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Yoenis Cespedes, Mets would hit it off well with universal DH

Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets takes batting practice

Yoenis Cespedes of the Mets takes batting practice prior to a game against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 20, 2018. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Mets, built for years like an American League team, soon might be able to fill out a lineup card like one.

One detail in MLB’s restart proposal — if the players’ union agrees, if the coronavirus pandemic abates enough, if there is a 2020 season — offers a solution to the Mets’ too-many-bats problem: making the designated hitter a standard rule across the majors, bringing the National League into the late 20th century.

An extra 300 plate appearances during the planned 80-ish games of the 2020 season (or about 600 in a normal season) could benefit several Mets, chief among them Yoenis Cespedes.

Tuesday marked two years since Cespedes last played the field in a major-league game. Since then, he has played in one game — as the DH at Yankee Stadium on July 20, 2018 — and had three surgeries: one on each heel and one on his broken right ankle.

Being allowed to hit and not needing to play defense could be a career-reviving option for the 34-year-old Cespedes. In spring training, he was taking live batting practice but had not progressed to running the bases and was a question mark in leftfield, where some days he did not participate fully in drills with the other outfielders.

A healthy Cespedes isn’t the only candidate for DH at-bats with the Mets, who long have squeezed square offensive pegs into round defensive holes.

Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, best suited as corner outfielders, have combined for more than half of the team’s starts in center the past two years. In late 2018, the Mets played Wilmer Flores and Jay Bruce at first and cited it as a reason not to call up Pete Alonso. Corner infielders J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith spent spring training working out in leftfield, where they were set to play in 2020.

The DH would help solve those kinds of problems. Aside from Cespedes, among the Mets’ other options:

  • Keep Davis in the lineup when they want to significantly strengthen their defensive alignment by putting Nimmo in left and Jake Marisnick in center.
  • Give Alonso half-days off as a DH and play Smith at first. Smith is considered a superior defender and, like Davis, hit well enough last year to merit regular at-bats. However, he doesn’t have a clear path to those at-bats in a non-DH world, especially if Cespedes is healthy.
  • Give Robinson Cano, 37, half-days off as a DH and play Jeff McNeil at second (and Davis at third). Cano dealt with multiple leg injuries last year and has diminished defensive abilities relative to his Yankees prime.

Most likely, DH time would be split among those players. Manager Luis Rojas and the front office would have a daily choice.

That roster construction uniquely positions the Mets relative to their NL peers. For most teams, the rule change might have altered their approach to the offseason, specifically in seeking an extra heavy hitter to plug the new DH hole. The short notice doesn’t allow them to do so this year. The Mets, with several in-house choices and a lack of interest in spending big money during the offseason, are all set.

They even have ready-made long-term DH candidates in Davis, who is not scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2024 season, and Cano, who after 2020 still has three years (at $24 million per year) on his contract.

Just months later, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s offseason bet of not trading any of his square pegs looks poised to pay off.

Yoenis Cespedes’ career numbers as a designated hitter:

AB 338

Hits 97

HRs 18

RBIs 60

BA .287

OBP .328

SLG .524

OPS .851

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