Céspedes trade a new possibility for Mets

December 21st, 2019

NEW YORK -- The effects of ' contract restructuring are wide-ranging. For Céspedes, the deal means he must take the field on a regular basis to recoup a majority portion of his old $29.5 million salary via incentives. For the Mets, it means a less complicated path for Céspedes’ return.

It also opens the possibility that Céspedes could play elsewhere. Since the Mets announced Céspedes’ contract restructuring last Friday, multiple teams have inquired about him in trade talks, according to a source. Nothing is imminent, and the lingering uncertainty regarding Céspedes’ health could be a barrier to any deal.

But it is a new possibility that didn’t exist a week ago, when Céspedes' $29.5 million guaranteed salary was an albatross. As part of their settlement with Céspedes, the Mets slashed that number to $11 million, according to a source, with a provision that they can further reduce it to $6 million if he goes on the injured list due to an ankle or heel injury. Céspedes can, however, earn back roughly half of his lost salary via incentives.

Céspedes, 34, insisted on a full no-trade clause when he signed his four-year, $110 million contract before the 2017 season, but would now have two obvious incentives to waive it. One, he is employed by a team that successfully filed a grievance against him, recouping salary following a ranch accident early this year. Two, he is a year away from free agency, and -- given the state of his legs -- might be better suited to post strong numbers if he can spend time as a designated hitter. The White Sox and Rays are among teams with available playing time at that position.

The Mets continue to search for bullpen and catching upgrades, and have discussed shedding Jed Lowrie’s $10 million salary as a way to clear payroll. Céspedes presents another avenue to that end.

For now, a deal remains unlikely, mostly because of the uncertainty surrounding Céspedes’ health. He recently began hitting, throwing and running at the team’s Spring Training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., but Céspedes has not played in a professional game since July 2018. The Mets should have a better gauge on his progress by early next year, perhaps opening the door for further conversations with teams during the season.

“If he’s at his best, he’s a high-impact performer,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said last week at the Winter Meetings in San Diego. “We’ll have to see how that plays out.”

The Mets’ marquee acquisition at the 2015 Trade Deadline, Céspedes led the team to the World Series that year, signed a new three-year contract afterward, then opted out following the first year of that deal. He subsequently inked a new four-year, $110 million contract, but has appeared in only 119 games since that time.

Following his July 2018 shutdown, Céspedes underwent surgeries to remove calcification and bone spurs from both of his heels; during his recovery, he broke his ankle in a ranch accident that prompted the Mets to file a grievance against him. His contract restructuring occurred as a settlement of that grievance.

Céspedes’ last full season came in 2016, when he hit 31 home runs with an .884 OPS in 132 games. He has not spoken publicly since before his ranch accident early this year, though on Thursday, ESPN analyst Eduardo Pérez referenced a conversation he recently had with the two-time All-Star.

“He’s hungry,” Pérez said on MLB Network Radio. “He said, ‘I’m ready. I’m going to go out with a bang this year and I’m not just going to hit 40 home runs … I’ll be out there for 140-plus games.’”