'Too early to tell' if Céspedes plays in 2020

November 4th, 2019

NEW YORK -- Heading into a critical offseason full of roster concerns, the Mets have no idea if Yoenis Céspedes will be physically capable of playing in 2020.

Asked several times Monday about Céspedes’ status, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen offered different versions of the same answer: “Too early to tell.”

“At this point, Ces is rehabbing,” Van Wagenen said. “We’ll obviously evaluate his health and performance as we get closer.”

And again: “We’ll take it day by day. As you guys have heard us talk about injuries in the past, it’s impossible to predict the future. So we’ll wait and see.”

And finally: “To be clear, I do not have enough information to predict when he’s going to be back.”

Céspedes, who has one year and $29.5 million left on the $110 million contract that Van Wagenen helped negotiate, has not played since announcing in July 2018 that he would undergo twin operations to remove bone matter and calcification from each of his heels. The Mets hoped he might join them for the second half of 2019, but Céspedes fractured his right ankle in a “violent fall” at his ranch in Florida early last summer, and he has been rehabbing from that injury, as well as his other surgeries, ever since.

The Mets are recouping at least some portion of Céspedes’ contract via insurance, but they have not reinvested that into player payroll. As such, his status is a concern entering the winter.

“I think you have to be openminded to everything in the offseason,” Van Wagenen said. “We went into last year with a little bit of uncertainty on the same level with Ces, and we’ll continue to make sure we have depth options and have impact players around the diamond.”

Originally coming to New York in a July 2015 trade with the Tigers, Céspedes returned on a three-year deal that winter, then opted out of the final two seasons to negotiate his current four-year deal. Since signing that contract, he has appeared in only 119 games, batting .282/.343/.525 with 26 homers. Céspedes is 34 years old, and on Opening Day, he will be 21 months removed from his last professional at-bat.

The Mets do have a fair amount of outfield depth in-house, with Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil all capable of starting. The greater issue is Céspedes’ salary, given its potential to affect the Mets’ offseason pursuits. Asked when he might have a better idea about the onetime star outfielder, Van Wagenen demurred.

“I think it’s still premature,” the GM said. “I don’t have enough information to be able to guess what the future holds.”

Coach in the jackpot?

Terry Collins may or may not become Carlos Beltrán’s bench coach, but he is going to help Beltrán in his new job one way or the other.

“Terry Collins will be one of my mentors,” Beltrán said Monday after his introductory press conference. “I love Terry Collins. Terry Collins has reached out to me in a way where if I need help, I can reach out to him. I don’t know if he wants to get back in the game or not, but the fact that he’s reaching out to me and wants to mentor me in this position, I will take any help available out there.”

Beltrán has already started putting together a list of coaching staff candidates, and he will begin interviewing them next week. The Mets have an opening at bench coach after declining to renew the contract of Jim Riggleman. The statuses of the rest of former manager Mickey Callaway’s coaches are unknown, though team officials have lauded the work of both pitching coach Phil Regan and hitting coach Chili Davis. Both are said to be strong candidates to return.

Collins, 70, managed Beltrán for only half a season, but Beltrán counts the former National League pennant winner among his most significant mentors. That alone makes him a strong candidate for bench coach, particularly considering Beltrán’s lack of managerial and coaching experience.

“He was able to reach out to me in a way that no other manager did,” Beltrán said. “My relationship with Terry Collins is A-plus.”

Money talks

The Mets have the financial ability to add top free agents this winter, Van Wagenen said, though he indicated that one of those players may not be a roster fit.

Asked specifically about third baseman Anthony Rendon, Van Wagenen pointed to in-house solutions Jeff McNeil, J.D. Davis and Jed Lowrie, who are all capable of playing the position.

“I think we’ve got some depth at that position,” Van Wagenen said. “But as we look to reconfigure and find ways to get better offensively and defensively, we’ll consider a variety of different things. The same goes for the pitching staff.”

In recent offseasons, the Mets have largely avoided the most expensive free agents available. Van Wagenen indicated that money won’t be an object this offseason, despite the fact that pursuing top free agents would likely require the Mets’ payroll to spike. Projected raises to arbitration-eligible players, as well as to those under guaranteed contracts, mean the team’s 2020 payroll may exceed last year’s total before the Mets add a single player.

“We’ll enter the offseason … trying to find the right players for our roster,” the GM said. “We’ll make recommendations to Jeff [Wilpon] and ownership at that point when we find the right player at the right price whether it’s a trade or whether it’s a free-agent signing, and then we’ll present it to ownership and I’m confident we’ll have the support.”

According to Van Wagenen, the Mets’ priorities will be adding to the rotation (with relievers Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman both starting pitching candidates), fortifying the bullpen and improving team defense.

More on Fonzie’s switch

Van Wagenen called his decision to demote popular Class A Brooklyn manager Edgardo Alfonzo “a player development decision,” indicating that Alfonzo was not the team’s best option despite winning a New York-Penn League championship in 2019.

“It wasn’t a specific thing,” Van Wagenen said. “Edgardo’s been a good soldier to the organization and will continue to be. … I just want to keep ourselves on the path of putting our players in the best situation.”

Alfonzo, who managed Brooklyn for three seasons, accepted his new role as a team ambassador last month. Van Wagenen declined to say what specifically led to his demotion.

“We’re focused on his community role going forward, not his player development role,” the GM said.

Minor moves

The Mets added two left-handed pitchers to their 40-man roster on Monday, selecting the contract of Blake Taylor from Triple-A Syracuse and claiming Stephen Gonsalves off waivers from the Twins. The moves put their roster at 37 players entering the start of free agency.

Taylor, 24, is a former second-round Draft pick who could have become a Minor League free agent had the Mets not added him to their roster. He ended the season at Syracuse after spending most of the year at lower levels of the farm system, producing a 2.16 ERA overall with 74 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.

Gonsalves, 25, was the Twins’ 18th-ranked prospect but also could have become a Minor League free agent due to his service time. He missed most of 2019 due to injury, which made him expendable despite his 2.76 ERA over 120 2/3 Minor League innings in 2018. Gonsalves gives the Mets some additional rotation depth heading into the winter.