Yoenis Cespedes has led a very interesting career since signing with the A’s out of Cuba eight years ago. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd chronicles the excitement and the boars in today’s video.
FEBRUARY 23: Cespedes’ stalemate with the media is over, it seems. He addressed his health situation with reporters (including Dicomo) this morning. Via interpreter, Cespedes says he’s “happy with the progress.” Asked if he could potentially be ready for Opening Day, the outfielder replied “if I continue progressing the way that I am, yes.” The hope is for Cespedes to start spring training game action by mid-March, relays Tim Healey of Newsday (via Twitter).
FEBRUARY 21: New Mets skipper Luis Rojas discussed his initial impressions of still-rehabbing outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at this stage of camp. As MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports, the veteran seems to be showing a fair bit of promise as he looks to return from injury — but he also still has a ways to go.
Per Rojas — Cespedes isn’t on speaking terms with the media at the moment — the 34-year-old is participating in about three-quarters to four-fifths of the activities of his healthy teammates. It’s a “progression” that Cespedes is working through with the team’s trainers.
The big question remains whether and when the former star will be able to contribute on the MLB field. That’s still unclear. He hasn’t yet fully tested his surgically repaired heels and ankle. But there’s progress, per Rojas, who says this “was a really big week” in Cespedes’s recovery.
It remains fascinating to watch this situation unfold. Cespedes has been a dynamic player for the Mets, when available. But he missed all of 2019 after being sidelined for large chunks of the preceding two seasons. And we haven’t seen his current form after weathering those major procedures and dealing with a high-profile dispute over how they occurred that cost him a huge chunk of his remaining guaranteed money.
Age is also a consideration, as Cespedes will turn 35 in October. Then there’s the question of how he’ll fit on the Mets roster and take to what’s likely to be less than a full-time role (at least unless or until he proves worthy of more).
It remains to be seen how this’ll proceed. But it’s certain that Rojas will be answering a lot of questions on Cespedes over the coming months — particularly if the outfielder declines to revisit his media silence. Ultimately, the rookie skipper and the front office may face some tough decisions.
As of a few weeks ago, the Reds were reportedly “considering” trade scenarios centering on Nick Senzel. However, president of baseball operations Dick Williams then suggested the outfielder/second baseman isn’t going anywhere. That’s fine with Senzel, who said Monday (via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer): “I’m happy to be here. I want to be here for my whole career. I want to play in Cincinnati for these fans and my teammates. Any time those talks come up or anything, there is literally nothing I can do about it. I have no control over it. The less I worry about it, the better.” Senzel then noted trade rumors are “part of the business, especially when top names are getting thrown around.” Indeed, it never seemed as if the Reds would move Senzel during the winter without getting back a star-caliber player in return.
Here’s more from the National League…
- To say this has been an offseason low on impact acquisitions for the Pirates would be an understatement. They’ve signed three major league free agents – catcher Luke Maile and a pair of outfielders Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia – all for modest prices. Thanks to its offseason decisions, including the trade of center fielder Starling Marte to Arizona, Pittsburgh’s projected to enter 2020 with a microscopic payroll of $60MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. It’s not an ideal way to build a team, but the Pirates are in a rebuild. Once (and if) the Pirates begin to turn things around, new general manager Ben Cherington expects to have more money at his disposal. “I’m confident [payroll] will increase over time as we get deeper into our team build, there’s opportunity and we get closer with those opportunities,” Cherington stated Sunday (via Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). “I’m confident we’ll have the means to build a winning team and add pieces. We’re not putting any kind of date on when that could happen. We’re going to try and get there as soon as we can. That’s an every-day thing.” The Pirates have come under fire for a lack of spending, though Cherington added that he’s “really confident that the total investment in baseball operations is not just enough but really competitive within the industry,”
- It has been a trying couple years for Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, a former star. The 34-year-old missed a sizable chunk of time from 2017-18 and didn’t take the field at all last season as a result of various injuries, including one suffered during a run-in with a wild boar. The Mets then amended Cespedes’ contract back in December, dropping his 2020 salary from $29.5MM to $6MM. Cespedes is now working to return to form in the wake of a long layoff, but he wasn’t cooperative with the media Monday after the Mets’ first full-squad workout, as Deesha Thosar of the New York Daily News relays. Asked if he’d discuss his offseason, his general health or the boar encounter, he offered, “Not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year.”
