PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
For those wondering why the Mets are treading carefully with an extension for Jacob deGrom, we present Yoenis Cespedes, who will spend most of this $29 million season rehabbing from double-heel surgery.
“God willing, if I do get back,” Cespedes said Friday, “I’ll help the best way that I can.”
In the meantime, all the Mets will get is an insurance payout on his $110 million contract, just as they did on the back end of David Wright’s $138 million deal, and whatever the team managed to recoup of Johan Santana’s $137.5 million contract before him.
Seeing a trend here? It’s been a troubling rite of spring for these Mets: the club’s highest-paid player, sitting at his locker, hopelessly mired in a lengthy rehab situation, with no timetable for playing.
For the past few years, it had been Wright’s corner spot, with the captain sidelined by disabling back and neck issues. Now that Wright is gone — Robinson Cano is in his former stall — the sunk-cost spotlight is on Cespedes, who has averaged 60 games with 13 homers and 36 RBIs in the two seasons since the Mets made him the top-paid outfielder (by average annual value) in the sport.
The architect of that deal? None other than Brodie Van Wagenen, who as the Mets’ general manager now is getting burned by the same record contract he negotiated while he was Cespedes’ agent with CAA.
Evidently, Van Wagenen isn’t in any hurry for that to happen again with deGrom — another former client — especially now that the people writing those checks are his bosses.
No doubt the Wilpons still are smarting over the Wright contract, which became a terrible investment shortly after the ink dried. That’s not a knock against the captain. It just was awful luck, as a degenerative back problem and a freakish injury steadily eroded his performance and ultimately forced his retirement.
Over the length of that contract, he appeared on the field in only four of the six years (not counting last September’s two-game cameo) and averaged 65 games. He had a total of 38 homers and 152 RBIs during that four-year span.
As for Santana, he already had won a pair of Cy Young Awards before the Mets acquired him from the Twins, then gave him a six-year, $137.5 million extension. From there, he delivered three great seasons in Flushing (40-25, 2.85 ERA, 600 innings) before needing two capsule repairs on the left shoulder, costing him a season each time.
In 2013, when Santana peaked at $25.5 million, he didn’t throw a pitch. Two years later, his career was over.
Santana and Wright had been the richest Mets, by annual salary, before Cespedes came on board, and now he’s stuck carrying out their injury-riddled legacies, with his immediate future in question. But as much as we like to question the Mets’ judgment when it comes to roster assembly, or rip them for being tight in free agency, signing each of these players was applauded at the time.
Trading for Santana and locking him up long-term was considered a boss move by then-general manager Omar Minaya. As for Wright, such a mega-deal (for a player turning 30) went against Sandy Alderson’s credo, but he had no choice but to reward the face of the franchise, a six-time All-Star by then and a perennial MVP candidate.
The Mets found themselves in a similar bind with Cespedes, whose bat almost single-handedly propelled them to the playoffs (.942 OPS, 17 homers in 57 games) after the deadline trade for him in 2015. Amid a loud public outcry to re-sign him (guilty as charged), Alderson did so twice, with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon working closely with Van Wagenen on those deals.
To date, Cespedes has missed more games than he’s played in, and that’s likely to continue this season, as no one has any realistic idea when he’ll return.
For what it’s worth, his heels are pain-free now, and he sounds confident of regaining his 2015 slugging prowess, even at age 33. His best estimate, however, figures to have him in the lineup after the All-Star break, if at all.
“When I do return, I plan on being 100 percent,” he said.
The Mets, though cautiously optimistic, aren’t banking on it. History has taught them otherwise.