NEW YORK – Before becoming the Mets’ general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen landed Yoenis Cespedes a four-year, $110-million deal with the team he’d eventually run.
That contract has proven to be favorable only for the player and perhaps is one of the worst in all of MLB, and Van Wagenen is now dealing with the ramifications.
Van Wagenen said Monday that it’s “too early to tell” if Cespedes will play in 2020 in what will be the final year of his contract. Cespedes missed all of last season while rehabbing from heel surgeries, and later stepping in a hole at his ranch in Florida and fracturing his right ankle.
Cespedes last played on July 20, 2018.
“At this point, Ces is rehabbing and we’ll evaluate his health and we’ll evaluate his performance as we get closer to spring training,” Van Wagenen said Monday after introducing Carlos Beltran as the Mets’ manager. “I don’t have enough information to predict when he’s going to be back.”
How do you plan without a target date
Once the lynchpin of the Mets’ lineup and a key contributor to the 2015 NL championship team, Cespedes has since become a payroll burden while leaving the team in a tough spot each offseason while it tries to piece together a roster for the upcoming season.
Since Cespedes is recovering from an injury that normally wouldn’t sideline a player for the whole year, the team has to take into consideration that he could play. He’s their highest-paid position player, set to earn $29.5 million. Cespedes will want to play if he’s healthy.
Last offseason, the Mets expected Cespedes to return around the All-Star break, which gave them a baseline to work off of and also plan their payroll accordingly.
This winter, there’s no certainty yet on his status, which is a worse scenario for the team since they’re not sure if they’ll have the outfielder or need to fill his spot.
If Cespedes is healthy enough to play, he’s going to want to be on the field. It’s hard to envision Cespedes accepting a backup role to 2019 breakout utility player J.D. Davis or Dom Smith.
Yet, the Mets also have to be realistic and recognize that they may need to add outfield depth since it’s possible that Cespedes may not even be a factor or make it back. Until more information is available, it could possibly keep the team from making a push to acquire an everyday center fielder.
The financial component is also quite important to the team’s maneuverings.
Cespedes’ contract is insured, allowing the Mets to recoup a large portion — believed to be in the 60-70 percent range — once he misses at least 60 days.
If Cespedes is somehow ready for opening day – which seems like it would be a surprise at this point – the Mets are on the books for the full $29.5 million.
Should Cespedes not be ready, the clock starts and the Mets receive money back. Since Cespedes’ status is uncertain, the Mets can’t yet properly estimate what they will receive. Last offseason, the team knew Cespedes would miss at least half of the year, allowing them to accurately project their savings.
Mets ownership has said they would reinvest insurance money – retired third baseman David Wright’s deal is insured too – but the exact percent they reinvest is unknown.
“You have to be open minded to everything in the offseason,” said Van Wagenen, entering his second offseason as the team’s GM. “We went into last year with a little uncertainty on the same level with Ces, and make sure we have depth options and impact players around the diamond.”
An athletic center fielder would be of great help since that player could help shore up its woeful defense, but having Cespedes healthy would complicate the allotment of playing time.
Even if Cespedes returns, there are questions about how much he will be able to produce after missing essentially the last season and a half.
Since signing his four-year deal, Cespedes has played in only 119 games.
“We’ll take it day by day,” Van Wagenen said. “As you guys have heard us talk about injuries in the past, it’s impossible to predict the future. We’ll wait and see.”
He added: “I don’t have enough information to guess what the (future) holds.”