- With Jordan Hicks recovering from Tommy John surgery and Carlos Martinez on his way back to their rotation, the Cardinals will hold closer auditions all spring, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Andrew Miller, Ryan Helsley, John Gant, Giovanny Gallegos, John Brebbia, Alex Reyes and offseason signing Kwang-Hyun Kim could all be candidates to land the job, though the Cardinals may choose to fill the role by committee. “Having one guy who is a lock down guy is fine,” manager Mike Shildt told Goold. “If we don’t have that then clearly the multiple options are going to be necessary.”
Mookie Metts? It didn’t come to fruition, but the Mets did make an effort in December to acquire superstar outfielder Mookie Betts from Boston. The Red Sox ended up trading him to the Dodgers earlier this week.
One reason talks between the Mets and Red Sox broke down? The Mets weren’t open to moving infielder/outfielder Jeff McNeil for just a year of control over Betts, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (they also wouldn’t give him to the Indians for shortstop Francisco Lindor). However, the Red Sox regarded McNeil as “integral” to a potential trade package, according to Sherman. Understandably, the Mets weren’t going to part with the versatile, inexpensive 27-year-old after he was one of the majors’ most effective offensive players from 2018-19.
While the Mets weren’t willing to surrender McNeil for Betts, they did offer packages centered on outfielder Brandon Nimmo and infielder/outfielder J.D. Davis (quality, affordable players in their own right), per Sherman. Those deals also would have included one of the Mets’ infield prospects in either Andres Gimenez or Ronny Mauricio, two top-100 farmhands. It seems the Mets, reluctant to absorb all of Betts’ $27MM salary, also would have tried to include one of their highly paid, unwanted veterans in outfielder Yoenis Cespedes or infielder Jed Lowrie in order to somewhat offset the money they’d have taken on had a deal with Boston gone through.
Considering that getting under the $208MM luxury-tax threshold was one of the main causes for the Red Sox’s decision to unload Betts (and left-hander David Price with him), adding Cespedes or Lowrie wouldn’t have been palatable for them. They wound up accepting the Dodgers’ offer of outfielder Alex Verdugo and two prospects – infielder Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong – saving a total of $75MM in the process.
Meanwhile, although the Mets went big-game hunting for Betts, their outfield appears as if it’ll enter 2020 with mostly the same cast. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, even though none of the team’s current options can rival Betts. However, to their credit, McNeil, Nimmo, Davis, Michael Conforto and Dominic Smith all had good seasons a year ago. It’s anyone’s guess what the Mets will get from Cespedes after injuries shelved him for the vast majority of the prior three seasons, but he’s back on a reduced salary and has always produced when healthy.
Injuries have derailed Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes’ career over the past couple seasons, but the 34-year-old is finally progressing toward a return to a major league diamond. On Monday, Cespedes tweeted a video of himself sprinting, swinging a bat and catching a fly ball at the Mets’ spring training headquarters in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (hat tip to Matt Kelly of MLB.com)
While it may not sound like much, any footage of Cespedes performing baseball activities is encouraging at this point. The injury-riddled Cespedes has gone from star to afterthought dating back to 2017, having appeared in a meager 119 regular-season games since then. He didn’t play past July in 2018 and didn’t suit up at all last year on account of foot problems. Cespedes fractured his right ankle in May as a result of a dust-up with, of all things, a wild boar at his ranch in Port St. Lucie.
If there’s a silver lining for the Mets, it’s that Cespedes’ boar battle did lead to some financial relief for them. The team stopped paying his salary for 2019 sometime last season, and the two sides reached an agreement on an amended contract back in December. Consequently, New York will shell out $6MM to Cespedes this year instead of the $29.5MM he was supposed to earn. That’s a positive development for the club’s books, but it’s obviously not the outcome the Mets envisioned when they re-signed Cespedes to a four-year, $110MM deal before the 2017 season.
