Céspedes elects not to play rest of 2020

August 2nd, 2020

Mets outfielder has elected not to play the rest of the season due to COVID-19-related concerns, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said on Sunday. The announcement came hours after Céspedes, according to Van Wagenen, left his hotel room in Atlanta without telling team officials.

The Mets initially released a statement early Sunday afternoon saying that Céspedes was missing and unresponsive to their communications.

Van Wagenen later clarified that the Mets had no inkling of Céspedes’ whereabouts until his agent called Sunday afternoon informing them of his decision not to play. Before learning of that choice, the Mets sent a security guard to investigate Céspedes’ hotel room, which was empty of both his person and belongings. Only later did Céspedes’ agent call to break the news.

“We support everybody’s, and every player’s, right to make this type of decision,” Van Wagenen said. “This is a challenging time for everyone. And so we will support him in that decision. It was surprising, without question. At the same point, we have to go forward and we have to not allow anything to keep us from going forward and attempting to win every game, and not having distractions from it.”

Céspedes, whose pro-rated base salary was worth about $4.07 million over a 60-game season, will forgo the rest of the money owed to him on what was once a four-year, $110 million contract. The move will almost certainly end his time in the Mets organization, though Van Wagenen said he hopes to keep communication lines open with Céspedes while he is still technically under contract.

“Yo’s a great player that I think everyone enjoyed watching play when he was at his best,” said Van Wagenen, one of Céspedes’ former co-agents. “There was optimism for his return. I know how hard he worked in his rehab to get back to this point, and I know this is a disappointing end to at least his four-year agreement with the Mets. But I know it wasn’t for a lack of work ethic on his part to try to get back.”

Céspedes, 34, made the Mets’ Opening Day roster after more than two years away due to heel and ankle injuries. He hit a home run on Opening Day and played in eight of the Mets’ first nine games, but he was out of Sunday’s lineup for what initially appeared to be a routine day of rest. Overall, Céspedes hit .161 with two home runs and 15 strikeouts in 34 plate appearances.

He originally joined the Mets minutes before the Trade Deadline in 2015, hitting 17 homers over a 31-game stretch that summer to lift the Mets to the NL East title. Céspedes re-signed with the team after the season, then opted out of his three-year deal after one season. He subsequently signed a four-year deal with a full no-trade clause, but the Mets restructured it after he fractured his right ankle in a ranch accident.

Given Céspedes’ recovery from both the ankle injury and multiple heel surgeries, the Mets were uncertain if he would be ready for Opening Day, but a three-month delay during Major League Baseball’s coronavirus shutdown, as well as the implementation of a universal DH, made it possible for him to return.

Despite Céspedes’ early slump, Mets officials retained high hopes for him. As recently as Saturday, manager Luis Rojas chatted with Céspedes about his role on the team, including plans to give him a day off.

The two did not speak after the game on Saturday. By Sunday, Céspedes had stopped returning Rojas’ texts.

“These are very tough times,” Rojas said. “Céspedes’ personality, which we all know here, he’s a guy that’s very quiet. He’s very to himself, but everyone gets along with him very well. They know the kinds of conversations they can have with him, and how to interact with him as well. We respect the fact of him making this decision, even if it’s this way.”

Without Céspedes in the mix, the Mets will give more DH reps to Dominic Smith, J.D. Davis, Robinson Canó and perhaps Pete Alonso, with Smith potentially playing first base on those days. No Mets hitter stands to benefit more than Smith, who has started just four of the Mets’ first 10 games despite swinging one of their hottest bats in Summer Camp.