When Yoenis Cespedes joined the Mets, one of the first things people noticed was his neon green compression sleeve. You could see the thing from the cheap seats — the planes taking off from LaGuardia may have even caught a peek — and it clashed atrociously with his brand-new uniform. It was unmistakable and unabashed, a jolt to the status quo.
It was exactly like its owner.
It’s been a year since Cespedes joined the Mets — a year since he went on that unfathomable tear that helped this team take control of the NL East — and though the spark is still there, the novelty has worn off. But as Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins made clear before Monday’s rainout, it doesn’t mean that Cespedes can’t lead the Mets exactly like he did last year.
In fact, with no big trade moves on the horizon, it may be pivotal to their survival.
“I’m hoping this homestand, he gets it really going because he’s a guy that cannot only carry a team, but he makes everybody else start to come alive when he’s swinging the bat good,” Collins said. “I don’t mean to put all this pressure on Ces, but in one year, he’s been a force in our lineup.”
Perhaps the biggest barometer of Cespedes’ abilities is that Collins thinks he can do more, even in his current state. After returning to the lineup from a right quadriceps strain on July 17, he’s been hobbled and the Mets have opted to move him out of centerfield and in to left — where he has said he feels more comfortable — specifically because they want to save his legs. Alderson said they’ll likely continue to do this for most of the rest of the season.
“Our goal is to get maximum performance out of Ces as well as the rest of the team,” Alderson said. “I think you have to look at, for example, his shift to leftfield and the need to put somebody like [Michael] Conforto in center, perhaps. You need to look at that, again, on a net basis. Are we better off at the two positions given some of the physical limitations that Yoenis faces right now.”
But it’s no secret that protecting Cespedes is a top priority. After going hitless in his first two games back (he hadn’t played since July 8), he returned to form in the next four, going 5-for-14 with four RBIs. Going into Monday, Cespedes was tied for eighth in the National League with 21 home runs, and seventh in the league with a .354 slugging percentage. He hit .354 in his admittedly shortened July (17-for-48) and leads the team with a .299 average.
And no one needs to be reminded of his second half last year: He hit 22 home runs with 54 RBIs and had a .594 slugging percentage. In 13 games starting Sept. 1, he hit nine home runs. He’s also one of the reasons the Mets don’t necessarily have to trade one of their top prospects to get another position player — something that Alderson said he’s very hesitant to do.
“Even sizzle becomes less sizzle over time because it becomes every day expectation, so I think it’s unfair to think that he can continue to have that sort of novelty impact as well as performance over a year or year plus,” Alderson said. “But he’s certainly a significant part of our team at this point, and he’s done everything we could have expected over the last year after the trade.”
But of course, he can’t do it alone. Collins underlined the need to help him, and that more players need to step up. After all, even Cespedes of last year — with his wide smile, bright compression sleeve and big swing — needed other people along for the ride.
“You’re looking at the final 60-something games, they’re all big,” Collins said. “This is when the good teams take off and we need to take off.”