John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
On Thursday, Eduardo Perez told the world, via MLB Radio, that Yoenis Cespedes predicted he'll hit 40 home runs next season, or maybe even 52 to match the number on his back. And while Mets fans are bound to be skeptical, to say the least, Perez later told me he believes it.
"My personal feeling is that he'll go out and do it," Perez said by phone Thursday afternoon. "I understand the skepticism, but I go way back with Yoenis, to when he was playing on Team Cuba, and I could hear it in his voice, how hungry he is to go out there and produce again.
"It all depends on his health, I've said that all along. But he's driven to play again, and if he proves in spring training that he's healthy, I don't see anything that crazy in him hitting 52, especially the way the balls were jumping this year."
When we spoke by phone, Perez added some important context to his MLB Radio comments. Perhaps most significantly, he said the conversation with Cespedes to which he referred had taken place several weeks ago, when Perez was still a candidate for the Mets' managerial job.
He called Cespedes because he wanted to ask him if he'd be comfortable with some specific ideas about how he wanted to use him, and where he might hit him in the lineup.
That timeline is noteworthy because it means Cespedes apparently was feeling great in late October/early November about his recovery from the ankle fractures he incurred last May, which at the time ended any hope that he'd be back in 2019 from his double-heel surgery.
Presumably that bodes well for him being fully ready for spring training.
It also creates some gray area about how much he knew at the time about the injury-related reduction of his salary, which came to light publicly just last week. Perez said he wasn't commenting on anything related to that situation, so it's not clear if Cespedes was already further motivated by the salary matter, since he reportedly can reclaim millions of dollars if he stays on the field via incentives in his new deal.
Either way, Cespedes will be in the final year of his four-year contract that originally was worth $110 million, and he'll be motivated to earn a new deal as a free agent next winter.
So although teams have called the Mets in recent weeks to ask about Cespedes' trade availability, according to an MLB.com report, and certainly there could be less risk in him playing for an American League team with the DH spot as an option, baseball executives I spoke to Thursday predicted he'll be a Met in 2020.
"Unless they just want to dump him," was the way one AL executive put it. "And the salary reduction makes that less likely, I would think. Because he's missed so much time and there's so much uncertainty about his injuries, I can't see any team giving up anything of real value for him, even if he's playing in spring training.
"So if you're the Mets and you have a star player who is highly motivated to make money with the incentives in his new deal, you almost have to play it out because of the potential value and the impact he could have on your season."
If that turns out to be the case, Perez indicated he believes it would be worth the Mets' gamble to keep him.
"I know him really, really well, and I think he's in the right frame of mind right now," Perez said. "I think the criticism of him (for all of the time he has missed) is unfair. The guy was playing hurt with those heels the way they were.
"I think he really wants to play baseball again. The way I look at it is, he's sort of like where Josh Donaldson was a year ago, when everybody wanted to see if he could stay healthy and on the field.
"The Braves took a chance on him, they believed him, and they gave him a lot of money on a one-year deal that paid off for them. In a way, Yoenis Cespedes has that same kind of one-year deal now."
Perhaps the largest point here is that Perez, who lost out to Carlos Beltran in his bid to become Mets manager, reached out to Cespedes at the time because he already had specific plans for him, which he declined to discuss with me on Thursday.
Still, as optimistic as Perez may be about Cespedes, he said the Mets should proceed cautiously.
"If I'm the Mets I still have to plan on my 26-man roster without him," Perez said. "But put it this way: if I'm buying a car in the '70s, he's the power windows and power steering, and I want those options.
"I'm not saying he's the same guy he was, but I'll take a percentage of that guy. We've seen how he can carry a team, and he's an elite athlete so he's not going to lose those skills just because he's missed time.
"The thing is, the Mets have to be smart about giving him days off, even if he is healthy, and Yoenis has to be smart about taking them, even if he doesn't want to. I'd rather have him hit 40 home runs and be healthy all year than trying to hit 52 by being out there every day."
In truth, the Mets surely would be overjoyed if Cespedes plays enough to hit 30 home runs next season. But as Perez made the point, at the very least it's a good sign that the Cuban star is thinking big. Very big.