Cespedes is now going into the last season of his pact, though it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll come close to resembling the player he was before his health troubles arose. It’s also up in the air just how much playing time Cespedes will garner in 2020, as the Mets have a strong mix of other corner outfield-capable players (Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith) and could add yet another starting-caliber OFer in trade target Starling Marte. There’s also no designated hitter role for Cespedes to fall back on, and he can’t make a regular shift to first base with NL Rookie of the Year winner Pete Alonso entrenched at the position.
It always seemed there’d be an interesting tale when details finally emerged regarding Yoenis Cespedes’s mysterious ranch injury last year. And indeed the story spun by the New York Post baseball team of Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff, and Mike Puma isn’t a boring one … well, not exactly.
The ankle injury Cespedes suffered, which occurred while he was rehabbing from surgeries to both heels, put him on the shelf for the remainder of the 2019 season. In concert with preexisting leg issues, the new malady put the remainder of Cespedes’s career in doubt. It also spurred an effort by the Mets to avoid much of the remaining money they owed him, resulting in a recent agreement on an amended contract.
As it turns out — drum roll, please — Cespedes was injured when he plunged into a hole during some kind of interaction with a wild boar. Precise details aren’t clear, and probably don’t matter much at this point. It’s not difficult to imagine some of the myriad ways in which one might end up in a compromised position while in the vicinity of such a creature.
Cespedes came clean about the matter from the outset, at least in the main, according to the report. All involved may or may not agree on all the particulars, it seems, but they have generally accepted that the malady was indeed boar-related.
So, what’s a player contract say about an injury that results from such an unlikely series of events? It depends upon the precise details of that player’s own pact, some of which include specially negotiated language. Whether there’s anything relevant in the Cespedes contract isn’t known in this case. Section XVI(B) of the Uniform Player Contract does prohibit players from engaging in “any other sport or activity involving a substantial risk of personal injury,” though that provision is framed in the context of engaging in sporting events and its application to this factual setting would no doubt be a matter of some debate.
Had the sides ended up in a grievance proceeding on the subject, they’d have been forced to engage in an exploration of both the full facts and the proper interpretation of the contract. (If there are any unique clauses in this deal, the interpretation of which could conceivably have required exploration of the original negotiation of the contract, current Mets GM and former Cespedes agent Brodie Van Wagenen would’ve been even more hopelessly conflicted than he was already.) After weighing the costs and risks, the sides instead settled on the aforementioned renegotiation, with the blessing of MLB and the MLBPA.
DECEMBER 21: Under the amended contract, Cespedes will see his 2020 base salary drop from $29.5MM to just $6MM, according to a report from Ronald Blum of the Associated Press. However, that number will hike up to $11MM as soon as Cespedes is on the active roster or the IL with an injury unrelated to the contentious ankle fracture. Cespedes will still be able to reach the $20MM threshold through a series of plate appearance bonuses totaling $9MM; if he reaches 650 plate appearances, he will earn that entire amount.
5:25pm: Cespedes’s pocketbook has taken a huge hit, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports on Twitter. In addition to losing some of his 2019 earnings, he’ll now be guaranteed less than $10MM for the season to come. He can earn his way back to the $20MM range through the incentives.
For the Mets, the benefit comes primarily from the perspective of cash accounting. It’s unclear whether this modification will be reflected in the calculation of the team’s payroll for purposes of computing the competitive balance tax. Even if so, the reduction presumably wouldn’t be dollar-for-dollar (barring some special treatment), since the CBT refers to the average annual salary of a contract.
4:29pm: Much but not all of the guarantee can be recouped via performance and awards bonuses, Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets.
3:58pm: There’s more to this story (and more sure to come). The Mets stopped paying his salary at some point during the 2019 season, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (via Twitter). The organization also brought a grievance action relating to Cespedes’s 2020 earnings.
The involvement of Cespedes’s 2019 salary adds another wrinkle to this. For one thing, it seems the club has been saving on its hefty obligations to the veteran slugger for some time. (Timing remains unclear.) For another, it appears there was quite a lot more cash at stake in the dispute than was already evident. Cespedes was due to earn $29MM last year.
3:21pm: The Mets and injured outfielder Yoenis Cespedes have agreed to “amend” the remainder of his contract with the team, according to Andy Martino of SNY.tv (Twitter link). Details of the arrangement aren’t yet clear, but it seems there is a modification to the salary Cespedes will earn in the coming season.
