Cespedes confident he'll return to field in 2019

Out until at least the All-Star break, Mets slugger to begin baseball activities next week

February 15th, 2019

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- does not know if it will be in July, or August, or September. But he does firmly believe that at some point this season, he will return to uniform with the Mets.
In the interim, Cespedes' life has become a slog of daily workouts as he tries to ramp back into game shape. Almost four months removed from the second of two surgeries to remove calcification and bone spurs from both heels, Cespedes expects to begin baseball activities next week. But he doesn't know when doctors will clear him to begin hitting, shagging fly balls or, most importantly, running.
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"It's been frustrating for me so far because I love baseball, and I've been out of the game now for a few months," Cespedes said through an interpreter, making his first public comments since September. "I don't really know what to do with myself. I'm pretty bored. I want to start with the team, but I just can't right now at the moment."
The truth is that no one -- not the Mets, not their doctors, nor their trainers, their coaches or anyone else -- knows when Cespedes can return. When he last took the field on July 20, Cespedes was attempting to play through the heel, hip, hamstring and quad injuries that have dogged him throughout his Mets career. Subsequent examination revealed that his heels were the root of his medical issues; fix them, doctors said, and he should be able to return to 100 percent.
So Cespedes underwent twin surgeries in August and October, giving himself an eight- to 10-month timeframe to return. That was a best-case scenario; more recently, those close to Cespedes have pegged the All-Star break as his best-case return date. His surgeries have little precedent among Major League players other than , who underwent similar operations early last year and is still trying to make it back to the field.
"I do feel a lot better," Cespedes said. "I can't even tell you at the moment that I'm at 50 percent, but when I used to wake up, I would struggle walking. Now, even at this stage of the rehab, I can definitely walk without any pain."
The most significant test for Cespedes will be running, which he says he can't attempt until doctors clear it -- and that may not occur for several more weeks or even months. So while the Mets are hopeful to receive meaningful contributions from Cespedes in 2019, they're trying to keep their expectations low.
"I think we all saw how valuable he was in the past," manager Mickey Callaway said, "impacting a team and putting them over the edge. ... We're going to let him get to where he can come back and be that guy that is going to be impactful, and be the 100 percent Yoenis that he can be. We have time. I know he's itching to get out there. But that's kind of how I see it as a manager at this point."
Return date aside, there are no guarantees that once Cespedes comes back he will ever be a 30-homer, middle-of-the-order slugger again. Yet Cespedes, now 33, has been consistent in saying he underwent the surgeries with hope of rediscovering that form.
"When I do return, I plan on being 100 percent like I was in 2015," Cespedes said. "My body will be at 100 percent like it was in 2015, and that's what I plan on doing."
Back then, Cespedes was the catalyst for a Mets team that acquired him in a blockbuster non-waiver Trade Deadline deal with the Tigers, then rode his otherworldly second half to the National League pennant. The Mets re-signed Cespedes that winter, then again a year later to a four-year, $110 million contract -- a significant portion of which they have recouped through insurance.
In two seasons since signing, Cespedes has appeared in 119 games, producing a .282 batting average, 26 homers and an .869 OPS. The rest of the time, he has been sidelined, shying away from watching games on television because of how they make him feel.
"It's frustrating to watch, me knowing that I can't help," Cespedes said. "But this year, I'm going to be trying to watch a lot more, so I can call the players and I can be rooting for them and supporting them in the best way that I can.
"I can't really speak for myself, but what I can say is we have a great team. And God willing, if I do get back, I can help the best way I can."