By Lenn Robbins
There are two lines a professional athlete in this city simply can’t cross. One is to not hustle. The other is to be selfish.
Yeonis Cespedes has crossed both.
Of course, he also flashed enough of his prodigious power and potent arm to be embraced by the World Championship-starved fans that flock to Citi Field each season with endless hope, a pilgrimage as mystical as any in religion.
That Cespedes no longer exists. The man once known as La Potencia (The Power) should now be known as El Jabali (The Bore). It isn’t funny.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Cespedes is one of those rare Major Leaguers to have been touched by the forefinger of the Lord of Baseball. His swing is majestic; his throws explosive. His glove, golden in 2015, tarnished from the World Series on.
By the time Cespedes arrived at Spring Training a few weeks ago, his reputation was as tarnished as a subway station stair rail. His declaration that he would not speak to the media should have been met with ‘who cares shrugs.”
Cespedes has said enough without speaking over the last four seasons to make one thing clear. Cespedes had crossed the lines from hero to bore, uh, goat. He was no longer a player worthy of respect because he had stopped respecting the game.
This awkward dance started at the end of the 2016 season, after Cespedes had performed well enough in 132 games (31 homers; 892 OPS) to opt out of his three-year $75 million contract. He signed a four-year, $110-million deal that included the treasured no trade clause.
The Mets were stuck with him.
They were willing to overlook the 108 strikeouts, the red flag that he was on his fourth team in six seasons, and the embarrassing revelation that his hamstring injury was severe enough to end his season, but not his golf game.
His 2017 season lasted 81 games. The following season saw him on the field for 38 games. He needed surgery on both heels. It would be too cynical to suggest Cespedes didn’t play because he had nothing to play for, too cynical.
Cespedes regained his desire to speak publicly on Sunday. When asked, on a scale of 1-to-10 what he would rate his motivation for this season he responded, “12!” Of course, it is. In a reworked deal, Cespedes will earn $6 million if he doesn’t play, a minimum of $11 million if he’s not on the injured list on Opening Day.
A healthy, incentivized Cespedes could put up big numbers. He could offer protection in the lineup for Pete Alonzo. He could be taking crucial at bats or celebrating a World Series victory when he turns 35 on October 18th.
Then the Mets can happily let Cespedes cross any line he wants. As long as he’s walking away.