As things stand, Cespedes is due $29.5MM in the final season of his four-year deal. He’ll remain under contract, but at a lower rate. The modification relates to the injury suffered this May. Cespedes shattered his right ankle in an accident on his ranch while recovering from successive surgeries to both heels.
While we still lack a full public accounting of how Cespedes was injured, it seems clear that he was in a jeopardized position with regard to his contract. This settlement — which surely involved the league and union — will allow both sides to avoid the cost and strain of a full-throated legal battle. For the Mets, they now know just how much they will save on their obligations to Cespedes at a key juncture in the offseason.
The Mets entered the winter with a payroll predicament. This news promises to free up a good chunk of change to put towards other uses. The club will still have Cespedes on hand as a complete wild card — his talent is undeniable but his physical capabilities are at this point unknown — but can divert a substantial portion of what it would’ve paid him to other purposes. The club had reportedly been looking to move some underperforming contracts as a means of freeing payroll. Just how the offseason course will be impacted by today’s news remains to be seen.
The Braves weren’t willing to go beyond a three-year contract for Madison Bumgarner, and “it seems highly doubtful” they would go to four years for Hyun-Jin Ryu, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes. Atlanta’s interest in Ryu is something of a new development, but Bowman feels it could be more due diligence on the Braves’ part than anything else, in case Ryu’s market shifts within the two- to three-year range. Multiple teams have been linked to Ryu this offseason, though it remains unclear whether any club will be willing to stretch to four years for a hurler who will be 33 years old on Opening Day and possesses a lengthy injury history.
The latest from around the NL East…
- Could Yoenis Cespedes be a trade chip? A deal seems unlikely, but MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports that the Mets have received some trade interest in the outfielder in the wake of last week’s news that Cespedes’ salary has been reduced to less than $10MM, though with significant incentives that could make it worth $20MM (assuming Cespedes gets on the field at all in 2020, of course). Cespedes has a full no-trade clause, though DiComo speculates that Cespedes might welcome a change of scenery to a team that could offer him DH at-bats, or just to get away from “a team that successfully filed a grievance against him.” It could be that rival teams are open to absorbing Cespedes’ contract as a method of acquiring some younger talent from New York, similar to how the Giants recently took Zack Cozart’s salary off the Angels’ hands in order to land shortstop prospect Will Wilson, or how the Mets themselves are trying to attach a younger player to Jeurys Familia or Jed Lowrie in a trade.
- The Nationals’ fifth starter competition is examined by Sam Fortier of the Washington Post, who reports that Erick Fedde has a minor league option remaining. This might not bode well for Fedde’s chances, as the Nats could send him down to Triple-A in favor of Austin Voth or Joe Ross, who are both out of options. That’s assuming, of course, that D.C. ends up going forward with one of these three in-house arms as the fifth starter. Fortier notes that the team was seemingly satisfied with this same trio last winter before signing Jeremy Hellickson prior to Spring Training, so it isn’t out of the question that the World Series champs could pursue another low-cost veteran before the offseason is out.
- We haven’t heard much about David Phelps about this offseason, but Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer feels the right-hander would be a good (and relatively inexpensive) addition to the Phillies bullpen. After missing all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, Phelps had a solid comeback year in 2019, posting a 3.41 ERA, 2.12 K/BB rate, and 9.4 K/9 over 34 1/3 innings for the Cubs and Blue Jays. Phelps pitched under Phils manager Joe Girardi with the Yankees in 2012-14, and when asked about the reliever at the Winter Meetings, Girardi praised Phelps’ versatility, game preparation skills, and good numbers against both right-handed and left-handed batters.
Now that Stephen Strasburg has been re-signed to an expectations-shattering $245MM contract, it doesn’t seem like the Nationals could manage another mega-deal to bring back Anthony Rendon…or could they? Both Nats GM Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras (who represents both Rendon and Strasburg) told MASNsports.com’s Mark Zuckerman and other reporters that the third baseman could still potentially return to Washington, despite owner Mark Lerner’s recent comments about his club not being able to afford both free agents. “Well, when you look at those comments, and then you look at the structure of this particular deal and the structure of deals we’ve had getting up to where we are right now, I think that Mark realizes that there’s ways to fit players in,” Rizzo said, in reference to the deferral-heavy nature of both Strasburg’s contract and several other major Nats contracts in recent years.
