MIAMI -- Earlier this season, while rehabbing from yet another leg injury, Yoenis Cespedes reflected on his career since coming from the United States. During his first two years in Oakland, Cespedes struggled to stay healthy, battling leg injuries that cost him a chunk of each season. After re-signing with the Mets in 2016, Cespedes again fell victim to a two-year string of muscle pulls.
The notable exception was 2015, when Cespedes played in 159 games for the Tigers and Mets. Prior to that campaign, he made it his goal to steal more than 30 bases, an element of his game he had mostly abandoned. Though Cespedes fell well short of that goal, he believes the running program he undertook to achieve it allowed his quads and hamstrings to remain healthy.
Now, heading into a critical age-32 offseason, Cespedes aims to duplicate that program.
"It's been really frustrating after six years, to have this season be one where I've only played 81 games," Cespedes said through an interpreter Tuesday, taking a break from rehabbing his season-ending hamstring strain to visit his Mets teammates in Miami. "I love being out on the field, and I love playing baseball, and just sort of seeing the state of the team, it has been really hard not being able to be here for them to help out."
When healthy this season, Cespedes was productive, batting .292 with 17 home runs and an .892 OPS. But he made separate trips to the disabled list with left and right hamstring strains, a year after missing significant time due to quad and hamstring pulls. Overall, Cespedes, who signed a four-year, $110 million deal last winter, has averaged 107 games per season since 2016.
Though some have pointed to his heavy weightlifting regimen as a reason for his injuries, Cespedes called it "a lifetime thing ever since I was in Cuba," and said he has no plans to stop. He also plans to continue training with Mike Barwis, who is coordinating his current rehab efforts in Florida.
The difference will be his running program.
"I definitely wasn't dedicating the time I needed to be running, to really giving resistance to my muscles," Cespedes said. "So although I started out strong, I could tell during the season my muscles probably weren't able to keep up. They were definitely wearing out. So I figured out that that's really where the change needs to be."
The Mets are desperate for this latest plan to work, knowing how important Cespedes is to their offense, and how large a chunk of their payroll he absorbs. Even defensively, Cespedes said he often treaded carefully in left field this summer, knowing "in the back of my mind there was always that chance that something could happen."
In a way, Cespedes has become a microcosm of his team -- talented on paper, but unable to stay healthy with any consistency. Cespedes is as capable as anyone of changing the Mets' fortunes next summer, though when asked about the club's impending offseason, he replied that other changes "will need to happen" as well.
"I think the pitching we definitely have," Cespedes said. "It would be nice to see some veterans in this clubhouse next year. Obviously it's not that these guys, the younger guys can't do it. It's just always helpful. You don't just get to a playoff without having a few more veteran presences in your clubhouse. But I think that we have a good team."