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From Shinjo to Yo: Mets' trade tree to Céspedes

@_dadler
May 3, 2020

Yoenis Céspedes has been the center of attention ever since he arrived in New York at the 2015 Trade Deadline in one of the biggest whirlwinds in Mets history. You know everything that's happened since Wilmer Flores' emotional reaction to the apparent news that he'd been traded changed baseball history

Yoenis Céspedes has been the center of attention ever since he arrived in New York at the 2015 Trade Deadline in one of the biggest whirlwinds in Mets history.

You know everything that's happened since Wilmer Flores' emotional reaction to the apparent news that he'd been traded changed baseball history -- from Céspedes revitalizing a stagnant Mets offense and igniting their pennant run, to his Spring Training horse-riding, to his untimely run-in with a wild boar, to the star slugger's current comeback attempt.

More Trade Trees

But did you know you can trace the roots of the Céspedes trade all the way back to another swashbuckling Mets outfielder, whose flair on and off the field made him one of the team's most memorable characters? We're talking, of course, about the one and only Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

The Mets' signing of the flamboyant Japanese center fielder -- whose Mets-orange armbands were the ancestor to Céspedes' neon green arm sleeve -- was the first in a long line of steps that ultimately made it possible for New York to land Céspedes.

Here's how the Mets went from Shinjo to Yo.

Dec. 11, 2000: Mets sign Shinjo from Hanshin Tigers

The Mets made Shinjo just the second Japanese position player to come to the Major Leagues -- right after Ichiro Suzuki, who had signed with the Mariners weeks earlier. Ichiro might have been the superstar on the field. But the 28-year-old Shinjo, who turned down a $12 million offer from his NPB team to sign with the Mets for $700,000, was an off-the-field idol.

Omar Minaya, then in charge of the team's international scouting, called Shinjo a "heartthrob" in his scouting report. When Shinjo was introduced at Shea Stadium, an unnamed Mets employee told The New York Times: "If he plays as good as he looks, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Shinjo played a fine center field for the Mets in 2001 and hit .268 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs in 123 games. He crushed his first MLB homer against the Braves in his Shea Stadium debut. But forget all that. Shinjo captured the spotlight with his colorful idiosyncrasies, from his fashion-model style to his dyed-red hair to the way he hopped when he caught fly balls.

But the Mets finished 82-80 and missed the playoffs a year after reaching the World Series, so that offseason they sent Shinjo to San Francisco in an attempt to solidify their starting rotation.

Dec. 16, 2001: Mets trade Shinjo and Desi Relaford to Giants for Shawn Estes

Estes, an All-Star with the Giants in 1997, didn't provide the starting-pitching boost the Mets were hoping for. The 29-year-old left-hander went 4-9 with a 4.55 ERA in his 23 starts for the Mets, and he didn't even make it a full season in New York -- although he did endear himself to the Shea Stadium fans by belting a home run off Roger Clemens, a Mets villain due to his feud with Mike Piazza.

In mid-August, the Mets were under .500 and 20 games out of the National League East race behind the Braves. They traded Estes to the Reds, who were still in the NL Wild Card race and wanted a starter. Mets GM Steve Phillips said it was "a baseball decision and a talent decision, and it doesn't hinder us at all this year.''

Aug. 15, 2002: Mets trade Estes to Reds for Pedro Feliciano, Elvin Beltre and two players to be named (Raul Gonzalez and Brady Clark)

New York got four prospects in the deal, but the one who matters is a reliever who was almost 26 years old and hadn't pitched a day in the Majors when the Mets acquired him: Pedro Feliciano.

Feliciano would eventually become a key lefty specialist for the powerhouse 2006 Mets team that came within a game of reaching the World Series. He had a 2.09 ERA in 64 relief appearances that year, and in the following seasons became such a reliable bullpen arm for the Mets -- he led the Majors in appearances three straight years from 2008-10 -- that he earned the nickname "Perpetual Pedro."

Jan. 3, 2011: Feliciano signs with Yankees as free agent, Mets get Draft pick

This is where the foundation of the Céspedes trade comes in sight on the horizon. It's also where the trade tree almost fell apart. The Mets had to keep bringing Feliciano back, and their attachment to him paid far bigger dividends than they could have realized.

New York re-signed Feliciano three different times between 2003 and '06. The first time, he'd been claimed off waivers by the Tigers but released before the Mets re-signed him right at the start of the '03 season. The last time, in February 2006, the Mets had to bring back Feliciano all the way from Japan, where he'd pitched the '05 season for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Perpetual Pedro finally left the Mets for the Yankees as a free agent in the 2011 offseason. And it's the compensatory Draft pick the Mets got in return that was the crux of the Céspedes trade.

June 6, 2011: Mets draft Michael Fulmer 44th overall with Feliciano comp pick

Who knew the Mets' fondness for Pedro Feliciano could make the difference between the 2015 team having Yoenis Céspedes and not having Yoenis Céspedes?

When Feliciano signed with the Yankees, the Mets received a supplemental first-round pick in that year's MLB Draft. They used that pick, No. 44 overall, to select Michael Fulmer, a high school right-hander from Oklahoma.

By July 2015, Fulmer was rated New York's No. 7 prospect. Then came the night of Wednesday, July 29, when the Mets' would-be trade with the Brewers for Carlos Gómez evaporated. Fulmer became the centerpiece of the Mets' 11th-hour negotiations with the Tigers for a new outfielder, Céspedes. The Mets didn't want to trade Fulmer, whom they regarded as their top pitching prospect. But minutes before the Trade Deadline, the Mets made the deal.

July 31, 2015: Mets trade Fulmer and Luis Cessa to Tigers for Céspedes

The rest is history. Céspedes was an instant superstar in the Big Apple, slugging the Mets into the postseason with 17 home runs in 57 games down the stretch.

"His presence in the lineup and on the team will raise the energy level, and I hope it raises the energy level in the dugout and in the stands," GM Sandy Alderson said after the Mets got Céspedes. "This is a player that can have a big impact both in terms of on the field and how the team is perceived."

Alderson's words came true. The Mets would have never made it to the World Series without Céspedes. So New York couldn't help but re-sign him that winter. And after Céspedes hit 31 more homers in an All-Star 2016, winning a Silver Slugger Award and leading the Mets to a Wild Card berth, the Mets re-signed him again -- to the richest free-agent contract in team history.

"He obviously helps put butts in seats," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said. "People want to see him."

"When the guy plays, we win," Alderson said. "It's hard to ignore that. So we didn't."

Céspedes' subsequent injuries have kept him from taking the field for New York since July 20, 2018. But the comeback attempt is underway. Hopefully, when baseball returns, so will La Potencia.

After Yo

What about the other players involved in the Céspedes trade?

Fulmer became the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and a 2017 All-Star for the Tigers, and he's still with Detroit but recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Tigers are optimistic about his upcoming return.

Detroit started a new trade tree with Cessa, the Mets' throw-in with Fulmer. The Tigers traded Cessa and Chad Green to the Yankees for lefty reliever Justin Wilson on Dec. 9, 2015. They then traded Wilson and catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs at the 2017 Trade Deadline for Jeimer Candelario and their current No. 5 prospect, 21-year-old third baseman and shortstop Isaac Paredes.

For the Yankees, Green became a valuable setup man, and Cessa has contributed as a long man and spot starter. Wilson turned his performance with the Cubs into a free-agent contract with … the Mets.

Oh, there's also this: Shinjo, 48 years old and a celebrity in Japan, came out of retirement in November to try to "become a professional player one more time." Shinjo forever.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.