Boras also spoke of how Strasburg “directed me to negotiate and create a value, a fair-market value for him, but also a structure that allowed the team to continue at a championship level.” Naturally, it wouldn’t be good business for Boras to create any impression that a wealthy suitor had dropped out of the running for Rendon, though the fact that he has had such a long history of negotiating deals with the Nationals perhaps gives his comments some added weight. “I think when you go to do these contracts — in fairness to Mark and everyone else — is you really don’t know what can be done inside a contract to create opportunities so that aspects of the team can be looked at a little differently than was even anticipated,” Boras said.
More rumblings from around the NL East…
- Not that a World Series-winning manager should necessarily be worried about job security, but Dave Martinez tells NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas that he isn’t concerned about entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. The Nationals hold a club option on Martinez for the 2021 season, though just making through 2020 would make Martinez (somewhat incredibly) the first person to manage three full seasons for the Nats since the club moved from Montreal prior to the 2005 season. Martinez didn’t give any indication of extension talks, though even with the Nationals’ unusual history of managerial hirings and firings, it looks like stability might have finally come to the dugout.
- Yoenis Cespedes is hoping to return to the field in 2020, and Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters (including MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo) that the outfielder has begun throwing and running programs. A series of leg injuries forced Cespedes to miss the entire 2019 season, and limited him to just 119 games in 2017-18. Naturally, Van Wagenen was cautious about the possibility of a comeback for the outfielder, saying “We have to be smart and not assume anything from anyone and try to create talent on our roster and try to create impact. If he’s at his best, he’s a high-impact performer. We’ll have to see how that plays out.”
- In other news from Van Wagenen’s media briefing, he said finding depth for both the rotation or bullpen is a main focus for the Mets. The club may also look at adding a backup infielder and backup catcher. The latter could spell some trouble for current backup catcher Tomas Nido, who was one of the game’s better defensive catchers in 2019 but hasn’t shown any hitting prowess during his three MLB seasons (albeit over only 244 career plate appearances).
- The Marlins have hired Billy Hatcher as the team’s new first base coach, MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro reports. Hatcher brings 21 years of coaching experience to Miami, after long stints with both the Rays (1998-2005) and Reds (2006-18). Trey Hillman will move from first base coach across the diamond to coach third base next season, to accommodate Hatcher. In other Marlins staff news, assistant hitting coach Eric Duncan has been promoted to hitting coach.
In a since-deleted Instagram video posted by minor-league Mets coach (and long-time former big leaguer) Endy Chavez, rehabbing slugger Yoenis Cespedes is shown taking batting practice. MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo covered things via Twitter.
While this fleeting glance at Cespedes doesn’t really tell us much, it’s the first meaningful look at his progress in quite some time. Serious heel and other leg injuries cost Cespedes huge chunks of the 2017-18 campaigns and all of 2019. All told, he has played in just 119 games since the close of his strong 2016 season.
Cespedes has continued to hit when available, and he’s still being paid quite handsomely for one more season ($29.5MM), so the club has an obvious interest in getting him back on the field. At times it seemed a late-2019 return might have been possible, but there was never anything close to a run-up towards the majors.
GM Brodie Van Wagenen seemingly downplayed the likelihood of a significant contribution in 2020 when he addressed the matter recently, saying that lacks “enough information to predict when [Cespedes is] going to be back.” Of course, there is one other way to read that. The Mets understandably don’t want to set expectations and surely also would like to keep things quiet when it comes to negotiating with rivals and free agents.
All of that is to say: if indeed Cespedes is presently capable of swinging the stick, even if in a limited BP setting, that seems to be good and rather notable news. As I noted in discussing the Mets’ offseason outlook earlier today, the complexion of the outfield could look quite a bit different if Cespedes is part of the picture — especially if he can show enough to be relied upon right out of Spring Training. It’s not hard at all to imagine rather significant impacts on the team’s offseason maneuvering based upon the status of Cespedes, though certainly the organization will need to be wary of presuming too much about his health.