$110 Million Yoenis Cespedes Disaster Just Tip of the Iceberg of Mets' Chaos

Bob KlapischFeatured Columnist IJune 7, 2019

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 27:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)   Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets is heped off the field after an injury against the Atlanta Braves by trainer Ray Ramirez and first base coach Tom Goodwin #22 at Citi Field on April 27, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Braves defeated the Mets 7-5.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The crisis that's currently swallowing up the Mets seems to burn a little hotter every 24 hours, if that's possible. Whether it's manager Mickey Callaway, who's in danger of losing his job, or Robinson Cano, who's turned into public enemy No. 1 in Flushing, there's no shortage of culprits as another season is on the verge of cratering.

But there's no greater advertisement of the Mets' dysfunction than the $110 million that's been sunk on Yoenis Cespedes. The slugger signed a four-year deal in 2016 when he was actually in their plans. Cespedes has since missed most of the 2017 and 2018 campaigns with various injuries and has already sat out the first 61 games of the current season.

The most recent setback—a fractured right ankle suffered after a violent fall at his Florida ranch—will cost Cespedes the rest of 2019 and perhaps part of 2020. The result? Team officials are considering voiding his contract.

This is no minor response, and it'll be difficult for the Mets to win any such grievance given how little they know about the incident itself. The club would have to prove Cespedes was negligent and/or reckless in a non-baseball activity. Either way, the Mets have apparently had enough.

Cespedes says he stepped in a hole and did not, as was originally thought, fall off a horse. The Mets are already investigating Cespedes' explanation, but as much as they'd like to pin this fiasco on him, part of the blame falls on the team itself for letting Cespedes disappear off its radar.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 01:  Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets looks on during batting practice prior to the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on April 01, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Unlike most clubs that closely monitor their injured players, the Mets' policy is to send them to their spring training complex in Port St. Lucie, Florida, where they remain indefinitely for extended rehab.

Paraphrasing one industry executive, it's almost as if ownership—read: Jeff Wilpon—punishes players who get hurt, banishing them 1,000 miles away from New York. Some players can be trusted on their own. Others see the relatively sparse facilities in Florida, which are designed for low-level minor leaguers during the summer, and defiantly turn the empty time into a de facto vacation.

What to do with players on the injured list—where to send them, how to treat them—has been a point of contention within the Mets front office for several years. Ultimately, Wilpon has used his veto power to prevent an overhaul.

Again, in this case, no one knows exactly what happened to Cespedes. And while no one expected him to spend all his time at Citi Field after surgeries on both his heels last year, it'd been nearly a month since the Mets last saw Cespedes before his accident.

The fact that the Mets are considering taking legal action against Cespedes speaks to an obvious conclusion: The reservoir of goodwill has finally run dry. Even though the club is collecting insurance on Cespedes that pays a portion of his salary, it's still on the hook for whatever is not covered, plus the policy's premiums.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Together, it's still a considerable sum and represents a failed gamble all the way around. Cespedes is the Mets' highest-paid player; his $29 million salary for 2019 dwarfs the $19 million being paid to Cano. And that figure will rise to $29.5 million next year.

One more thing to remember: Cespedes will be 34 later this year, which means he's in his late prime at best. It's more likely Cespedes will never again be the force who slugged 31 home runs in 2016 and earned the largest average annual value contract in Mets history because of it.

It appeared the Wilpon family, notoriously unpopular with fans, caved to public pressure to sign Cespedes. But to be fair, they agreed to pay Cespedes strictly on general manager Sandy Alderson's recommendation. Committing to Cespedes was one of two notable mistakes of Alderson's regime with the Mets. The other was the three-year, $39 million deal awarded to Jay Bruce.

Bruce was so bad in year one of that deal (.223 AVG, 9 HR, 37 RBI and a .680 OPS in 94 games) the Mets traded him this past offseason to help lessen the financial load of acquiring Cano.

Then again, Alderson and the Mets medical staff had no idea Cespedes had heel issues that would subsequently require season-ending surgeries. Whether the club whiffed on the pre-contract physical or Cespedes was hiding a lingering issue will forever remain unanswered.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 25: Yoenis Cespedes #52 of the New York Mets reacts after an apparent leg injury in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 25, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

But Cespedes was never particularly communicative—not just with the press but with higher-ups. He was a chain-smoker who took batting practice only periodically, which exasperated then-manager Terry Collins. Ultimately, Collins gave up trying to discipline Cespedes; he figured the best—and only—way to maximize Cespedes' considerable athletic skills was to simply leave him alone.

But how has that worked out? Cespedes has missed over two-thirds of the games since 2017 with no end in sight.

The Mets, meanwhile, are embroiled in other, more visible controversies, including what feels like the final days of Callaway's reign.

Another is the aforementioned Cano, who has suffered through injuries and poor performance during a brutal first half (.238 AVG, 3 HR, 14 RBI, .650 OPS in 46 games). He has additionally been called out by others for a clear lack of hustle. It's the start of another big-money nightmare alongside Cespedes.

With the club slogging along at a sub-.500 pace, both the manager and his boss, GM Brodie Van Wagenen, have already been called on the carpet by Wilpon. The meeting, which took place May 10, was as close to the kiss of death as one can conjure in the Mets' universe.

It's hard to imagine Callaway surviving much longer, because as one person familiar with the Wilpons' ownership style said, "Once Jeff gets involved, it's over."

The immediate tempest has taken the focus off Cespedes, at least publicly. But make no mistake: Like Callaway, the star-crossed slugger's days as a Met may be numbered.