The New York Mets are the fourth major league team to try their hand at taming Yoenis Cespedes and getting all he is capable of giving from him. But this year, signs are pointing to something better than that – the man is taming himself.
Every once in a while in baseball, a player appears on the scene who confounds fans, teammates, his manager, and anyone who comes into contact with him. He possesses immense talent, but more often not his behavior results in shooting himself in the foot. Manny Ramirez, as an example, would be in the Hall of Fame today if he hadn’t been “Manny Ramirez.” Yoenis Cespedes has been on a similar track over six seasons in the big leagues.
Over those years, Cespedes was traded three times before he landed with the Mets on July 31, 2015. His value as a player is seen in the caliber of who went to the other teams in those deals. Michael Fulmer (Mets to Tigers), Rick Porcello (Detroit to Boston), and Jon Lester (Boston to Oakland), all have high value in their own right, but every time it was Yoenis Cespedes who was seen as the key component on the receiving end who would provide lightning in a bottle.
It happened once, and the New York Mets were the recipient in 2015 when Cespedes arrived for the final two months of the season and single-handedly propelled the Mets to an appearance in the World Series, their first since 2000. For both the Mets and Cespedes though, that was the last hurrah.
In 2016, Sandy Alderson, many would say, was blackmailed into signing Cespedes as a free agent when the “do-nothing Mets” were being crucified by fans and media. Cespedes is due to receive $87.5 million on that contract from the Mets through 2020.
Cespedes was okay in 2016, appearing in 132 games, batting .280 with 31 home runs, and driving in 86. But it was last season when the old questions about the makeup and work ethic about Cespedes began to surface again when he appeared in only half of the Mets games providing a meek total of 17 home runs and 42 RBI.
Injuries are one thing, and all athletes suffer them causing a loss of time in whatever sport they are engaged in. But is there another athlete on the planet besides Yoenis Cespedes who didn’t get the memo about the importance of ingesting fluids (preferably water) into their body as part of their daily regimen? The Mets were flabbergasted when they learned Cespedes had an “affinity” to water if there is such a thing, and the team had to instruct him accordingly. Thus, the reason for the hamstring pulls that permeated his season.
Then, during the Subway Series with the Yankees, Cespedes had to pull himself from the lineup, only to have reports surface later from fans who saw him playing golf that morning. Sandy Alderson complained about the “optics” of the episode and though no one ever medically connected his injury to golf; it was clear Yoenis Cespedes was wearing out the patience of everyone connected to the Mets.
Now comes a story in the New York Daily News reporting that Yoenis Cespedes is “giving up” golf for the 2018 season. Of significance, he wasn’t asked to by the Mets, and it was he who informed the team of his decision to do so. Over the winter, Cespedes also took it upon himself to enroll in Yoga classes to increase his flexibility, and to adjust his weight-lifting to get away from muscle-building, with an approach (again) to add flexibility to his repertoire.
If all of this is true, and like a recovering addict you have to count the day by one, the Mets may become the first team to have gotten through to Cespedes. Or maybe, he’s just one of those cases where maturity cannot be judged by age alone (he’s 26), and some of us take longer to grow up than others.
Whatever the case, it goes without saying the New York Mets need Yoenis Cespedes at full-strength if they intend to compete for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The man has proven he can carry a team on his back over an extended period. And with Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto complementing him in the Mets lineup, together with a revitalized starting rotation, there is every reason to suggest the Mets can’t rise to the occasion.
Manny Ramirez is best remembered when you pull up this search on Google. It would be a shame if the same were to happen with Cespedes down the road. The man seems ready to leap to being all he can be. Mets fans welcome the chance to look back in October to say, “Wow, he did it!”