Mets eye 'real impact' from Céspedes in lineup

Van Wagenen talks rehabbing players, Tebow, rotation makeup

June 29th, 2020

NEW YORK -- The Mets expect to be a significant part of their 2020 title pursuit, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Monday, despite uncertainty over a player who has not appeared in a professional game in nearly two full years.

“We’ll have to evaluate how the next few days go, but we’re optimistic,” Van Wagenen said in his first extensive public comments since March. “His bat can be a real impact, and can be a little bit of a separator for us as we compare ourselves to the rest of the teams in the league.”

When the Mets departed Spring Training in mid-March, Céspedes was regularly taking batting practice and participating in defensive drills, but he hadn’t run at full speed since undergoing multiple heel surgeries and fracturing his right ankle in a 2019 ranch accident. Van Wagenen did not provide a comprehensive health update on Céspedes, nor did he say whether the Mets think it’s possible the former Gold Glove left fielder can contribute anything defensively. Still, the GM’s overall tone was one of optimism for Céspedes, who has hit .282/.346/.543 since arriving in Flushing in 2015.

Even if Céspedes cannot play the field, he figures to start often as the Mets’ designated hitter.

“Ces is an incredible athlete,” Van Wagenen said. “When he’s 100 percent healthy, he’s got a dynamic skillset with all five tools. We’ll want to make sure we put him in a position to be able to utilize those tools that he has.”

Van Wagenen’s tone was less sanguine regarding Jed Lowrie, who spent Spring Training continuing to recover from the myriad left-side issues that limited him to just eight plate appearances last season. Mets officials have indicated that Lowrie won’t be able to play in games until he sheds the bulky brace that runs from his left ankle up to mid-thigh. He has yet to do so, despite having three extra months of recovery time.

“It’s been a long time since he’s played in a real game,” Van Wagenen said. “He’s had a situation where he was playing in a rehab brace … over the course of Spring Training. Our hope is that he’ll be able to continue to transition out of that brace, and start to see some more advanced action.”

Finally, outfielder Michael Conforto is fully recovered from the right oblique strain that once had him questionable for Opening Day. Van Wagenen called the time off “a gift” for Conforto, who will have no physical restrictions when camp reopens on Friday.

Coronavirus concerns
A player on the Mets’ 40-man roster recently tested positive for COVID-19, according to Van Wagenen, and is currently recovering. The Mets are hopeful that the player will be ready to participate in workouts when they begin this Friday at Citi Field, but they are monitoring him closely and will take whatever precautions necessary to keep the rest of the roster safe.

Overall, Van Wagenen said, the Mets have “been incredibly fortunate” given the number of positive tests around MLB and the country at large. The Mets have had other Minor League players test positive for the coronavirus, but none at their Clover Park facility in Florida.

Relatedly, no Mets players have elected not to play this season for safety reasons, as D-backs pitcher Mike Leake and Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman said they will do. The Mets expect all 50 players currently in their 60-man pool to report to Citi Field this week.

So you’re saying there’s a chance
Absent from the Mets’ player pool is outfielder Tim Tebow, who did not make the initial roster of 45 players that the Mets submitted Sunday to MLB. However, Van Wagenen indicated that Tebow remains a “consideration” to take up one of the team’s remaining 10 spots after five more were added Monday.

It would be near impossible for the Mets’ baseball operations department to justify using a spot on Tebow, considering he was cut from camp early in Spring Training and has hit just .233 with a .638 OPS over the first three seasons of his professional career. But Tebow, if nothing else, is marketable. If the Mets don’t feel they need all 60 slots for baseball reasons, they could perhaps carry Tebow with plans to activate him if they fall out of contention. If the Mets don’t place Tebow in their 60-man player pool, they won’t be able to change their mind unless they keep an open spot for him.

Pitching inside the box
Despite the prospect of a shortened, 60-game MLB season, the Mets do not plan to do anything abnormal with their starting rotation -- at least at first. Van Wagenen indicated that the Mets will proceed with a traditional five-man rotation of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, in some order.

However, the GM indicated that the Mets could use their expanded roster as a way to get creative with pitching -- potentially by having scheduled bullpen days if their starters need extra rest, for example, or by using swingmen Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman in untraditional roles. It may not be Plan A for the Mets, but it’s something they could pursue later in the summer.

“We will always be thinking creatively on how to use our players most effectively,” Van Wagenen said. “Having Seth, having Robert Gsellman, both guys that have real flexibility to be multi-inning guys or even be starting pitchers in some capacity, are advantages that I think we have, and that shouldn’t be lost in the depth that we have with starting pitching.”

Noah Syndergaard, who was part of that depth before undergoing Tommy John surgery in March, will remain in Florida to complete his rehab program at the Mets’ facilities there.