Yoenis Cespedes recently told the Mets he'd be willing to learn to play first base, and he played nine innings at the position on Wednesday in his third rehab game (while hitting a three-run homer), keeping him on track for a potential return Friday against the Yankees in the Bronx.
Cespedes had already been taking ground balls at first base, and the situation was addressed last week by Mickey Callaway, who said the expectation was that Cespedes would return as a left fielder.
I've seen Cespedes often taking ground balls at third base and shortstop during spring training and before games. He's adept with the glove and we know he has a terrific arm. But, I have no idea how he'd handle the unique footwork, stretching and understanding of situational positioning that comes with playing first base.
A source told Sherman that the outfielder believes a move to first base might lessen the strain on his legs, which has been the source of Cespedes missing roughly 30 percent of the team's games since he was acquired in 2015.
Cespedes first went on the disabled list this season with a hip flexor issue 58 days ago. However, he suffered a quad injury just before nearing a return in June.
Sandy Alderson later described the hip issue as 'chronic,' which is the same word John Ricco recently used to describe the current debilitating pain in Yo's heel.
Nevertheless, he could be on the verge of a return to the Mets. Could it be as a first baseman?
"We know he is open to the idea," Mets co-GM John Ricco told Sherman during a phone call earlier this week about Cespedes and first base. "That is something we have to discuss long term if that works. ... We still anticipate that he comes back as an outfielder. But we have had discussions, and he is open to first base."
Friends in St. Lucie tell me Cespedes is very much in to it and eager to give it a try this season, despite Ricco's above statement. My hunch is the Mets will downplay this initially, but I'd be willing to bet he ends up playing some first base toward the end of the season when everyone is content looking toward 2019.
It's clear Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo will make up two thirds of the outfield through the foreseeable future. The third player needs to be someone capable of staying healthy and driving in runs. This should have been Cespedes and could have been Jay Bruce, but it's looking less likely that either of these men can physically do both of those things over the course of a full season.
Bruce is under contract through 2020, during which he will earn $14 million each season. For now, given his current injuries, no team is going to acquire him. However, if Bruce returns healthy and hits -- and if the Mets are willing to pay down some of his salary -- it's possible the team could deal him through waivers this August or this winter.
Cespedes, on the other hand, is 100 percent untradeable. His legs, hip and heel are a major concern, plus he's due $29.5 million each of the next seasons. So, it makes total sense that he and the team are being creative when finding ways to keep him more healthy and productive.
At the same time, the team's current first baseman, Dominic Smith, is only 23 years old and less than a year removed from being ranked the league's top first base prospect.
Similarly, the organization's top hitting prospect, 23-year-old Peter Alonso, also plays first base and has hit 19 home runs in just 86 minor-league games this season, during which fans and talk radio hosts have been clamoring for his promotion.
The reality is that the Mets are not yet sold on Smith, who I contend is being given a chance to play every day right now in hopes he can make himself attractive in trade. And, while his home runs and power are impressive, most scouts I talk with are not convinced Alonso has the athleticism to be an everyday first baseman, especially on a team with an overall weak infield defense.
The Mets have got to find a way to improve their fielding and increase their run production in 2019. The best way to do this will be to add a defense-first, contact guys at catcher, second baseman and center fielder, which will push Conforto and Nimmo to the edges of the outfield, while adding legit, unquestionable power to first and third base. Otherwise, the Mets are going to be in the same situation with their offense and sloppy fielding in 2019 as they have been in 2018.
The other thing is that, while Ricco and fellow interim GMs J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya should plan as if one of them will be running the team next year, it's very possible it will be someone else. This means the above problem could very well be solved long-term by someone not yet in the front office.
This is all the more reason why it makes sense to get Cespedes time at first base this season, even if it takes away playing time from the young Smith and Alonso.
The fact is, Smith is at least a year away from being a player that can be counted on to produce a consistent line of stats, whereas Alonso could need some more time to become an elite, big-league hitter. If the Mets want guaranteed power at first base as soon as next season, Cespedes could be their best bet, which would also free up using Smith or Alonso in a trade this winter.
Basically, the current or future GM of the Mets will have more options if he or she knows Cespedes is capable of providing power at first base. And, if not, they can adjust the roster accordingly.
First and foremost, though, Cespedes needs to avoid suffering another setback and show he's healthy, not in need of surgery, and stable enough to be activated from the disabled list.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!