It has been 718 days since Yoenis Cespedes last suited up for the New York Mets in a regular season baseball game. On that fateful evening, Cespedes contributed two hits against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, including a solo home run. It was the first time he had taken the field since May 13 against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. In that game, he also homered.
These tidbits are meant to remind you that Cespedes, even when hobbling around on two bad legs, can still exhibit incredible power like few other players in the game. Even though a Cespedes sighting has been relatively rare in the Mets’ lineup over the last three seasons, he has done nothing but hit since arriving in a trade with the Athletics back on July 31, 2015, even if the occasions have grown sporadic. In 307 games with the club, he has slashed .282/.346/.543 with 74 home runs, a .261 ISO, a 137 wRC+, and an 8.8 fWAR. Since arriving, only Michael Conforto (14.0) and Curtis Granderson (10.8) posted a higher fWAR among Mets hitters.
Unfortunately, the good has been overshadowed by the bad and, in some instances, the ugly, and fans have quickly turned on the one-time hero. Shortly after hitting that home run in the Bronx almost two years ago, it was announced that the slugger would undergo multiple surgeries on his heels to remove calcification and bone spurs, which carried with it a minimum recovery time of eight to 10 months. In the blink of an eye, his 2018 was finished, and the start of his 2019 season was in jeopardy as well. The reputation for injury-plagued quickly became attached to his name.
The bad times were just getting started, as Cespedes went under the knife again the following May after suffering what was described as a “violent fall” on his ranch, which resulted in a fractured ankle. In true LOLMETS fashion, it was later revealed that the fall came after an encounter with a wild boar on his ranch, which produced some Mets-related memes on social media but more sadness at his tragic fall—no pun intended. Following the incident, the two sides restructured Cespedes’ contract, which is set to expire following the 2020 season. Instead of making the $29.5 million he was originally entitled to, he was granted a $6 million base salary, which would jump to $11 million if he made it on to the 2020 Opening Day roster. All these numbers, of course, were accounting for a pre-pandemic 162-game schedule, and any actual payroll hit would need to be prorated.
During spring training 1.0, Cespedes was seen taking batting practice but never made it into an actual game. Had the season started like normal in March, it’s impossible to say whether the left fielder would have been healthy enough to make his debut, and it’s entirely likely fans would’ve had to wait until later in the year to get a glimpse of La Potencia. However, with an almost four-month break in the action and the implementation of the universal DH due to health and safety measures, chances are as good as ever that the Yo Show will return to Citi Field in 2020, perhaps as soon as the season’s first game. In his most recent update, GM Brodie Van Wagenen said that Cespedes is “closer to game ready than in March”, which was a vague nod to his potential place on the team if and when games start up again.
As I mentioned in June, the Mets have several ways they can use the DH, but a healthy Cespedes is the most obvious one. It was highly unlikely he would have been able to play consistently in the field with his leg problems, and it’s anybody’s guess how he would have looked coming off so many surgeries. The DH has given new life to the prospects of a Cespedes resurgence, as he can now let his bat do the talking without worrying about over-exerting his healing legs. Even during early spring action, he showed plenty of pop. It’s probably too early to insert him back in the clean-up spot, but it will be enticing to dream of a lineup that features Pete Alonso and Cespedes hitting back-to-back. Keeping him off the field opens up the outfield for a J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo, and Conforto left-to-right alignment.
His impact on the lineup is immediate and invaluable. After arriving in 2015, the team proceeded to go 34-20 en route to their first National League East title in nine years. The following season, he made his lone All Star appearance as a Met and helped the team go 63-48 in the games in which he started. Over their two playoff season, the team posted a .595 winning percentage in games he’s played in, and players in front of him in the lineup saw better pitches to hit thanks to him. His bat was a catalyst to Daniel Murphy’s explosive postseason performance in 2015, as pitchers chose him over pitching to Cespedes. If he can be anything close to the offensive presence those Mets teams saw, especially in a shortened 60-game season, the team’s playoff hopes should be getting a significant boost.