Even in Metsville, the saga of Yoenis Cespedes is a story that stretches the boundaries of rational thought. To think that Brodie Van Wagenen, the agent who negotiated his record four-year, $110 million contract, was among those responsible for seizing back a large chunk of that same deal through an injury-related grievance — he's now the Mets' general manager — is one of the stranger twists I’ve encountered in Flushing.
And I can’t help but remember that day in 2016 when Cespedes and Noah Syndergaard rode horses at the Mets’ spring training complex, a photo op that came back to bite the team a few years later when Cowboy Yo suffered a mysterious multi-fracture ankle mishap at his Port St. Lucie ranch.
The details surrounding that injury in May 2019 have yet to be publicly explained, other than Van Wagenen saying at the time that Cespedes was not hurt falling from a horse. Whatever the cause, we now know this — evidently Cespedes was doing something he should not have been doing while rehabbing from double-heel surgery, and it was a very costly error in judgment on his part.
If only the Mets can be as successful on the field this season as they were in the grievance process against Cespedes, who agreed to forfeit about half of last year’s $29 million salary as well as restructure his 2020 payout. Rather than get a guaranteed $29.5 million in the final season of his deal, Cespedes now will earn roughly $10 million, with incentives that give him a chance to recoup some of the money, according to sources.
This was an extraordinary concession by Cespedes, who must have figured the risk of losing the entire contract was too great. And an obvious victory for the Mets, who not only will scoop up some huge savings on one of their worst deals ever but now might have the chance to benefit from a newly motivated Cespedes.
In retrospect, Friday’s revelation involving Cespedes fills in a lot of blanks. The Mets have mostly kept mum about his condition since the grievance and acted quickly to remove an Instagram video of him taking BP with Endy Chavez last month. But as things moved toward a resolution, Van Wagenen opened up a little more — saying this week that Cespedes had progressed to running — and also began waving some money around at the winter meetings by signing Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello to deals that could be worth a combined $20 million this year.
It remains unclear, however, to what degree the Cespedes refund might impact the Mets’ 2020 payroll. Typically, the Wilpons have been reluctant to reinvest such savings back into the team, as in the case of the insurance money they received from Cespedes and David Wright. Before this Cespedes development, the Mets already were bumping up against the $208 million luxury-tax threshold, and his money is weighed by the average annual value of the entire contract, not factored in by each individual year.
Of course, that extra Cespedes cash could always be put toward paying the luxury tax, if the Wilpons choose to go over the threshold. As first-time offenders, they’d be subject to only a 20% tax rate on every dollar beyond that. Last year, only three teams went over — the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs.
If history holds and the Mets choose not to splurge with the Yo money, there is one other potential advantage from the grievance. Cespedes is heading into his walk year with a much lighter bank account than he previously imagined, and that should make him doubly motivated to produce in a Mets uniform.
The only question is whether Cespedes, 34, will be physically capable of doing so. He already faced an uphill climb after the double-heel surgery to fix an existing condition that Cespedes had been dealing with since he first was traded to the Mets in the middle of the 2015 season. Then he further complicated matters with the multiple ankle fractures that required another operation to repair.
As long as Cespedes can stand upright, he should be able to hit. But will he be able to play the outfield well enough to be a consistent force for the Mets once he is cleared for duty? No one knows the answer to that yet.
“If he's at his best, he's a high-impact performer,” Van Wagenen said. “We'll have to see how that plays out.”
Who can even remember Cespedes at his best? In the past three seasons, he’s played a total of 119 major-league games, and zero of any sort since July 2018.
The Mets probably believe they’ve already gotten everything they could out of Cespedes . . . this time by taking it from him.