On a scale of 1 to 10, Céspedes a 'twelve'

February 23rd, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Since September, has woken up at 5 a.m. daily to complete his regimen of treatment and rehab exercises. Slowly, he has regained range of motion in his lower body, following multiple heel surgeries and a ranch accident that resulted in a broken right ankle.

In the early days of Mets camp, Céspedes has been a limited participant, taking batting and fielding practice with his teammates but also leaving them at various points to spend time with Mets trainers. For weeks, his exact status has been something of a mystery, due to a self-imposed media exile that he said would stay in place for the entire season.

It wound up lasting a week. Céspedes broke his silence early Sunday morning, proclaiming that he intends to be ready for Opening Day.

“If I continue progressing the way that I am, yes,” he said through an interpreter, adding that he feels “good” and is “happy with the progress.”

“Every day, I’m still working to get better and better,” Céspedes continued. “It’s not as fast as I want it to be, but as the season approaches, I’m feeling like I’m really good right now.”

Céspedes, who has not played since July 2018, would not discuss the ranch accident involving a wild boar that resulted in his broken ankle.

“I’m not going to speak about the past,” Céspedes said. “I committed an error and I paid the price for it, but today I’ll be talking about the present and the future.”

To avoid a grievance hearing stemming from the accident, he accepted a restructured contract that slashed its guaranteed value from $29.5 million to $6 million, plus up to $14 million in playing time incentives. (According to a source, the base value of Céspedes' deal will permanently increase to $11 million, on a pro-rated basis, whenever he is activated. He can earn up to another $9 million based on his number of plate appearances.) Céspedes insisted the reduced deal is not a motivating factor for him heading into 2020.

“To be honest, no. I think the money’s important, but regardless, I was going to come in with the same motivation, whether the money was the same or any different,” Céspedes said. “I think the most important part, a big part of the motivation, is the people who have been out there and have been saying that I can’t do it. So I’m going out there to prove that I can.”

Despite his optimism about Opening Day, Céspedes does not expect to play in Grapefruit League games until mid-March. He believes that will be enough time to prepare because he already feels “90 or 95 percent” defensively, despite the fact that “in terms of running, I’m at about 80 percent.” Regarding hitting, Céspedes is even more confident, calling that “one of the skills that you never forget.”

Few hit better than Céspedes down the stretch in 2015, when he clubbed 17 homers in 57 games after a midseason trade from the Tigers to the Mets. The team re-signed him after the season and he responded with another fine campaign in '16, batting .280/.354/.530 with 31 home runs in 132 games. When Céspedes opted out of his contract, the Mets re-signed him again on a four-year, $110 million deal with a full no-trade clause. The final year of that contract was worth $29.5 million until Céspedes restructured it.

Appearing in only 119 games from 2017-18, Céspedes suffered multiple lower-body injuries before committing to multiple surgeries -- one on each heel -- in July 2018. He was recovering from those operations when his ranch accident happened.

Still, Céspedes remains confident that, at age 34, he can contribute a vintage season. He called the idea of hitting 40 home runs “possible,” albeit “all dependent on my legs.” Already this spring, Céspedes has impressed Mets manager Luis Rojas and other coaches in live batting practice, nearly hitting a home run off Michael Wacha on the first day of those drills.

He intends to continue progressing. Asked how motivated he is on a scale of 1 to 10, Céspedes answered immediately in English: “Twelve.”

“I’m feeling good out there,” he added. “I think if my legs are ready for Opening Day, I’ll be ready to go.”