New York Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen addressed the media on Monday at Citi Field, just before the team’s trucks embarked on their haul to Port St. Lucie for Spring Training. One of the many topics the first-time GM touched on was the team’s $29 million man, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes, 33, has been sidelined since May with a plethora of issues all stemming from two now-surgically repaired heels, which are expected to keep the Cuban product out of commission through a great deal — if not all — of the 2019 season.
In January, Mets special assistant Omar Minaya gave a bleak outlook on Cespedes’ timetable to return, saying, “if he gives us anything this year, that is great”. Van Wagenen echoed those sentiments on Monday, telling the team’s media corps “our expectation is that he can make progress every day”, before expanding on the 33-year-old slugger’s timeframe.
“We just want to make sure we aren’t taxing him […], and that he’s 100 percent healthy when he comes back, whenever that day is,” Van Wagenen said (as per MMO‘s Rob Piersall). “[…] We want to get better every day, he wants to get better every day, and we’ll do our part to help him do that.”
Well, if Van Wagenen wants to make the Mets better, a healthy Yoenis Cespedes will surely help that cause. Over his seven-year MLB career, the Cuban native owns a .274/.328/.498 slash line with 163 home runs, 524 runs batted in, .351 weighted on-base average, and a 124 weighted runs created plus rating.
The trade that brought Cespedes to New York from Detroit just minutes before the trade deadline in 2015 almost certainly propelled the Mets to the National League pennant. In 57 games after the trade (249 plate appearances), Cespedes absolutely mashed, hitting .287/.337/.604 with 17 homers, 44 RBI, and 14 doubles.
After another solid year in 2016 (.280/.354/.530, 31 homers, 86 RBI, .369 wOBA, 136 wRC+ in 132 games), then-GM Sandy Alderson signed Cespedes to a four-year, $110 million deal. At the time, the contract appeared to be a well-protected investment in a player just hitting his “prime” — in fantastic fashion, no less. It wasn’t.
Since the start of the 2017 season, Cespedes has played in just 119 games due to a myriad of injuries (hip flexor, quad, hamstring, heels). Though his stats haven’t necessarily lagged (.282/.343/.525, 26 homers, 71 RBI, 23 doubles) over that time, not having a healthy powerhouse like Cespedes in the lineup on a consistent basis is not optimal by any means.
Hopefully, having double heel calcification surgery will rectify Cespedes’ ongoing issues and give him a chance to regain the form that made him one of the more feared hitters in baseball. Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen seems to have a ton of faith in that scenario playing out, as well.
“We’re counting on him to make a contribution in 2019. We’re counting on him to make a contribution in 2020,” Van Wagenen said. “We expect him to be an MVP-caliber player when he comes back, and he does as well.”
Until Cespedes is back and crushing balls into the furthest reaches of Citi Field, however, there will be a hole in this lineup in regards to the outfield position. Fortunately for this organization, Van Wagenen has had his hands full this offseason making sure they’re not overly affected by his absence.
The Mets’ projected lineup consists of quality ballplayers in Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, as well as the incumbent young core of Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, and Jeff McNeil. There’s enough talent there to keep this team afloat, if not in contention.
The pitching staff — starters and relievers — is chock full of All-Star-level hurlers. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom, a fully-healthy Noah Syndergaard, and the rejuvenated Zack Wheeler give the Mets a formidable combination atop their rotation, and Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Seth Lugo are quite possibly the best bullpen in the NL — not just the East.