Yoenis Cespedes unceremoniously bailed on the Mets Sunday. The star slugger didn’t let manager Luis Rojas know he wasn’t coming to the ballpark for that day’s game, didn’t say goodbye to his teammates and left the club right in the middle of a four-game series. After acknowledging earlier in the afternoon that Cespedes’ whereabouts were unknown, the Mets announced that he’d opted out of the season for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nevertheless, his teammates defended his actions and supported the decision Monday.
“Even if there was a loss of communication, the decision still remains the same,” Pete Alonso said. “If he feels uncomfortable and if he feels like he’s putting his health and his family’s health at risk, then I get it . . . I totally understand where he’s coming from and I respect his decision.”
The communication breakdown made for poor optics. The Mets announced early in the game — a 4-0 loss to the Braves in Atlanta — that Cespedes essentially was AWOL. Later the club said a person dispatched to his hotel room found he’d checked out and departed.
As news trickled out, Alonso said he was “caught off guard.”
“If he felt it was time to go and he didn’t need to spend any more time around here, then I don’t fault him for that,” Brandon Nimmo said. “He said it was for health concerns and so he didn’t want to be around this situation anymore. I don’t fault him for not saying goodbye or anything like that if he felt like it wasn’t good for his safety. So that’s kind of how I’m taking it — and there’s no offense taken.”
Alonso was asked if he’d have done the same and replied, “For me, if I was opting out, if I had to leave or if I had to go? If I had the guys’ numbers, I’d give them a call.”
A number of major league players have opted out of the season, including the Giants’ Buster Posey, the Dodgers’ David Price, the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman and, most recently, the Brewers’ Lorenzo Cain. Others had been hit by COVID-19 to varying effect. Many have had few symptoms, but Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman battled a severe case for a while — he had a 104.5-degree fever — before coming back and Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez will miss the rest of the season with coronavirus-related myocarditis.
“If he felt that he was at risk, then by all means [opt out],” Alonso said. “This is an unprecedented time . . . If you were to come down with a case of COVID, you don’t know how it could impact your health, not just in the short term but in the long term.”
“I knew this was a possibility, people could just walk away,” Nimmo said, speaking generally before addressing Cespedes’ situation. “I had only heard rumors and so I hadn’t talked to Ces personally. But . . . I wasn’t extremely surprised.”
After beginning the season with playoff aspirations, the Mets lost seven of their first 10 games. Cespedes hit .161 with two home runs and four RBIs and never found a groove. But the playoff hopes remain, and achieving them figures to be harder without Cespedes’ game-changing potential.
“With one swing of the bat, he can change the game,” Nimmo said. “Ultimately, in baseball, you can pitch around one guy. So we have a good team right now one through nine, and we’re going to rely on that to try and score runs. We’re going to rely on our pitching staff to try and hold [opponents] down. And I think we’re going to hit this hot streak where we all start clicking on all cylinders.
“He could change the game in one swing, but we’ll just have to find that in different areas.”