As far as the Mets are concerned, the idea of seeing Yoenis Cespedes in their lineup this season should be listed under the category of a pleasant surprise. And while that had been the team’s prevailing attitude when Cespedes needed surgery on both heels to remove bone spurs, the status of the slugger’s lengthy rehab hasn’t done much to alter that opinion.
“If he gives us anything this year, that is great,” special advisor Omar Minaya said Wednesday during an interview with MLB Network Radio. “We’re happy for that.”
The Mets have resisted providing any timetable for Cespedes’ return, and with their spotty track record for such projections, it’s probably a wise strategy in this case. At the very least, the Mets should be able to recoup a sizable portion of Cespedes’ $29-million salary this season through insurance, as he has been on the disabled list since July 24 of last year.
Typically, the Mets are able to collect up to 75 percent of the salary — after a 60-day deductible period — and chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said last month that he would re-invest some of that payout [he didn’t say how much] in the 2019 payroll.
Since the Mets made Cespedes the highest-paid outfielder in the sport (by annual salary) with a four-year, $110-million contract in 2016, he has played a total of 119 games in two seasons, batting .282 with an .869 OPS while averaging 13 homers and 36 RBIs.
That deal was negotiated for Cespedes by Brodie Van Wagenen, now the Mets’ general manager who must figure out a way to cover for his absence. Van Wagenen has been active this winter, bolstering the Mets’ lineup by trading for Robinson Cano and signing Wilson Ramos, but he’s shown no inclination for a pursuit of Bryce Harper, who is likely due for a contract north of $300 million.
With Cespedes on the shelf, the Mets’ current outfield configuration should feature Michael Conforto in leftfield, Brandon Nimmo in right and Juan Lagares in center. Van Wagenen also signed Rajai Davis and Gregor Blanco to minor-league deals for some insurance, but so far has mostly been on the sidelines regarding A.J. Pollock, the best centerfielder on the free-agent market.