In any facet of life, when an investment goes south there is pain associated which feels like a personal attack. In sports, the average fan is emotionally, physically or monetarily affected by their team’s investments. As a result, we often spend gallons of cyber ink writing and reading about players when they are injured, learning the intricacies of surgery procedures and recovery timeframes, becoming at-home doctors in the process. In 2015, the Mets traded for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who had a brief relationship with the Injured List in prior stints. Fast forward four years later and Cespedes is now projected to be out for the 2019 season as he recovers from surgery on both of his heels. Cespedes is in the third year of a four year, $110 million dollar contract; it’s safe to say that the Mets invested in the power hitting outfielder as a centerpiece of their roster structure, yet despite his star prowess it feels as though we have become forgetful of his status.
When Matt Harvey was diagnosed with an elbow tear of his ulnar collateral ligament back in 2013, the tabloids were flooded with the news. I recall that every subsection of Mets online presence was glued to Harvey’s situation week over week, highlighting his recovery and ultimately his return. As a homegrown star, perhaps the investment felt more emotionally significant. Whereas Cespedes, who receives less attention with regards to his injury, is seen as a sunken cost. Regardless of the coverage, the truth of the matter is that the club will be leaning on Cespedes to provide offensive firepower and defensive theatrics for the final year of his contract. As he continues to rehab, we can dive into the surgery and its implications, as well as consider what type of player Cespedes will be upon his return.
The heel surgeries on both of his feet, performed in August of 2018, were to remove calcification that caused him to alter his running pattern. By doing so, this is believed to have caused the collection of other leg and hip injuries that have plagued the prolific outfielder in recent years. Reports have indicated that Cespedes was knowingly playing through the pain and had intentions to perform the surgery after his career, however the pain reached too great of a level in the summer of 2018. A quick web search reveals that the condition is effectively an abnormal buildup of damaged tissue which can lead to a spur to develop on the bottom of your foot.
The procedure, which physically removes the bony accumulation, takes eight to ten months for a full recovery. That would push Cespedes to May of this year, notwithstanding the time needed to get back into the swing of things. I am gleaning that heel spurs cause an immense amount of pain, which could suggest that if properly recovered, Cespedes will finally be playing at full capacity. A recent comp player is Troy Tulowitzki, who underwent the same procedure in April of last year and was playing Spring Training games for the Yankees eleven months later. His performance in those games is encouraging, as he belted four homeruns in 39 plate appearances with a .970 OPS. What’s not encouraging is that the shortstop has already found himself on the IL with a left calf strain after only five games to start the season. Perhaps this is an anomaly, but I’d imagine that it has to do with him compensating for his new feet.
It is possible that the Mets investment in Cespedes, while insured, will be a complete failure. The ‘floor’ of expectations is that he does not recover from this surgery as expected, and continues to accrue a laundry list of injuries that rivals the children’s game ‘Operation.’ This would keep the slugger out of the lineup as the Mets part ways after the 2020 season (for what it’s worth, he has only played in 36% of games for the Mets during this new contract term). The ‘ceiling’ for Cespedes is to successfully rehab over the coming months, making spot appearances down the line for the major league club. Mobility has always been a problem, and a crowded infield and no DH position does not help his manager with his defensive assignments. However, getting into real game action at the end of the season will be a fruitful experience, as we saw with Noah Syndergaard two years ago. From there I would assume that his ceiling for 2020 is an ‘everyday’ outfielder and fifth hitter in the lineup. We can look at Jose Bautista as a player with a similar offensive profile to Cespedes, who slashed .250/.377/.536 in his age 34 season for the Blue Jays. It is well documented how successful the Mets have been with Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup and safe to say that his bat is surely welcomed. However there must an underlying mistrust in his injury history and ability to come back. I for one, am looking forward to the days where Cespedes, Pete Alonso and JD Davis are setting exit velocity records in Citi Field and believe those days will come.