PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — After Monday’s first full-squad workout had been completed and Yoenis Cespedes was back sitting at his locker, the first question posed to him, naturally, involved his offseason regimen.
In other words, what did he do to try to prevent a repeat of last year’s injury-ravaged 81-game season?
His focus needed no translation. Cespedes immediately slapped at his legs, the location of worrisome injuries to his hamstring and quadriceps muscles. Even when he was healthy, the constant concern about running made him a defensive liability in leftfield and seemingly a time bomb on the basepaths.
While it’s impossible to gauge the success of anyone’s offseason conditioning in mid-February, Cespedes did appear to have a smart plan, and he ticked off his three points of emphasis.
The first involved more running, the second was weight training — albeit less heavy — and the surprise third incorporated yoga into his routine.
“Right now, I’m more flexible because of the yoga,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “The last couple of seasons, my lower back was tight, and I haven’t felt that yet.”
It’s not unusual for back tightness to be caused by upper leg issues, so maybe Cespedes has been effective thus far in combating the root cause of his problems. The Mets desperately need that to be the case. Regardless of their offseason improvements — and make no mistake, they did get better by investing roughly $88 million — it’s imperative that Cespedes return to being a mainstay in the heart of their lineup.
When Cespedes was a factor during his first 1 1⁄2 seasons with the Mets, they made the playoffs each time. After signing his first $75-million extension, which he turned into a one-year, $16.75-million opt-out, the highly motivated Cespedes batted .280 with 31 homers in 132 games but still was limited by quadriceps problems.
Last year, fresh off his new four-year, $110-million deal, Cespedes looked bigger and stronger than before, with photos showing him using a superhuman amount of iron in a deadlift routine. The 2017 season was hyped to be his best yet, and although he did hit .292 with an .892 OPS, his legs couldn’t hold up. Along with their most fearsome offensive threat, the Mets’ hopes of playoff contention disintegrated.
His mindset is the same as a year ago — “I want to be the MVP, that hasn’t changed,” Cespedes said — and now it’s a matter of his body cooperating.
New manager Mickey Callaway hasn’t known Cespedes for very long, but he’ll take him at his word about working harder to remain out of the trainer’s room. In 2015, Cespedes played 159 games between the Tigers and Mets. The previous year, 152.
“When I talked to him at one point, he brought up the fact that he played 160 games that one year out of 162,” Callaway said. “That’s what he wants to do. We have to hold him accountable for the things that he’s supposed to do. We’ve got to make sure he’s going about his business the right way and fulfilling all of those routines that are going to be necessary for him to go out and play every day. But he’s taken the first great step toward that.”
Will yoga really be a cure-all? From where Cespedes has been, it can’t hurt, even if the classes are a bit strenuous for a beginner.
“I just started, and on the first day, I couldn’t finish,” Cespedes said. “For a person who’s not flexible, it’s really tough.”
The goal is to change that, and to turn the page on last year’s bruising season. Cespedes has to get back to inflicting damage on other teams rather than himself.