Céspedes takes swings, declines to talk publicly

February 17th, 2020

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- At around 10:30 a.m. Monday, emerged from the Mets' clubhouse to participate in stretches with the team. Fifteen minutes later, he ducked behind the batting cage alone, only to resurface on a back field later in the morning. Céspedes signed autographs and posed for selfies for a long while, then took live batting practice against pitcher . On one of his first swings, he lost his grip on his bat, launching it over the third-base dugout. On another, he pulled a would-be home run just foul.

Those snapshots provided the only real insights into Céspedes’ day. Asked to speak publicly Monday for the first time in roughly a year, Céspedes responded, “No.”

“Not today, not tomorrow, not at all this year,” he said.

Asked why not, Céspedes responded: “I don’t want to.”

Then he splashed some cologne on top of his baseball uniform, and walked away.

If Céspedes holds to that statement, the world may never know how he feels about his wild boar accident and restructured contract, both of which occurred after he last spoke publicly. Eventually, fans will get a better gauge on his health, depending on whether he can participate in games. For now, the Mets also aren’t saying, outside of noting that Céspedes has been a limited participant in workouts.

“Right now, he’s in a progression, but he’s able to participate in some of the activities that we have,” manager Luis Rojas said.

The question is what Céspedes will be able to do on Day 2 and Day 3, and so on and so forth. The Mets have not revealed whether Céspedes will be ready to participate when Grapefruit League games begin this weekend. They certainly aren’t saying whether they expect him to be ready for Opening Day.

Céspedes has not played since July 20, 2018. After that game, he revealed he needed multiple surgeries to remove calcification from both of his heels. During his recovery, Céspedes fractured his ankle at his Florida ranch; sources later confirmed that the accident stemmed from an encounter with a wild boar. To avoid a grievance, Céspedes agreed to cut his base salary from $29.5 million to a reported $6 million, plus heavy incentives that could bring the value back up to $20 million.

He is not willing to talk about any of that, nor is he willing to discuss how he is feeling, what his expectations are for 2020, or anything else relevant at the dawn of camp.

“His mindset is really to go into the progression, to get into the feel of doing the activity out there,” Rojas said. “He claims, ‘It’s almost been like two years since I’ve seen pitchers.’ But he was ticking the ball. He was on time. That’s not easy to do. So he’s happy that he’s joining the guys, he’s joining the team and he’s doing the activities. I think he felt good about his timing today and how some things played out during the workout.”

On the first day of full-squad workouts, Céspedes and reliever Dellin Betances were the only players limited. The other 61 Mets in camp, including infielder Jed Lowrie, participated fully.

For Céspedes, being limited means spending time during the day working with the Mets’ performance staff, which aids in physical therapy and rehab. Otherwise, he can participate in most activities; Rojas noted in particularly that Céspedes performed well in running drills. During regular batting practice, he hit multiple home runs.

“We’re happy he went through the day today,” Rojas said. “It’s a big day for him. He joined the guys and that’s where our focus is going to be with him -- that he’s going through the day and he’s being able to progress into playing at some point. We don’t have a timeline, but we’re happy that he did some activity with the rest of his teammates today. That’s our focus right now.”