived at Mets camp on Wednesday, walking pretty well on his surgically repaired heels. When it was revealed that Cespedes would need season-ending surgery last summer, he was given a minimum eight-to-ten-month recovery timetable. He underwent the second of the two surgeries in late October with the hope that he would be cleared to begin baseball activities in approximately four months, which would be soon if everything has gone according to plan.
The Mets have been hesitant to put any sort of concrete timetable during the offseason on Cespedes’s possible 2019 return and have sent somewhat mixed signals about the outlook. In early January, Omar Minaya called any contribution the Mets might get from Cespedes this season “gravy.” But Brodie Van Wagenen has struck a slightly more optimistic tone and Cespedes himself is confident. “I do feel like I will return. ... It may be three months, it may be two months, it may be one month, but at this point, I do think I can return,” Cespedes said on Friday, speaking to reporters in camp.
He also said that while he is still in recovery and has been frustrated being sidelined, the surgery has provided him with a lot of relief. “When I do return, I plan on being 100 percent, like I was in 2015,” he said.
So, if Cespedes does return for at least part of the season, what exactly can the Mets expect out of him? Steamer projects Cespedes will accrue just 97 plate appearances in 23 games, posting a 114 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR. PECOTA is a little more optimistic, projecting a 122 DRC+ and 1.1 WARP over 132 plate appearances. Interestingly, the two systems disagree pretty significantly about Cespdes’s limited 2018, in which he only played in 38 games. He posted a 122 wRC+ but just a 99 DRC+ over that span. At the very least, he did seem to look like himself at the plate when he was able to play in 2018, and the Mets hope that this heel surgery will help address the chronic leg problems that have plagued him throughout his tenure as a Met.
Nonetheless, the Mets have had to operate assuming that Cespedes will not factor significantly into the team’s success in 2019. To this end, they have acquired outfielder Keon Broxton and seem committed to converting Jeff McNeil into a full-time left fielder. Making a prediction with any semblance of confidence of what exactly Cespedes will contribute in 2019 is likely a fool’s errand. Expecting nothing from Cespedes this season is probably the best course of action, but there is reason to believe that if he does return, he can be the difference maker in the lineup that he has been in the past.